You're going to get sick when you travel.
Exposure to new germs, new climates, new foods. It all will contribute, and if you've been there, well, you know how awful it can be. Yes, it's inevitable, even for the most savvy and cautious traveler, but you can take steps to lessen your chances of getting ill, or at least reduce the time you're out of commission. Here are seven tips for staving off those travel bugs or dealing with them when they strike.
1. Find out which shots/vaccinations you need, and keep them up-to-date. If you're traveling to any country where safe water isn't readily available, you're likely to need a hepatitis A vaccination. Additionally, look into whether typhoid is a concern and get vaccinated accordingly. Visit the U.S. State Department web site to determine what inoculations are recommended for the countries you're visiting, and talk with your doctor about upcoming trips so you can plan your course of preventative action.
2. Load up on sanitizing wipes. Hotels, airplanes, cruise ships can be petri dishes for germs, and while your personal hygiene might be impeccable, you can't say the same for your fellow travelers, who have a tendency to touch all sorts of surfaces. You know them. They're also the ones who sneeze right into your face as you approach a queue to board an airplane. (Yay! Now, I get nine hours locked in a cabin with you! Thanks for the resounding welcome. Excuse me while I take a quick mini-bath with my tiny bottle of hand gel.) Look for surface wipes that kill germs, and use them liberally on the airplane trays, arm rests, remote controls, light switches, menus, thermostats, silverware -- pretty much anything anyone else might have touched. Yes, you'll get funny looks, but it can keep you healthy.
3. Wash your hands. Maybe this should be No. 1, as it's honestly the biggest step you can take in keeping yourself well. Use soap, wash for 30 seconds, then don't touch shared surfaces. In a pinch? Use a hand-sanitizing wipe or a baby wipe. I like the individually wrapped wipes, and I'll throw a bunch of them in my carry-on, just in case. This has been really helpful in countries where toilet paper and hand-washing aren't the norm (yes, there are places where this is the case). Related to this one, don't touch your face.
4. Watch what you eat -- and drink. Some places have a reputation for making visitors ill (as in, gastrointestinal ... um ... issues). If you're the kind of person who already has a sensitive digestive tract, think twice before eating or drinking anything prepared with water that hasn't been heated to boiling. I love a great salad, but I've been forced to give them up when traveling to places where veggies are washed in questionable water. I'll skip fruit that requires me to eat the peel or has no peel (apples, strawberries etc.). If I'm not sure, I might try a food, but at the first twinge, I pass on the produce. If you're adventurous go for it -- especially if you are into ticking off a bucket list of as many "Bathrooms Around the World" as possible. I also make a point of packing supplemental food like protein bars and nuts, in case I am really struggling with the food. If you're really feeling lousy, skip anything that is handled by anyone and go with prepackaged foods like yogurt or cereal.
5. Pack your emergency kit. Our medical kit is one of the most important pieces we pack, and the hope always is we won't need to use it. Ours is stocked with Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, aspirin (and Tylenol PM, to help battle jetlag, just in case), a cold medication, Imodium AD and antacid. We also have worked with our doctor so we have a couple of "just-in-case" prescriptions for Ciprol (stomach) and a Z pack (bacterial infections). These are a last resort, but when we've needed them, we've REALLY needed them.
6. Sick? Take it easy. If you do get sick, you will be tempted to push through it. You paid for your vacation, you might never return to the destination and you don't want to miss a thing. Big mistake. Speaking (sadly) from experience, one day in bed can make a world of difference, and there's not much worse than visiting amazing sites while worrying about where the nearest bathroom might be or whether your constant coughing is distracting fellow travelers. Do yourself -- and others -- a favor: Get to bed, stay comfortable and heal.
7. Exercise, eat right and get plenty of sleep. Faithful In The Loop readers know this is pretty much my life's philosophy, but it's served me well. In between trips, take care of yourself. I don't get sick often, and when I do, I bounce back quickly. I attribute this to a lifestyle of moderation that includes a lot of exercise. Being disciplined allows me to really appreciate the fun of vacation and traveling. And it keeps me feeling fine when I do.
Thanks for reading!
Travel fit! Travel happy! Travel often!