Catch Up on Your Immunizations
First, make sure you’re up-to-date on the routine vaccinations every traveller should have.
If you live in a metropolitan area, check to see if there are any travel clinics nearby (this is not an exhaustive list).
If so, schedule a travel consultation. Travel clinics have certified health professionals who have a greater level of expertise when it comes to travel health. They also have pretty much any immunization shot you need.
Alternatively, you can call your doctor to see what shots he or she can provide. Or, if you live near a pharmacy with its own clinic, they may be able to provide certain immunizations as well.
Be sure to get all of your immunizations at least one or two months before your trip. That way, if there are any complications or if you end up getting sick (after a flu shot, for instance), you’ll have time to recover before you fly out.
Pack Medical Reinforcements
When it comes to not getting sick during your trip, it’s best to be over-prepared so you can quickly go to war on anything that could cause you to spend a day or more of your trip curled up in bed, feeling like crap.
Or worse, a sting, burn, cut or scrape that could develop into a nasty or life-threatening infection.
This is why you should always pack a portable medicine cabinet of items including diarrheal medicine, ibuprofen, cold and flu tablets, cough drops, motion sickness tablets, allergy pills (if applicable), etc.
Additionally, no matter the trip, you should always bring along a travel-sized first-aid kit with bandages, alcohol wipes, tweezers, ointments, et. al., because you never know when it will come in handy for injuries large or small. If road tripping, keep a full-sized one in your car. If hiking, put a small one in your backpack.
Check out our Health packing list for a full list of items you should bring along on your trip.
Some of the items are trip- or person-specific — like altitude sickness tablets (when journeying to high elevations) or contact lens solutions — so you can ignore accordingly.
Be a Water Hog
Our bodies are 60% water.
H2O keeps our cells happy and vigilant; and happy, vigilant cells keep us healthy.
Travel can be dehydrating. Airplanes are super dehydrating. Adjusting to distant time zones and environments is dehydrating. Hours of hiking or city walking are dehydrating.
So it’s super important to drink lots of water during your travels. This will give your body the optimal liquid fuel it needs to fight off vacation-souring bacteria and viruses.
If you’re traveling to mountainous locales with higher altitudes than you’re used to—of 8,000 ft (2,438 m) or higher; like Nepal, Machu Picchu, the Rockies—drinking plenty of water is key to warding off a nasty bout with altitude sickness.
Additionally, caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating as well. So be mindful of this during your travels. Try to refrain from drinking caffeine or alcohol during your flight and, if jet-lagged, the first day or so after you arrive. Instead, drink lots of water and orange juice to give your body the fuel it needs to adjust.
Then, during the heart of your trip, as you savor local wines, beers, coffees and the like, just be sure to drink plenty of water in between.
Don’t Sleep on the Vitamin C
Vitamin C should be a major part of your health regimen when you travel to a foreign land: via plane; across multiple time zones; or to a developing nation.
Based on scientific and anecdotal evidence, it is an effective way to keep from getting sick during your travels — when your body is coping with environments, stressors and and local bacteria it isn’t used to.
The health benefits of Vitamin C are multi-fold. It strengthens your immune system. Produces collagen, which helps wounds heal faster. Is an antioxidant that prevents certain types of cell damage. And it helps your body absorb iron, a natural metabolism booster.
Starting 2 or 3 days before your trip, drink a 1000mg packet of supplemental Vitamin C (like Emergen-C) once a day. Then continue this ritual every day during your trip.
We also recommend drinking orange juice or grapefruit juice during your flight (in lieu of wine or soda); and having a cup of OJ, GJ or a freshly-peeled orange each morning during breakfast or brunch. A 3/4 cup of OJ provides 93 mg of Vitamin C; 1 medium orange, 70 mg; and a 3/4 cup of grapefruit juice, 70 mg.
- 1000mg of Vitamin C is 10x the average daily dose recommended by U.S. National Institute of Health (which is 90 mg for adult men; 75 mg for adult women). It is safe to take a heightened dose of Vitamin C for short periods of time, like during a trip.
- A heightened daily dose should not exceed 2,000mg. Since several foods are infused with Vitamin C, you should only consume 1 packet of 1000mg Vitamin C supplement a day.
- If you take prescription medications, check the label or with your doctor to make sure it is okay to take them with a heightened dosage of Vitamin C during your vacation.
Watch What You Eat n’ Drink
If you’re not mindful of what you’re eating overseas, there’s a chance you’ll come down with a not-fun case of diarrhea… food poisoning… or, worse, a life-threatening disease like typhoid fever.
When dining out, it is best to stick to food that is fully and freshly cooked; food in factory-sealed packaging; beverages in factory-sealed bottles and cans; and hot beverages like coffee or tea made with fully-boiled water.
If the Local Tap Water Isn’t Safe to Drink…
In countries where the tap water isn’t safe to drink, you’ll have to be uber diligent.
If you’ve never noticed the major role water plays in the foods and drinks we enjoy every day, you definitely will once you journey to a locale where the water isn’t safe to drink.
Don’t even think about having a fresh salad! Or ice with your drink. Or soft-cooked eggs. Or juice or milk that isn’t pasteurized. Or soda from a soda fountain (wherein soda syrup is mixed with local water).
When it comes to fresh fruit, only eat that which you can, and have, peeled yourself—like oranges and bananas. Just be sure to rinse them with purified water before you unpeel.
And when it comes to street food . . . some of the best food in the world is street food, so instead of foregoing it altogether, my rules of thumb are:
- I only eat street food that is fully and freshly cooked.
- I only buy from street vendors who keep their stalls, carts, gondolas, etc., clean and neat, as it gives me greater assurance that they are more diligent in selecting and storing food for safe consumption.
- I eat street food sparingly and only when I really, really want to try something—because it looks and smells so good! But I know that in doing so, there is ALWAYS A RISK of getting sick, so I never travel without antidiarrheal medicine. Never.