At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks


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When we travel, we expose ourselves to different environments which our bodies are not accustomed to. Unfortunately, this means it’s fairly common for travelers to get sick.

The best way to avoid this is by proactively combating the risk factors that can make you sick in the first place.

None of the tips in my list will guarantee that you won’t get sick, but they will help reduce the risk of you getting the flu, food poisoning, a virus, or any other common illness related to traveling.

1. Wash Your Hands Often

As basic as this sounds, this is an essential component of preventing sickness.

I’m sure you will have seen countless PSAs all over the world about washing your hands during COVID-19, which is because washing your hands with water and soap for 20 seconds does help to 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 are exposed to when your unsanitized hands touch them. 

The eyes, mouth, and nose are the most susceptible points on our bodies when it comes to infectious diseases, so it’s best to avoid touching them often.

Hands Touching, volunteering

If washing your hands often is not that accessible where you’re traveling (hey, you could be somewhere remote with a 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

Aside from regular washing, using hand sanitizer is the best way to keep your hands clean. 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. 

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.).

Feeding a Capuchin Monkey in Royal Island, French Guiana

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 alcohol content.

Just bear in mind that you can only fly with up to 70% alcohol content.

3. Don’t Be Afraid To Wear A Face Mask

Before the Coronavirus, people wearing masks in public was already a common sight in Asia, but now it is common worldwide. 

While the use of face masks has diminished since the world returned to normalcy, it’s safe to say that more people are now open to the idea of wearing a face mask while traveling. 

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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 these to protect yourself. A surgical mask (those white and blue ones) and a common fabric mask can help just as well.

If you’re looking for fashion-friendly fabric masks, check out this guide to stylish makes from leading brands.

4. Drink Bottled Water

One of the many common travel mistakes is drinking tap water in countries 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. 

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.

Generally, I tend to stick to bottled water for drinking and tap water for brushing my teeth. However, in countries with serious water pollution issues like India, I even brush my teeth with bottled water.

Also, avoid consuming drinks that contain ice in these countries unless it’s made with filtered or distilled water. 

Plus, you should always make sure your cutlery is completely dry before you use it when eating out in countries with water pollution issues.

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

Although it’s good to eat healthy when traveling, you should avoid eating certain salad vegetables like lettuce in countries with polluted water. This is because they’ll have most likely been washed with tap water.

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 ensure that you’re eating fresh, well-cooked, and recently made food to reduce your chances of food poisoning.

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 that was well-cooked and had just been made. I avoided salads as they could have been washed with polluted tap water (see the previous tip).

And, if there were water droplets 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 among 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 up over it. If it’s mild, just ride it out and take the appropriate medicine to get better, and if it’s severe, seek medical care. This is why you should always travel with travel insurance (more on this later).

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

6. Keep Your Distance If Necessary

The 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. 

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During Covid-19, we learned of the importance of keeping our distance from others to reduce the spread of diseases by standing six feet (or two meters) apart.

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’s still good to be aware of your distance from 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 the potentially crammed public transportation or if it’s better to pay a bit more for a private taxi ride. 

You may also decide it’s better to spend a bit more on a private room instead of sleeping in a dorm room. These decisions will depend 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” potentially harmful foods.

Since I have a very sensitive stomach, I regularly take probiotics and prebiotics to create a healthy environment in my stomach and intestines.

In turn, this helps reduce stomach pain and my susceptibility to food poisoning and improves digestion and nutrient absorption. This is something that can’t be achieved by eating healthy foods alone.

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

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

You can also 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 for staying healthy and reducing 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’s better to stick to the dishes you already know and tolerate. 

It’s also fine 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

If you have allergies, you can still order food that doesn’t contain particular allergens. Yet, be aware that orders can be misinterpreted due to mistranslations.

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 might use the same pan to cook many different types of food, leading to cross-contamination.

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This is just something to keep in mind to help you stay healthy during your 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

Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do to stay active and healthy. 

Since you’ll probably want to be as active as you can during your trip, it’s recommended you drink between two to three liters of water a day to keep yourself well hydrated. Drink even more if you’re in a warm climate.

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 you’ll need. 

Keep 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.

11. Maintain A Good Sleep Schedule

Getting enough sleep when traveling can be tricky at times, but it’s one of the best ways to ensure your immune system is working properly and to stay healthy. It’s best to build as much of a routine as possible and establish good sleep habits.

For instance, trying to go to bed at a similar time each night helps to regulate your sleeping patterns.

Of course, busy hostel dorm rooms and nights out with your travel buddies mean this won’t always be possible. Still, too many late nights will start to wear you down and can make you more prone to getting sick.

12. Take Out Travel Insurance In Case You Do Get Sick

Prevention is the best way to avoid getting sick while traveling, but prevention doesn’t 100% guarantee that you won’t get sick.

This is why, in addition to all of the tips above, it’s highly recommended you always travel with travel insurance to ensure you have medical coverage while abroad. 

I use HeyMondo as my travel insurance provider, and they’ve been great when I needed them. You can get a quote from HeyMondo here.

Better to be prepared and safe than sorry, right?

10 Tips to Avoid Getting Sick while Traveling the World

Featured Image from Flickr Creative Commons.

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One Comment

  1. Avoiding getting sick while traveling is very essential nowadays. I’m going to travel this coming 2021, and I need to read this. This is what I’m looking for. Thank you very much!