Most of these travel health tips are fairly well known and many really are just common sense, but we all need a reminder now and then to take care of ourselves, especially with the excitement of finally hitting the road on our dream vacation / trip.
This list is partially a reminder to myself since I came down with a bad cold within the first few weeks of travelling. The weather takes a bit of the blame (it’s been cold and rainy most of the time so far), but there may be are some things I could have done a bit better to help prevent it.
This is in no way medical advice, just a few tips that may help make your travels a bit healthier and happier.
Keep Your Hands Clean
Wash your hands often, especially before eating. Take a small bottle of hand sanitizer and wet wipes if possible for when there is no (or no clean) running water available. One thing that you may want to keep in mind is to take care not to offend your hosts, whipping out a bottle of hand sanitizer after touching their stuff or before eating their carefully prepared meal, can be a huge slight, so in some cases you may want to excuse yourself to use the washroom and clean up privately before a meal.
Another thing to think of is making sure that the surfaces you touch frequently are kept as clean as possible. Laptop keyboards, phones, iPods etc get very dirty very fast and are be breeding grounds for germs and viruses. Don’t believe me? Read this and it might make you think taking those wipes after all.
Get Enough Rest
With the excitement of finally being on the road you might have the urge to ignore this, but at least try to not let partying get in the way of enough sleep. Your body is going through a lot when you travel, especially if you’re going for the long term… new foods, lots of physical activity, different climates, late nights etc. so take the time to baby it a bit and get some beauty sleep.
This has at times been a hard one for me since I’m vegan and getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet can be a challenge in some areas. But trust me, this is a top priority. Take vitamin supplements if you have to, but get enough nutrients. Remember, your body may be doing more while you’re travelling than it was at home and you’ll probably need more nutrients than you’re used to.
Also be careful what you eat. A good piece of advice I’ve always listened to is “take a cue from the locals”. If a place is packed with people from the area, or looks like it’s been there for years, the food is probably safe, tasty and reasonably priced. It’s even better if you can see your meal being prepared.
If you have special dietary needs or restrictions it may be a good idea to carry a small stash of emergency food with you. Even if you don’t have unique food requirements, taking a granola bar, a small bag of dried fruit or nuts (or whatever hits your fancy) may stave off tummy grumbles when you can’t get to regular meals.
Vaccines and Preventative Medicines
Hopefully you did this before you left, but if hadn’t, or you’re heading into an area you hadn’t planned, take the time to find out what vaccinations and / or medications (i.e. anti-malaria pills) are suggested to keep you from coming down with something. Exotic viruses are not a good souvenir. ;)
Stay Hydrated & Avoid Tap Water
I’ve always required massive amounts of water every day. (Friends and family have joked that there’s no way I could possibly hold it all. Their theory is that I’m sending water back to my home planet via some trans-dimensional warp field in my tummy.) Even with being used to drinking to rehydrate a small desert, I found I was drinking way more than usual to keep from getting dehydrated. Remember that the environment may be different than you’re used to, and airplanes are well known for drying a person out.
Since I didn’t want to spend my entire travel budget on liquids, I brought a SteriPEN with me so that I can sterilize water myself. It’s a good deal if you’re going on a long term trip, for shorter trips it’s not very cost effective but there are quite a few other options like purification tablets etc.. Another good thing to pack is powdered electrolyte packs just in case you hit a serious case of dehydration.
Clean Any Wounds Immediately
Cuts and scratches that may be of no importance at home can become infected very easily in a new environment. Your body may not be used to local bacteria and might not have the ability to take care of it by itself. Try to always carry something to clean and protect any wounds.. no matter how minor. I carry and small container of anti-bacterial spray, aloe and tea tree swabs and liquid bandages. They take up very little space and were useful within the first few weeks.
If something goes wrong and you need medical care having health insurance is a must. Normally I’m opposed to the idea of insurance, but when I travel I’d rather the peace of mind knowing that if I break a bone, get sick, injured or need an emergency evacuation… there’s someone who has my back.
Shop around and find the one that best suits your travel style. I went with World Nomads since they seemed to understand the “backpack around the world” mentality better than the others I looked at and their prices and coverage was pretty good. You may also want to check if you already have travellers insurance, some credit cards and home health insurance plans already cover it, or can for an extra fee.
If you have allergies you already know to take medicine to prevent / treat a reaction, and you probably know how best to avoid allergic reactions when possible. This is just here as a friendly reminder.
Pack a pair of flip flops for dodgy (and even not so dodgy) looking shower stalls in hostels and hotels. I’ve seen some nasty cases of foot fungus already from people that ignored this, and a case of athletes foot will not only ruin your “seasoned traveller” look but it makes walking to those places you travelled so far to see rather painful.
Also be sure to break in any shoes before you travel if possible, blisters are not a lot of fun. Pack some extra bandages and / or moleskin to protect any hotspots.
I’ve noticed that travel has taken a toll on my skin already and some of the products that I had before I left are not as available in some places. Be sure to pack moisturiser as well as toner and zit cream if you have even the slightest tendency to break out. A new environment, seasonal changes and a more hectic daily life may cause even the most well behaved skin to develop odd behaviour.
I know.. you may want a great tan if you’re visiting a beach but make sure you don’t burn. Wear sunscreen everyday, even if it’s overcast. Environmental differences like higher altitudes seem to make people burn faster than usual, and a few hours enjoying the sun can quickly turn into the entire day when you’re enjoying your vacation. I’ve already seen one person that was burnt to a crisp and it really spoiled her trip while she was healing.
Also try to get sunscreen that doesn’t have a lot of harmful chemicals in it (phthalates, parabens etc.). There are often more natural ingredients that work just as well if not better. Why add more chemicals to the mix if you can avoid it?
Do you have any travel health tips or questions to share?