Getting sick is every traveller’s worst nightmare. Not only does this mean wasting your once in a lifetime experience being miserably ill. But there’s also the potential of unfamiliar hospitals, doctors that don’t speak your language and racking up a tiresome debt in fees, that you’ll spend hours discussing over the phone later with your insurance company.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to avoid all of that and most of them are common sense.
Before you go anywhere new, check if you need any injections or medication. It’s easy to book an appointment with a nurse (at a local GP surgery or a pharmacy) who will talk you through your options.
Most injections will be optional recommendations and some are free on the NHS. However, for some countries you might need a vaccination (such as the Yellow Fever jab) in order cross border control.
Also ask if you should be taking any specific tablets (for example, malaria tablets) for the area you’re going to.
One of the most important things to consider when travelling is whether it’s safe to drink water from the tap.
In most of the western world, this is not a problem, but in undeveloped countries and islands where water supply is limited, water may not be filtered and could host dangerous diseases.
Some countries simply have water with a higher mineral content than what we are used to Not necessarily dangerous but can upset your stomach.
Buy sealed bottled water and/or invest in some chlorine tables. These can be bought in the UK or abroad. Always ask for no ice, unless you are sure it has come from filtered water.
If you’re not sure, it’s always better safe than sorry.
Having said this, make sure you drink enough and stay hydrated.
Another thing to consider is diet. When eating, especially street food, check that it’s hot as heat kills bacteria.
Be cautious of anything that’s been left out for too long or anything attracting flies.
Consider sticking to a vegetarian diet during your travels as meat is more likely to make you ill than vegetable-based dishes, especially if the country does not have reliable power supplies (as unreliable freezing means unreliable storage).
Cooked food is safer than uncooked so avoid salads or fruits that you can’t peel.
If you do eat salad or fruit, check how it has been washed.
While ideally your vitamins should come from your natural diet, it might be worth taking multivitamin supplements during your travels.
Depending on where you’re staying, it might be difficult to always get your 5-a-day.
Also carry with you some diarrhoea tablets (full of vitamins to rehydrate) and natural laxatives (such as senna) to control any changes in your bowel movements.
And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth remembering that any changes are completely normal. It’s your body’s natural way of reacting to a new diet or even environment.
Get used to talking about your toilet trips with your travel buddies (I promise it will bring you closer).
Protection and prevention
It’s good to be cautious. Use hand sanitizer regularly, and have an anti-septic cream to hand.
Don’t touch animals in countries with a rabies outbreak or if you are unsure about animal diseases there.
Take precautions against mosquitos by using nets and insect repellent (DEET is your best friend).
Just as you would back home, be wary of spending too much time in the sun, wear your sun screen and don’t overdo it on the alcohol.
And finally, don’t underestimate the importance of mental health.
Stay in contact with your friends and family back home and if it all becomes too much, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a chill day to catch up with yourself. Self care is important!
Stay safe, keep healthy and happy travels!