10 Tips To Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

If there’s one thing we’ve learned recently is the importance of health and safety both at home and abroad. The year 2020 has shown us how interconnected we are across the world, and how easily susceptible our life can be to a pandemic.

Now, while pandemics are not the norm, the potential of getting sick has always been there, especially while traveling, when we expose ourselves to different environments our bodies are not accustomed to. 

The best way to avoid getting sick while traveling is by proactively combating the risk factors that can make us sick in the first place.

These tips can be practiced not only while traveling but also at home and in our home country. 

None of these tips will guarantee 100% you won’t get sick, but they will surely help minimize the chances of you getting the flu, food poisoning, a virus, or any other common illness we get while traveling.

1. Avoid Getting Sick; Wash Your Hands Often

As basic as this sounds, this is an essential component of preventing sickness. I’m sure you’ve seen countless PSA all over the world about washing your hands during Covid-19, and that is because washing your hands with water and soap for 20 seconds does help reduce the spread of germs that cause respiratory and diarrheal infections.

On average, people touch their faces about 16 times per hour. Imagine all the germ transmission that your eyes, nose, and mouth could get after your unsanitized hands touched them? 

The eyes, mouth, and nose are three susceptible points from where our bodies get infected with diseases, so it’s best to avoid touching them often.

Hands Touching, volunteering

If washing your hands often is not that accessible wherever you’re traveling (hey, you could be somewhere remote with water shortage!), then it’s recommended you carry and use hand sanitizer.

2. Be Aware of What you Touch and Carry Hand Sanitizer With You

The best recommendation to keep your hands clean is by carrying and using hand sanitizing gel regularly. 

These hand sanitizers come in travel-sized bottles with less than 3oz/100ml so you can travel with them in your carry on, or as moist wipes that are just as easy to carry. 

Feeding a Capuchin Monkey in Royal Island, French Guiana

They should be used before and after eating, going to the bathroom, and after touching any surface that has high contact (like door handles, railings, subway holding bars, etc.).

While Purell is the most popular brand of hand sanitizer in the US, any brand of hand sanitizer will do – preferably with 70% or more of alcohol content.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Wear a Face Mask

Before the Coronavirus, seeing people wearing masks in public was mostly a common sight in Asia, but now it is a common thing all over the world. 

While the use of face masks will diminish as the world returns to normalcy, it is safe to say that now more people will be open to the idea of wearing a face mask while traveling. 

In fact, at the moment, it is mandatory to wear a face mask while flying not only to protect yourself but also to protect those around you.

Norbert in the circular pumps room in Chernobyl
These photos were taken inside the Chernobyl power plant and I’m wearing a mask and PPE to protect myself from inhaling radioactive particles, but you get the point. Masks help keep us safe!

While medical masks like the N95 respirators are the best, you don’t need to use one of those to protect yourself. A surgical mask (those white and blue ones) and a common fabric mask can help just as well.

If you need fashion-friendly fabric masks, this post has several options from popular brands.

4. Drink Bottled Water

One of the many common travel mistakes is drinking tap water where you shouldn’t. Most developed countries offer pure tap water that’s clean enough for anyone to drink. But, drinking tap water in other less developed countries might be risky. 

While I always suggest asking locals about the best tips in their country, this is one I wouldn’t fully trust them. 

It’s not that they’ll have any reason to lie, but they are already immune to any impurity that locally sourced water might have. Their stomach and overall body already have the right bacteria to protect them; bacteria we may not have ourselves.

Landmannalaugar in Iceland
Iceland, one of the few countries where even drinking water straight from the river is safe! Not kidding. But this is not a common thing across the world. So stick to bottled water elsewhere.

As a general rule, I tend to stick to bottled water for drinking and tap water for brushing my teeth. That is unless the country has some serious water pollution issues, like India and a few others, where I stick to bottled water even to brush my teeth.

Also, avoid drinking ice in these countries unless they are made with filtered or distilled water. 

Lastly, in countries with water pollution issues, whenever you eat at a restaurant or at your accommodation, make sure your cutlery and dishes are 100% dry before placing any food on them. 

In certain cases, food poisoning happens through those polluted water droplets or unclean cutlery/dishes, rather than the food itself.

5. Be Aware Of What You Eat

Food contamination can happen in any country. Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things that happen when least expected, and it is one of the most common causes of gastrointestinal problems and diarrhea on any trip. 

To avoid this, do your best to make sure that you’re eating fresh, well-cooked, and recently made food to reduce your chances of food poisoning. And as mentioned in the previous tip, make sure your plate is dry before serving and that you drink bottled water.

How to avoid getting sick while traveling
Sick like a dog; riding a train from Venice to Ljubljana.

In India, for example, I made sure to eat food made at the moment and only well-cooked. I avoided salads as they could have been washed with polluted tap water (see the previous trip). And, if there were droplets of water on my plate or cutlery after it was washed, I made sure to dry them myself with a napkin. 

This helped me avoid the infamous, long-lasting, and painful “Delhi Belly” during my five-week trip. Delhi Belly is one of the most common food poisoning sicknesses in India among travelers. Trust me; you don’t want it!

