Healthy Travel – How to Stay Healthy While You’re Away

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Nothing can ruin a trip quite like being ill. When you’re ill, all you want to do is go home and snuggle up in your own bed. Because of this, it’s best to try and prevent any such illnesses from ever occurring, and when they do occur you’ll want to treat them as soon and as effectively as possible.

It’s worth noting that some diseases don’t immediately show their symptoms. This means that you could potentially pick up a disease while you’re away, but not have it come into full affect until you get home. It’s a good idea to pay close attention to your body (and how it might be reacting differently than normal) for a few weeks after you return from a trip abroad (especially if you’ve visited a country where you might pick up a nasty illness).

General Tips

Pace Yourself!
Healthy TravelA lot of the time, when people are traveling and they get ill it’s partly down to them. If you get sunstroke, it’s because you spent too long in the sun! Just because you see people lying on the beach all day soaking up the rays doesn’t mean you should. As always, most illnesses can be prevented through simple means. Wear suntan lotion and a hat. Make sure the water you drink is clean. Take malaria tablets when necessary (and so on).

Traveler’s Diarrhea – A Common Illness
If you’re traveling to a new part of the world where the food is very different, getting a mild case of ‘traveler’s diarrhea’ is practically expected these days. While this can be fairly easily treated (just drink lots of water, take a dioralyte sachet and stay close to a toilet), it can lead to worse illnesses if ignored.

Being Vigilant with Food and Drink

healthy travelMost illnesses you’ll pick up when traveling can be prevented by carefully watching what you eat and drink. Lots of countries (particularly third world countries) don’t have the strict health and safety regulations for food that you’ll find in the UK and the USA, so it would be foolish to assume that just because a restaurant (even an expensive restaurant) serves you something that it’s fine to eat.

Here are a few tips to follow:

  • Wash your hands before eating. If you’re traveling through rural areas (where it can be difficult to find places to wash your hands), take a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you.
  • Avoid eating fish (and shellfish) if possible, especially when served raw. If you must eat them, make sure they were properly prepared (i.e. cleaned) beforehand.
  • Avoid any food that has been cooked and then reheated (this also applies back home). Look for food that is piping hot and that has been freshly prepared. A food buffet should be avoided, as a lot of the food is often kept lukewarm for hours.
  • When ordering steaks (and other meats that can be cooked to varying degrees of), make sure to get it cooked thoroughly, even if you would usually have it cooked rare or medium-rare back home.
  • Only eat fruit that you can peel yourself (such as bananas and oranges). Other fruit should be avoided unless you’re sure it’s been washed properly.
  • Avoid eating salads, as oftentimes the ingredients will have been washed in tap water.
  • Surprisingly, yoghurts are often fine to eat, and doing so will actually help you to acclimatize your body to the local forms of bacteria.

In a lot of foreign countries, drinking the water (without having it filtered/purified/cleaned) is a bad idea. It’s easy to take clean water for granted, so here’s a list of tips to ensure you only ever consume clean water:

  • Don’t drink tap water. Only drink water that has been bottled (and that is sealed). You will always get people that refill bottles with tap water and resell them, so check the seal is intact before drinking.
  • If you want to be extra sure, buy sparkling water instead of still water, as this can’t be faked.
  • Avoid having ice in your drinks (even when it’s really hot outside). The problem here is that most ice will be made from frozen tap water.
  • Tea and coffee are usually okay to drink (even when made with tap water) as boiling it will kill most germs.
  • When swimming (whether it’s in the sea, a river, a lake or even a swimming pool) don’t swallow any of the water as it could be contaminated (yes, even in a swimming pool!)

Water Purifiers
If you’re heading into areas where bottled water isn’t available, it can be a good idea to bring some kind of water purifier with you. For this you can either use tablets (that you put in the water) or a portable water purifier/filter.

The benefits of using water purifying tablets is that they’re small and light so they won’t really add any noticeable weight to your bag. The downside of them is that they can leave rather an unsavory taste in the mouth.

Tablets are a great quick fix for purifying water, but they should not be used as a long-term solution (iodine-based tablets in particular should not be taken long-term).

The second option is to use a water filter or purifier. These work by pumping potentially dirty/contaminated water through a chemical filter – creating a clean source of drinking water. The advantage of using water purifiers is that as soon as the water is pumped through the filter it’s drinkable. In addition to this, they do a more thorough job than tablets do, so they’re safer to use long-term.

The downside to using water filters is that they’re expensive to buy and are often fairly large and heavy, meaning they’re a pain to carry around with you.

A simpler way of purifying water is to boil it in a pot for a few minutes (although this will take longer at higher altitudes). Obviously you’ll need to carry some kind of stove (with a gas tank) and a metal pot to do this, but if you’re going camping you’ll probably already have all of these items with you.

Once you’ve boiled water in this way, it will stay clean for a few days if you cover it up as it’s cooling, then store it in a sealed container.

Staying Out of the Sun & Handling the Heat

Most people that live in predominantly cold countries are so desperate for some sun that they overexpose themselves. It’s like asking a starving man what he’d like to eat. He might tell you that he could eat a whole cow, but his emotions are clearly overriding his logical mind.

sunbathingSunstroke and skin cancer shouldn’t be taken lightly, so take the time to protect yourself with sun tan lotion. While the main threat of the sun comes from above, it’s worth noting that it can be reflected off of the sun, water and even snow.

The great thing about traveling for an extensive period (in a hot country) is that it allows you to tan yourself gradually (which is a lot safer). A small amount of sun each day (building up gradually) will provide you with a much better (and longer lasting) tan than if you were to spend four hours laying on the beach on your first day in a hot climate (plus there’s less chance you’ll burn).

Try to stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, as this is when the sun is at its most damaging.

When shopping for sun lotion, don’t buy anything lower than SPF15. In you’re going to be in and out of water (i.e. swimming) it’s best to buy one that is water resistant. Some sun screens now come with insect repellant in them. These are great because it means you only have to carry one bottle for both insect repellant and sun screen.

When applying sun screen, the most important areas are often the most easily missed. Make sure to cover the back of your neck, your nose, your ears and your feet (if they’re exposed).

If you’re sweating a lot, it’s important to replenish the salt in your body that you’re losing through sweat. A good way to do this is to eat ready salted crisps, so try to keep a couple of packets in your bag. You’ll also need to keep the fluids in your body topped up, so drink plenty of water (this is a good rule wherever you are). Make sure you’ve got a large enough water bottle to keep your thirst quenched for at least a few hours.

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