Call me a stickler for hygiene, but getting sick while traveling abroad really sucks. Common colds or stomach bugs can stymie your travel for a period of a few days to a week. Since your time abroad is precious, you really should do yourself a favor and avoid these common health mistakes. This is particularly true when you are traveling through poor, undeveloped countries, because the level of sanitation is usually not on par with what you have been accustomed to in your home country.
You don’t wash or sanitize your hands before every meal.
While traveling abroad, your body is being exposed to all sorts of new bacteria and microbes that your immune system has not encountered before. You can’t completely stop this process, but you can severely limit your intake of new bacteria by limiting your oral intake. Washing your hands before every meal is an extremely important precaution, especially if you are actually touching the food with your hands before eating it. When there is no wash water available, use a small bottle of hand sanitizer to kill the germs.
You eat food that has not been freshly cooked.
Most higher-end restaurants will cook your food fresh. It’s really the cafeteria-style places, cantines, street food hawkers, or roadside stops that you need to keep a closer eye on. Unless the food is freshly cooked or is piping hot, it’s best to avoid eating it. Food that’s been sitting out in the sun or open to flies is simply not worth the risk.
You don’t watch how your food has been handled.
If you’re wary about a particular food vendor, keep an eye on how customers receive food. Is the server or cook grabbing food with his bare hands and giving it to customers? Only eat at a place if the food has not been directly touched by people’s hands. This may sound a bit obsessive, but all the handwashing or sanitizing in the world is not going to help you if someone has already contaminated your food.
You drink the local water, consume ice, or eat tainted fruits or vegetables.
It’s not that the water abroad is necessarily dirty, it’s just that there is a huge risk of ingesting bacteria that your body is not used to. Most travelers know that you should avoid drinking a country’s local water if you want to avoid getting sick while traveling. However, people often slip up when it comes to avoiding other sources of water bacteria. For example, if you drink an iced drink, chances are the ice has been made from local water. If you eat unpeeled, uncooked fruits or vegetables, chances are that they were washed in local water. It is wise to diligently avoid eating these foods and also to get travel doctor vaccinations to avoid water-transmitted diseases like Hepatitis A and Typhoid.
You drink alcohol like a mad bull.
Most travelers like to drink or party it up from time to time, and this is perfectly wonderful. The problem comes when you drink excessively or drink on too many nights within a short period of time. This can place too much stress onto your body and put you into a weakened state whereby you are more likely to contract a common cold. Do yourself a favor and drink in moderation.
Simply put, you don’t listen to what your body is telling you.
You may not realize it, but your immune system is working overtime while you travel. You’re constantly busy fighting off new bacteria and threats, and your body is naturally stressed from living in a new environment. So you really should tune into your health and listen to your body. Treat your body like your best friend by eating healthy foods and nourishing yourself. If you’re not feeling 100%, perhaps you should delay that long bus ride or shorten the day’s ambitious sightseeing itinerary. Give your body a rest and treat it with respect. You will be payed back with a sickness-free, happy travel experience.
What other mistakes have made you sick while traveling?
There are plenty of ways to become sick while abroad, and I’ve only covered a few of the main ones. Have you had any other experiences besides those I’ve mentioned? If so, please leave a comment below!