Fending off sickness while traveling

Let’s face it – we’ve all been there. We’ve been looking forward to our trip for months, but three days in we’re struck with the cold, a virus, or food poisoning.

Although it’s not always possible to avoid getting ill, a lot of the time we can take certain precautions to not get sick.

Here are a few tips and tricks on what you can do to prevent getting sick while traveling and also some additional tips on what you can do if you do get sick while on vacation.

Tips on how not to get sick

1. Stay hydrated, but avoid tap water

Dehydration makes you vulnerable to germs and viruses

However, stick to bottled water! Tap water may cause you to become ill because the pathogens in the water are foreign to your immune system. The water does not affect the locals because they have adapted to it.

Say no to tap water!

Boiling water can be another solution, as it kills most micro-organisms. But freezing water does not kill these bacteria.

You may wish to slowly adapt to the water if you’re staying in a place for longer than a few weeks, but if it’s a short visit – bottled or filtered water is the safest option.

“Traveler’s diarrhea can be caused by a virus or bacteria, but they are always associated with water.

Dr. Cindy Kermott

2. Skip ice cubes in drinks

Stay away from ice cubes. They present the same problem as tap water.

Most bacteria can withstand prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. All freezing water might do is put bacteria into a dormant phase and delay them from multiplying.

3. Don’t switch up your diet too much

Eating like a local is a great part of the traveling experience – but changing your diet too drastically can make you quite ill.

For example, if you go from non-oily foods to oily ones, or if you go from eating produce to a diet heavy in meats and carbs, you might find yourself with a very upset stomach.

A photo of a latte with a cute heart, with two more lattes in the background and a croissant.
Ease your way into new diets. Continue having the foods you are familiar with, alongside having new foods. Don’t change your diet drastically.

4. Be smart where you eat

If a place looks sketchy and deserted, there’s probably a reason why. Don’t risk eating at a place like that – or you might find yourself with food poisoning for the next few days.

The rule of thumb is that if you see somewhere with big crowds, it’s a surefire way to know that it’s okay to eat there.

5. Bring hand sanitizer with you

Hand sanitizer doesn’t replace washing your hands with soap and water, but it can be beneficial to have with you when you don’t have access to soap.

Soap and water are very effective at removing germs, but the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does state that alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations.

The CDC further advises the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol, as these are more effective at killing germs.

6. Get vaccinated

Get the recommended vaccines for the country that you’re visiting.

Vaccinations work by exposing our body to a part of the disease that we are trying to be protected against.

With that in mind, travel immunizations are done in order to protect ourselves from serious illnesses in certain areas of the world.

Curious about which vaccines you should get on your next trip? Check out this link from the World Health Organization.

The logo for the World Health Organization

7. Don’t neglect your normal medication

Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking your normal medication.

We all wish we could forget about our medication from time to time, but it’s not worth the outcome. Take your medication on time, and remain healthy so that you can enjoy your trip to the fullest.

8. Tone down your travel schedule

Not getting enough sleep, running around all day, and constantly catching flights and trains will wear most of us down.

Stress tends to weaken our immune system, so don’t push yourself beyond your limits. Make a relaxed travel schedule.

9. Rest after your travels

Rest after getting back home. Allot yourself a day or two, if possible, to rest after your trip.

This isn’t always possible, but I have found that when it has been, I have felt more energized and more well-rested.

It’s funny to think it, but sometimes you need a vacation from your vacation.

Now, when it’s too late to prevent getting sick, acknowledge that you are starting to feel ill and do something about it.

What can you do if you do get sick?

1. Visit a pharmacy or a doctor

If the sickness persists, go to a pharmacy or doctor.

Don’t wait through 4 days of food poisoning and then go to the pharmacy like I did, to then find out that you could’ve just taken pills that would have saved you from 3 of the 4 days of pain.

An easy way to find the closest pharmacy to you is by using google maps on your mobile device. Type “Pharmacies” into the search bar and sort by distance, opening hours, and more.

An example of searching up the term "Pharmacies" in google maps on mobile.

2. Drink more fluids

“Drinking things like water, juice, or electrolyte-containing fluids will help you replace the fluids and electrolytes you’ve lost.”

Dr. Kathleen Dass (from the Michigan Allergy, Asthma & Immunology center)

Illnesses can leave us dehydrated (e.g., from sweating because of fever, vomiting, or experiencing diarrhea).

Drinking fluids, such as water or juice, will help restore your fluid levels and helps flush out the bad things from our system.

A tea cup is shown with Turkish tea

3. Take vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and is essential for the proper functioning of immune cells. Furthermore, it is needed for the growth and repair of tissues within your body.

Vitamin C has two main benefits when it comes to colds:

  1. Reduces the severity of a cold
  2. Reduces the duration of a cold

Where can you get vitamin C from? Some sources include:

  • Supplements
  • Citrus fruits (e.g., oranges)
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes

4. Take a day to recharge

Sometimes, it may be worth quarantining yourself in your hotel room to recover.

Take the day to sleep, drink water, and rest your body so that you can get better for the remainder of your travels.

Additional tips

Travel insurance

Check your insurance before you travel.

Travel insurance is important because it will protect your health and well-being by covering any medical emergency expenses.

This is one of those things that you don’t realize you need until you actually need it.

Pack a mini med kit

Over my travels, I have learned that it’s important to keep a small medicine pack with myself. This pack typically includes the medicines I know work for me for when I get a cold and some first-aid items.

For example, I bring with me:

  • Gravol (anti-nausea pill)
  • Ibuprofen (painkillers)
  • Cough drops
  • Neocitran day + night
  • Band aids (multiple sizes)
  • Benedryl (antihistamine)
  • Tylenol day + night

After every trip, I seem to add another medicine into the medicine pack. You may find that on one trip you get a sore throat and realize that it would have been nice to bring some cough drops with you – so for the next trip, you just add them into the pack!

You know best what should be in yours. I highly recommend that you bring it with you wherever you go. I’ve made it a habit to even bring it with me while at home too – you never know when you might get sick at work and may need something.

Sooner of later, we all get sick at some point when we travel. Just remember, it’s only a brief period of time. You will get better!

What are your tips for not getting sick while traveling? Let me know in the comments below!