One of the biggest concerns people have with traveling–especially to areas where the water isn’t safe to drink–is how they can avoid getting sick.
The whole month or two before traveling to India, I wondered how I could avoid getting sick while there. I’d been warned and scared by so many people about the likelihood of getting sick from the food or water that I was considering packing a bunch of granola bars and living off that til I got to my ashram.
I’m beyond happy that I didn’t let my fear consume me too much–if I had, I never would’ve experienced the incredible food that I did in Delhi and throughout the rest of India.
Have I ever gotten sick traveling? Yes, and both times while living in third-world countries.
It actually took much longer in India than in Peru. There, I was sick within the first week of arrival. My stomach basically had to get used to the water there since my host mom used it to cook food.
In India, I made it up until the last week without having a reaction. I’m still not sure what caused it since I was eating and drinking the same things that everyone else in the ashram was, so that one remains a mystery.
Besides the stomach issues and vomiting, I also got a fever and chills and had to work it out of my body through the day and overnight. People who worked at the ashram helped take care of me, giving me tea boiled with Tulsi leaf and ginger together. I would definitely recommend that recipe if you find yourself with a stomach bug.
However, you want to try and prevent it altogether, here are a few surefire ways to avoid getting sick while traveling:
- Don’t drink tap water. Drink only bottled or filtered water. To be more environmentally conscious, when you’re out at restaurants you could ask the staff if they have filtered water you can fill your bottle up with. This is cheaper for you and better for the environment! For brushing your teeth, an idea I came up with for India was to use mouthwash to rinse with instead of water. It’s healthy for your gums anyway, and then you can completely skip the step of rinsing with water. Then, any bacteria that may linger from rinsing your toothbrush with the tap water (which probably won’t be significant enough to affect you, anyway) will be sterilized by the mouth wash when you rinsed. This is what I did the whole five weeks I was abroad. You can also avoid the annoyance of having to use up valuable bottled water every time you brush. Bring little travel sized bottles of antiseptic mouthwash with you, or buy some at the pharmacies at your end destination.
- Don’t eat fruits that don’t have a peel. Or a shell covering, like a coconut. You don’t want to eat fruits that have been exposed to whatever bacteria, touched by unwashed hands, etc. It might be tempting to buy fruits from vendors on the street, but just keep this rule in mind.
- In general, don’t eat uncooked things. This is a good guideline to follow since cooking foods to a certain temperature gets rid of any bacteria your stomach doesn’t want. (I.e. Boiling unfiltered water).
- Eat healthy and get adequate rest. The same way you should when you’re at home, maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep your immune system up. This can keep your body strong enough to fight off anything that shouldn’t be there. The reason a lot of people get sick while traveling is that they lose touch with their usual habits and health. It’s easy to slip into a different routine, or losing it completely, but maintaining some kind of normalcy will benefit your body in the long run.
- Don’t drink water so close to eating your food. If you’re going somewhere like India where the food is spicier than what you’re used to, those extra spices can upset your stomach. A tip someone gave me (Raghu, the tour guide for the ‘Delhi Belly Food Tour’ at Madpackers Hostel, Delhi) was to wait at least five minutes after eating something spicy before drinking water. This made a lot of sense to me because the lead guru at my yoga school had already been teaching us the last month not to drink close to eating time. You should always be giving at least an hour cushion before and after eating. Why? It confuses your digestive system. Your energy goes towards digesting food, and then you drink water. Your system has to switch its energy from breaking down the food to then processing the water. It simply makes digestion take even longer and messes with its efficiency. So especially with spicier foods, it makes it harder for your stomach to digest things when you’re washing it down with water, no matter how tempting it is to try and cool your mouth off. Just bask in the fire :) As my guru says, sometimes we need spices in life to make things more interesting.
Hopefully this bit of information I’ve acquired from traveling experiences helps you to stay healthy in your future travels!
No matter what please don’t let anyone scare or convince you from traveling. (Read about my India experience here). Exploring new places will never take away from your life more than it can add to it in so many beautiful, intangible ways. Danger is honestly everywhere, and staying home won’t keep you from it.
Have any questions, or other tips you’ve picked up along your own travels about how to avoid getting sick? Comment them below!