It’s a travellers worse nightmare, getting ill abroad! Almost everyone has experienced it at least once be it from over indulgence to just bad luck. Most of the time it is nothing serious and it will pass with time as well as resting up.
If you are prepared with the right knowledge and a travellers first aid kit you have a better chance of reducing the chance of getting ill. Also if something unfortunate does strike you are able to deal with it effectively. Here is my advice for how to stay well when travelling abroad and what to pack to help!
Just A Disclaimer: I am not by any means a medical expert, the information you are about to read is based purely off my own experiences (both good and bad!) and my own recommendations. They worked for me and I am not allergic to any of the items, a different person may not have the same results and may even be allergic to some of the items (e.g. plasters) you should always speak to a qualified medical professional before travelling abroad.
When I am travelling abroad, be it in the developed or not so developed area of the world I always bring a small personal first aid kit… it usually takes the form of a resealable freezer bag or one of them bags you get at the airport when going through security! it doesn’t contain exactly everything a normal first aid kit contains, but it has everything that I am likely to need and have needed to use in the past. This kit will also stay with me at all times in my daypack, which is also my cabin bag on flights so I am never without its contents, everything in it is under 100ml in liquid size so it can go through airport security with no problems too!
Most importantly besides having the below items I always get any required vaccinations before travelling and carry both my EHIC card and private travel insurance details, again these remain on me when travelling as well as having digital copies saved on my email and also allowing family to have a copy in case of any worse case scenarios!
My travel kit always contains:
- Anti Diarrhea tablets (usually Imodium)
- Paracetamol 500mg Capsules
- Indigestion Relief Tablets (usually Gaviscon)
- Sore Throat Lozenges (Strepsils or supermarket own)
- Anti Histamine tablets
- Anti Gastro Relief Tablets (usually Rennie Deflatine)
- Altitude Relief Ear Plugs
- Anti Chafing Cream
- Hand Sanitiser
- Saline for Contact Lenses
- Spare Contact Lenses
- Small Pack of Wet Wipes
When I am travelling to a hot/tropical region…
- Bite Cream
- Bug Repellent (either in can form or as a scented band)
- Aloe Vera Burn Gel
- Sun Protection
- Hydration Sachets or High5 Electrolyte Capsules
Be careful what you eat and drink!
There are dozens of hygiene factors at play when you are consuming food and drink abroad, some of these include; the origin of it, the way it is cooked and how long for, the environment its cooked in, the hygiene standards of the person and/or machine cooking it. Also especially for already made food; how long it has been cooked for and left out, as well as the environment it has been left out in. With all this going on getting ill can almost be unavoidable and inevitable, however there are ways to minimise the risk and the following are some of the things I personally do when eating and drinking abroad regardless of it is from a restaurant, buffet table or a seller on the street. Im certainly not a ‘germ freak’ but its not worth letting your guard down on something that could potentially ruin your dream holiday!
- Avoid raw seafood as you can never be 100% certain it is safe to eat no matter how high of a standard the place you are eating at is. if you want to eat fish opt for cooked white fish which has less of a risk of getting ill with and ensure it is cooked piping hot!
- If you are ordering chicken or pork ensure it is piping hot and try and also try avoid ordering it smothered in a thick sauce as its often difficult to tell if its been cooked long enough.
- In hotel buffets avoid eating meat that has gone cold or looks like it has been sitting out for a long period of time, this can include sausage and cured meats like salami as it can easily go bad… take this one as advice from personal experience!
- Avoid ice! Some places even state that the ice they use is from purified water, in the past I have personally had ‘bad experiences’ from places that state this and dont state this, so just do without. Have something bottled or canned instead as they will typically be stored in a chiller so you wont need ice!
- Where available choose more red meats as they need less cooking time and hence can be a slightly safer option if they are undercooked, also try meat free substitutes like tofu or Quorn as they are generally just reheated rather than cooked.
- Avoid fresh chilled salad, this doesn’t mean don’t eat your veggies! In places where the water is not safe to drink, there is always a chance that fresh vegetables could be washed in the unsafe water. Alternatively choose cooked vegetables as these will be cooked so they are piping hot and a lot safer.
- Stay clear of smoothies and fruit juices, especially the ones that are sold by street sellers! You don’t know how clean the area the fruit is being prepared is and also where the ice they are using is from, or if it is from purified water. If you want something like it, get something in a carton or bottle from the local supermarket!
- If you are cooking in a hostel always give everything you are using to cook a good wash under boiling water! You don’t know what the previous user has had in it or how well they have cleaned everything after. Boiling water kills pretty much anything that it comes into contact with!
Stay out of the sun where possible, or protect yourself!
When visiting hot parts of the world, it can be scary how much the sun and creep up on you and catch you out. One minute your fine and the next you are feeling delirious, really tired and sick. Here are some of my best ways to see the most of a hot place without getting caught out by the sun!
- Obviously wear sunscreen and keep applying it constantly, in some places I have been to, like Qatar I have even set an alarm on my phone of every hour to keep applying it!
- Keep drinking water and carry a decent amount with you, if you sweating excessively from the heat, consider adding some mineral supplements to your water to replace what you have sweated out, I can recommend High5 which I also use when cycling.
- Opt for visiting some places earlier in the morning when the sun is not fully in the sky yet (also a plus at going at this time of the day is that it is generally quieter) or alternatively visit later on in the evening when it has gone cooler again.
- If you are visiting several places in an order, choose to visit some of them that are mainly indoors around the middle of the day when the sun is generally at its highest and hottest point.
- If in somewhere like Europe, look for a museum! The big stone buildings are usually really cool inside and you can often spend a couple of hours in there without getting shoo’d!
- If in somewhere like South East Asia, look for a 7Eleven or similar! They have industrial air conditioning! Some of the 7Elevens in Thailand are just like coffee shops and have seating so you can actually have a bit of a break!
- If it does get too much! Call it a day and get to somewhere with a pool
Keep your hands clean!
You use your hands to do just about everything, apart from walk! so imagine what they come into contact with on a daily basis. In cities where you can be pressing buttons and opening doors used by thousands of people that very same day, all sorts spread!
My main advice is to carry a little tube of hand sanitiser with you and use it after you’ve used public facilities, before eating (especially if you are using your hands!) and even use it on your electronics in small amounts as its shocking what builds up on things like your phone and cameras!
Other ways to stay well…
If you are in a place for a short period of time you want to see as much of the place as possible before moving on again, as much as people hate to admit it you do get tired! From the endless walking, the heat (or even the cold!) the late nights partying and everything else that comes with travelling it catches up with you and can leave you exhausted. Try and get enough rest when you can and even factor ‘rest days’ into your trip planning, basically days where you are able to rest up and don’t do a great deal, even consider booking a hotel room for a couple of days if you have been staying in hostels for a long period of time.
When travelling you can also forget to do basic things such as eat properly or exercise because you are completely out of a routine but always ensure you eat a decent breakfast and have at least one good meal a day, although when travelling you tend to do a lot of walking even consider visiting a local gym or pool if there is one in the area you are staying at, most gyms and sports centres offer day passes which are usually pretty cheap, or even look at a hostel or hotel that has the facilities and make the most of them!
My final bit of advice is to not get too paranoid about what you can catch, but just approach things with some common sense and remember what you limitations are! If you have any tips please be sure to put them in the comments!