Traveling includes exposing yourself to new and exciting experiences and cultures. These often entail food whose origin you can only guess, inaccessibility of drinking water, critters and a whole new world of germs and dirt, especially in Asia. Surely this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Indulging in unidentifiable yet delicious street food is one of my favorite things. But combine these factors with the stress of constantly moving around and maybe one drink too much and you’re up for disaster. If you plan to travel for a while, it should be a priority to stay healthy. But how do you not get sick on vacation and still enjoy yourself?
1. Be Prepared
It’s always a good idea to let your doctor know where you’re going. Ask him about vaccinations that you should get and meds you should bring along. Beware of taking prophylactic antibiotics, though, as they often do more harm than good. You may also want to do some research yourself. Many travelers decide to get their vaccinations on the road, as cities like Bangkok or Delhi provide excellent and cheap medical services.
2. Bring These Meds And Supplements
You should also write probiotic supplements on your packing list. You could eat fermented foods like kombucha, kefir or natto, or you could bring the tablets. While science hasn’t proven that this can prevent getting sick on vacation, many backpackers swear by these. Plus, a healthy gut flora is a cornerstone for dealing with not-so-clean street food.
While at it, stack up on electrolytes (in case travelers diarrhea does hit), painkillers and any prescribed medication you may need. Reading a package insert in poorly translated English in a shady Malaysian pharmacy is no fun, let me tell you that!
3. Be Careful With Food
One of the biggest pitfalls when backpacking in Asia is street food. It smells amazing, and it looks fine – but it might have been lying in the sun all day. And when did they last wash that pot? For the most part, you’ll never know. If you’re reading this, you probably know the basics – that is, if it contains ice, and is neither cooked nor peeled, you can’t have it.
My advice is to start slow. Sample some Pad Thai here and there, have some Lok Lok occasionally and work yourself up. Your body is used to clean food from home and will have to adjust.
4. Beware Of What You Drink
Another important point to not get sick on vacation is water. It would surprise you how many people drink the tap water and don’t ever get sick. The issue with the tap water isn’t only harmful bacteria, though. Often you’ll find the water sterilized with chlorine and other chemicals. But before it comes out of the rusty tab in your beach hut, it has run through muddy fields and old pipes. By the time it reaches you, it often contains heavy metals and other harmful particles. These may not give you travelers diarrhea but can have other long-term effects. If it doesn’t say drinking water, don’t drink it. And in the rare case that you don’t have a choice, at least boil it.
5. Avoid Mosquitos
There’s only one thing a backpacker in Asia fears more than food poisoning, and that’s dengue fever. You can have all the vaccinations in the world and should still be wary of mosquitos. They can transmit all kinds of diseases, including dengue fever, and they also itch a lot. While DEET is quite the questionable substance, it proves to be the best way to deter them. There are a few natural alternatives, but I found none as useful.
6. Watch Out For Wounds And Bites
There are also areas like rice fields and dirty rivers that can be risky to your health. You should, therefore, avoid them or enjoy them with caution. Also, try to give special attention to any open wounds or scratched mosquito bites you may have. Disinfect them and keep them clean and dry.
Other things to steer clear of are monkeys and street dogs or cats. Very rarely are they completely healthy, and they can carry all kinds of worms and diseases. Also, avoiding to get sick on vacation is hard with a monkey bite.
7. Don’t Go Insane
When on the road you strain your mind just as much as your body. Therefore, taking extra care of your mental wellbeing should be important to you. While you’re out there in a strange environment, especially if you’re alone, you’re bound to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Asia is so mind-bogglingly different from our side of the world. It is okay to crave something familiar occasionally. If you are tired of sampling the Asian cuisine, go and have a burger. Get a hotel room and watch Netflix all day, then get back on the road. There’s no shame in finding comfort in what’s familiar, even if some travelers make it out to be.
If you do get sick on vacation:
In case all else fails, have travel insurance. Even if you take all precautions, you may not be able to avoid getting sick at some point. Accidents do happen, and in that case, you don’t want to rely on your pocket money. While my personal recommendation would be not to get the cheapest of them all, either, this point is optional. Many of the cheaper ones will only cover the most basic expenses, leaving you uncovered in worst case scenarios.
If you’re ill after all, make sure to stay hydrated. Oral rehydration therapy has drastically reduced the mortality rate of diarrhea and other illnesses, as dehydration is often the major problem. This is especially important in hot and humid weather.
Of course, you hopefully won’t need any of that, as you now know how to avoid getting sick on the road.