Still, if it happens to you, don’t beat yourself over it. If it’s mild, just ride it and take the appropriate medicine to get better, and if it’s severe, go to a doctor if necessary. This is why you should always travel with travel insurance.

in the hospital in Italy
At the hospital in Milan after the worst food poisoning case I’ve had on the road. Seriously, not my best moment (nor my best picture). But, my insurance covered the visit!

6. Keep Your Distance if Necessary

That concept of personal space varies drastically among cultures. In some countries, it’s normal for a person to stand just a foot away from you while in others, it’s more like three feet or so. 

During Covid-19, we learned of the importance of keeping our distance from others to reduce the spread of diseases. Standing six-feet or two-meters apart seems to be the recommendation. 

Alps of Switzerland
The Alps in Switzerland. Not a bad place to be socially distant!

While maintaining six-feet might not be necessary when traveling under normal circumstances, it is still good to be aware of your distance to others and the amount of contact you’re having – especially if you’re unsure of their health.

Sometimes, when traveling abroad, you might need to decide if you feel comfortable using their potentially crammed public transportation, or if it’s better to pay a bit more for a “private” taxi ride. 

Or is it better to spend a bit more for a private room instead of sleeping in a dorm room? This is up to you to decide depending on your health, budget, and comfort level.

7. Take Probiotics and Boost your Immune System

Before traveling, prepare your stomach’s coating with a dose of healthy bacteria that will help you digest or “stomach” more easily any food that might harm you.

Since I have a very susceptible stomach, I regularly take Probiotics and Prebiotics to keep a healthy environment in my stomach and intestines, which in turn will help reduce stomach pain and food poisoning and improve digestion and nutrient absorption.

Lady making pig food in Mae Sariang, Thailand
A local from the Mae Sariang hill tribe in Thailand, preparing some of their delicious food.

While probiotics and prebiotics sound the same, they are different. Probiotics are good bacteria that help us digest, while prebiotics is a food source for those good bacteria, so they survive their journey through your intestinal tract. 

There are many probiotics and prebiotics in the market, but I personally take Performance Lab Prebiotics and Nucific Bio-X4 Probiotics.

Equally, boost your immune system with high potency multivitamins and mineral supplements. I take and recommend LifeExtension’s One-Per-Day Tablets.

Taking Emergen-C tablets is also great to reduce the potential of getting a cold or flu while traveling.

Norbert drinking beer at Konso Market in Ethiopia
Sometimes you gotta take risks to experience the local culture. Here I’m tasting the locally “brewed” (warm) beer at the Konso Market in Ethiopia. No, it doesn’t taste like beer, and thankfully, I didn’t get sick.

8. Don’t Be Afraid Of Having Familiar Food

While tasting local food is part of the travel experience, if you’re someone who is allergic to certain foods and ingredients, sometimes it is better to stick to the dishes you already know and tolerate. 

It’s also ok to switch back and forth between “known” and “foreign” food so you give your stomach some breathing room to assimilate those new ingredients.

Persian Food

You can be adventurous and order a dish without any allergen, but be aware that sometimes orders could be misinterpreted due to mistranslations, or mistakes can be made in the kitchen.

So, be prepared for any emergency by having your medications easily accessible.

Also, be aware that in less-developed countries, there might be no strict hygiene rules in the kitchen, so a chef could cook shrimps in the same pan he cooked meat. If you’re allergic to shrimps, be aware that cross-contamination is possible. 

This is just something to keep in mind when considering having a culinary adventure.

Bangkok's Street Food Cart
Some of my favorite Thai food comes from street food carts like this one. Thankfully, I’ve never gotten sick from one of them.

9. Stay Hydrated

Water is essential for our body to function properly, and staying hydrated is one of the best things we can do to stay active and healthy. 

Since you might want to stay active to explore as much as you can during your trip, it is recommended you drink from two to three liters of water a day to keep yourself well hydrated. Drink even more if it’s too hot outside. 

Listen to your body. It will tell you when it needs more fluids.

10. Get Vaccinated

Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to prevent contracting serious diseases still prevalent in certain parts of the world. The required or recommended vaccines for your trip depend on the destination and your health, so it’s best to visit your doctor or a travel clinic to know which vaccines are applicable to your current scenario. 

Have in mind that some “travel vaccines” are different from the “regular vaccines” required back home, for example, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Cholera, and others.

Homahil natural pool

Some diseases like Malaria are not treated with vaccines, but instead, are prevented via prescribed oral medication, which you can get via your doctor a few weeks before departure.

As you can see, prevention is the best way to avoid getting sick while traveling, but prevention does not guarantee 100% that you won’t get sick. This is why, in addition to all of the tips above, it is highly recommended you always travel with travel insurance to cover you in case of any medical situation while abroad. 

I use and recommend WorldNomads, and they’ve been great when I’ve needed them. You can quote and get your travel insurance with them here.

Better to be prepared and safe than sorry, right? Now, let’s keep traveling safely!

10 Tips to Avoid Getting Sick while Traveling the World


Featured Image from Flickr Creative Commons.
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