Written by Rachel | 15 Oct. 2018
Staying Healthy Whilst Travelling
We have all been or know someone who has fallen victim to a tummy bug or illness whilst travelling. It starts off as an innocent chicken sandwich whilst out sightseeing, then the next thing you know you’re hugging the hotel toilet bowl.
But staying healthy whilst travelling is not only about what we are eating. There are many things to consider whilst travelling to stay safe and healthy.
During my adventures I have fallen ill a few times or have met people who have been unwell. During a few months in Fiji I contracted dengue fever, gastro in Thailand, the flu in Seattle and severe blisters all over my feet in Europe to name a few.
Here I will go over some of the things you can do to protect yourself from all kinds of different ailments and what you can if you do fall ill whilst travelling.
Stomach bugs, colds & flus and gastro
No one wants their holiday ruined with vomiting or diarrhoea and it is almost guaranteed to spread across your whole travelling party before you know it. Although you can never guess what it is that will make you unwell, there are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of becoming unwell.
Choose your restaurants carefully, does it look dodgy? It probably is, maybe rethink that one. On the flip side though, if you are wanting to try some local street food, these are usually low risk as the food is prepared to order and cooked in front of you. My advice is pick the vendor with the most locals and the one that is the busiest. You may wait longer, but there is probably a good reason so many people are there, the food is amazing! If locals are avoiding a vendor then that is telling you a lot.
Don’t forget to carry some hand wipes with you. They really do become invaluable for a few reasons. After walking around all day, touching all sorts of different surfaces and foreign money, our hands become really dirty. Also, in many countries the public toilets aren’t really that well serviced, so if there is no toilet paper or sink to wash your hands, you always have something with you as a backup. They also make great serviettes are the end of your meal and can potentially prevent colds and flus when you regularly clean your hands.
Another thing to consider when out eating is what water was the food washed in and where has the ice in your drinks come from. Although it is law in most developing countries to purchase ice from a reputable vendor, it is always good to check just in case. No one wants that lettuce leaf washed in tap water to be the one thing that brought an entire travelling party to its knees.
If you do contract a tummy bug, you may be tempted to reach for a tablet to stop your diarrhoea or vomiting. Although these may help in the short term, they may also prevent the bug from leaving your body and cause you to stay sick for longer. So use these medications with caution.
Protecting your feet and legs
When on holidays we are generally more active than when we are at home. We walk further and stand in long queues, the definitely takes a toll on the feet, especially mine. I remember when I was around 16 years old. After walking around Melbourne Zoo all day, I told my Nan that my feet really hurt. She just brushed it off and said, “you’ll be right”. Well let me tell you, I wasn’t alright. I took my shoes for to find my feet absolutely covered in blood from multiple blisters. This was just the beginning of a life long problem with overly sensitive feet. Take my advice, wear your shoes in, carry heavy duty fabric band aids, wear socks when possible or think about wearing a pair of shoes you have owned for a while and you know are comfortable.
Another thing to remember are your ankles. Long haul flights can take a toll on your body, no matter your age and fitness levels. To reduce the risk of swollen ankles, ensure you wear a pair of compression or flight socks. Not only does this help pretend swelling, it also greatly reduces the risk of blood clots or DVTs (deep vein thrombosis). If you feel you may be at a higher risk for a blood clot, ensure you talk to your GP as there are medications you can take to thin your blood during flights. Please remember to increase the amount of water in the 24 hours prior to your flight and 24 hours after. The water you drink prior to your flight will make the biggest difference in your hydration and may help reduce your risks.
Sunburn are painful and uncomfortable and can ruin your holiday. But more than that it can have long term effects on your skin. Make sure you pick a sunscreen that has a high SPF, preferably 50+. Along with a hat, sunglasses and lose comfortable clothing, and avoiding prolonged time in the sun in the middle of the day. Don’t forget to cover you legs as well. After 2 hours power snorkelling in Fiji, I was so badly burnt down the backs of my legs, I couldn’t sick properly for a week and had to have dressings applied every 2 days. That was not the way I thought I would have spent the last few days of my holiday.
A communicable disease is one that is spread from one person to another through a variety of ways that include: contact with blood and bodily fluids; breathing in an airborne virus; or by being bitten by an insect. There are many ways in which we can protect ourselves from contracting a communicable disease whilst travelling.
If there may be any chance of you engaging in any sexual activity whilst travelling, make sure
you protect yourself with condoms. Although they are not guaranteed to prevent all STDs or
STIs, you will dramatically decrease the risk of contracting things like HIV/AIDS, pregnancy,
Chlamydia, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, and HPV to name a few.
Mosquitos are a pain at the best of time, they can leave us covered in horrible itchy bites but
even worse than that, depending on your chosen destination, they can carry all sorts of horrible
diseases. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include: malaria, dengue, yellow fever, filariasis (causing Elephantids), ross river and zika fever to name a few. There are a number of ways you can protect yourself from a potentially serious disease. When using insect repellent, remember the higher the DEET the more effective it will be. Also remember to wear light coloured and lose fitting clothing. If you start to feel unwell, ensure you seek medical attention without delay. Something that may feel like a small stomach bug, can escalate to sometime more severely in no time.
Taking out travel insurance is a no brainer, and is often compulsory when you go on a tour. Picking the right insurance company and policy can be really difficult. I prefer to use a comparison tool and usually pick the most comprehensive policy. Make sure you read the PDS so you know what you are and aren’t covered for.
When I had a stomach bug in Thailand, I phoned the hotel doctor to come and check on me. After medical treatment, a few injections, antibiotics and some electrolytes, it set me back $150AUD. I thought no worries, I have travel insurance so I’ll claim it when I get home. Upon my return to Australia, I phoned my insurer (Cover More) who told me that without a doctor’s certificate saying I was healthy BEFORE going to Thailand, they will not cover my doctors bill. You may want to consider going to see your GP before heading overseas also to obtain a cover letter for any medications as well.
Wishing you all happy and safe travels!