Travelling is exciting – there’s no doubt about it.
Whether you’re a regular, seasoned jet setter, a ‘once or twice a year’ kind of person, or a roaming nomad who’s looking to find all the corners of the globe before your time’s up, whatever category you fit in to best, it’s one of the things many people look forward to the most in their year – myself included! And with good reason… there’s no feeling like when the plane hits down on the runway, or that first deep breath as you leave the airport, taking in the fresh air of your new home for the next week, month or even longer.
But regardless of where you’re planning to go on your travels, or whatever wild and wonderful activities you plan on doing whilst you’re there, being unwell is something you don’t even want to think about. There might be a million things on your holiday-to-do-list, but getting sick just really isn’t one of them, is it?
Having said that, there’s no fool-proof way to ensure you won’t get ill – it’s just a part of life, both in your job/school/university and unfortunately on your travels too. And sick bugs and other illnesses don’t take pity – they strike when they want, with no room for negotiation and, more often than not, no warning.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world, and with a huge range of travel insurance policies out there nowadays (some you can even pick up with the tap of a button a few hours before you go, get a quote from Covermore right now), whatever costs or inconveniences you might incur are likely to be returned. But that’s not the point; sitting at home whilst the flight takes off is never going to make you happy, even if you never ended up out of pocket.
But no matter how doom-and-gloom it sounds, it’s not all up to chance, as there are a few precautions you can take in order to: A) Reduce the likelihood that you will get sick, and B) Help to give yourself a speedy recovery if you do:
Things You Can Do Before You Go
The first thing I do when booking my travels is to ask my local doctor if there are any vaccinations or medications required or recommended for my chosen destination(s).
It’s also a good idea to ask if there are any optional medications, or even general health precautions to take – the chances of catching something might be lower, but it wouldn’t hurt to eliminate the risk entirely.
Don’t know your doctor, or tight for time before you go? Searching online can often yield the answers you want in order to speed things up. Once you know what you need, you can get booked in privately, or contact your doctor with exactly what jabs or medication you’re looking for.
But be cautious – only trust legitimate medial sources (sites like the World Health Organisation or your government’s department of health), and stray away from public forums and chat rooms. In short, whether finding out in-person or online, only listen to professionals.
After I’ve gotten all the medical stuff sorted, I also make sure to start taking some sort of multi-vitamin and/or probiotic around a couple of weeks before I go. This helps to boost my immune system, reducing the risk of bugs and infections. But whether this is necessary or not all depends on where you’re going – a 5-star resort in a developed country will have different risks to camping in a festival halfway across the world. Do your research and decide what you need – just make sure you don’t leave it too late.
The third and final thing to bear in mind (one that most people don’t pay attention to before travelling) is their general health.
Vaccinations and vitamins can help prepare your body for the various environmental changes that overseas travel might bring, but stepping onto the plane after a stressful week, dehydrated, and with no breakfast inside you can be just as hazardous.
Personally, I don’t feel the need to have spent the few days before being pampered in a massage parlour, but I recommend trying to take things easy before you go – maintain a good diet, and try and tie up any things occupying your mind, or at least leave them in a place where they can be untied when you come back.
Not only will this reduce the risk of any sickness taking over you, but being able to switch off from life at home is likely to make your trip more pleasant in general.
Keeping Healthy While Traveling
Now what you can do, and what you need to do while travelling is mostly dependent on your destination. As well as the things already mentioned, things like the weather, time of year, or even whether you’ve been there before or not, can all have an effect on your risk of sickness whilst travelling.
I’ve put together a quick list of things that I’ve done in the past, to help keep my health in check whilst on the road:
Keep Taking Multi-Vitamins – taking them before you go is a good way to ‘get the ball rolling’, but it’s also crucial to keep taking them whilst you’re there. Their effect won’t wear off straight away, but if you stop taking them at the start of a long journey, you might as well have not taken them in the first place.
Drink Bottled Water – depending on where you go, the water supply might not be as reliable as what you’re used to back home. Unless you’ve been told specifically that the tap water is safe to consume, avoid drinking and brushing your teeth with water from the tap – use bottled water instead.
Carry Anti-Bacterial Handwash (or Hand Sanitiser) – it’s a good idea to use hand sanitiser on a regular basis, and especially before meals. Even if you can’t remember touching anything dirty, things like railings, seat belts, or even tabletops and chairs are likely to have been in contact with more people than you can count. Use hand sanitiser through the day and before each meal.
Get Plenty of Rest (when you can) – this one ties in with ensuring general well-being. Travelling can be exhausting, and even spending hours on buses or trains in-between destinations can take its toll. Listen to your body when it tells you its tired, and get plenty of rest when the opportunity arises.
Carry a First Aid Kit (a good one) – it doesn’t have to military-grade or equipped with defibrillators and a stitching kit, but carrying a decent first aid kit can be a huge help, as it’s easy to get come across minor cuts and bruises. You can pick them up online for a small price, and they can save you a lot of hassle if something were to happen. We recommend getting one with bandages and antiseptic wipes too, just for good measure.
Carry Anti-Diarrhea, Gastro, etc. Medication – it’s the last thing you want to even think about, encountering bowel problems when you’re meant to be roaming on an epic adventure, but it does happen. This is the kind of thing you hope you’ll never have to use, but if you even need to, you’ll be grateful you did.
All In All
Even after taking various precautions, there’s still the possibility of getting sick during your travels. Even if where you’re going doesn’t seem like the most farfetched place, there’s a good chance that almost everything will be different to what you’re used to back home – the food, the water, the cleanliness, the air quality etc. But it’s all part of the experience. Besides, what would be the point if it was just like home?
There are two things to take away from this: Firstly, although every environment you visit hosts a whole range of potential illnesses, don’t let this scare you off. Most people don’t encounter anything at all, so the best you can do is take some precautions and leave the rest up to chance. And secondly, even if you’re not 100% whilst on your travels, always try to make the most of your destination.
Don’t ignore the signs your body and mind give you – i.e. if you need to rest, rest – but if you can muster up the energy, make the most of your time there, after all, that’s exactly what you’re there for.