How To Avoid Getting Sick While Travelling
I’m sure you have all heard the horror stories. Someone getting sick while travelling. Whether it was someone backpacking across Asia or an All-Inclusive hotel in Europe, it can happen anywhere. But the odds are higher when you are in a foreign country where food hygiene standards aren’t what you're accustomed to. Or where the tap water isn’t safe to drink.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of becoming sick. These tips aren't fool proof, but they will certainly give you a better chance of staying healthy while travelling.
Top Tips To Avoid Getting Sick While Backpacking
Don't be afraid to eat the street food
Many travellers avoid street food in fear of becoming sick. But if your order is cooked fresh in front of you, you can see the conditions they are preparing your food in and what ingredients they are using (unlike a restaurant where you have no idea what the kitchen looks like or what they are cooking)
Tasty street food in Thailand
Avoid food that has been sat out for a long period
Buffet foods are home to bacteria, especially meat.
Avoid food that has lots of flies around it
Flies are attracted to corpses, rubbish and faeces. Their hairs carry traces of faeces and bacteria and pass them onto the food.
Don’t drink the tap water
In some places, it’s ok but if you’re not sure then avoid it. NEVER drink the tap water in India. It is the number 1 cause of dysentery and parasite infection in India and across the world. Drink bottled water that you have opened yourself and make sure the lid hasn’t been tampered with. Order drinks without ice.
Seafood is ok if it’s fresh. Some seafood dishes are notorious for causing intestinal problems. Shell fish is best avoided in certain places. I have eaten in restaurants which have told me the fish was fresh when it wasn't. Ask other travellers and locals to recommend a good seafood restaurant.
Seafood street food market in Hong Kong, popular with locals and tourists
Eat where the locals go
This is a good indication that the restaurant serves good food. If a place doesn’t have good standards, then people won’t usually go back. Food is more likely to be fresh in a busy restaurant rather than somewhere that has few customers. Local eateries are cheaper than tourist spots too.
Our favourite street food lady in La Paz, Bolivia. Fresh chicken and vegetables for £1
Make sure your food is cooked properly
Especially eggs and chicken. Order your food well done and if you’re not sure then send it back.
Wash your hands before eating
Or carry a hand sanitiser. In some countries, such as India, it is tradition to eat with your hands. So best make sure your hands are clean first.
A banana leaf curry we ate in Kerala. No knives and forks required, it tastes better with your hands.
Peeled fruit is generally safe. But a fruit salad which may have been washed in local tap water should be avoided. This is how I got sick in India and I have never been able to eat a salad since.
Unpasteurised dairy products
Check the labels of cheese and yoghurts for evidence of pasteurisation. Canned milk is usually ok. The sweetened canned milk they use in Thailand and Malaysia to make iced tea tastes so good!
Check the packaging for proof of pasteurisation
Buy comprehensive travel insurance
When we were living in Hong Kong Stu needed a CT scan. If our insurance hadn’t paid out for it, it would’ve cost us thousands of pounds. Any hospital treatment abroad will cost a LOT of money unless you have comprehensive insurance. If you are travelling around the EU make sure you carry your EHIC card.
Never accept food or drink from others
Unless it’s a family. Even then be a little cautious and listen to your gut. In some countries, it’s polite and a part of their culture to share food, especially in China. We were often given fruit and snacks by families during train journeys. A bit of common sense is required. Never accept a drink from anyone.
Be careful of which alcohol you are consuming
It is common in many parts of Asia for people to make ‘home brew’ spirits. Branded spirits are expensive to import so they make their own to save money, often using methanol as a cheap substitute. This is very dangerous. They may even pour their home-made version into a used Smirnoff vodka bottle for example, so it would be impossible for you to notice. Stick to local drinks which are not imported.
People drinking buckets of unknown spirits in Thailand. Check which alcohol is used and stick to local spirits rather than imported brands.
If you have just arrived to a new area and you’re not sure where to eat or drink, use Tripadvisor to choose a highly rated restaurant.
Power cuts are common in many parts of the world. If a restaurant freezes their food, then consider your options carefully when ordering. Meat especially, should not be frozen, defrosted then refrozen. Eating fresh food is much safer in this scenario.
Ask other travellers
If you hear of other travellers getting sick, ask where they think it happened and avoid eating there. When we visited Hampi in India, so many other travellers were getting sick. It was one particular restaurant that was serving bad food.
Pack rehydration salts
Dioralyte sachets contain rehydration salts which replace body fluids lost because of acute diarrhoea. These will help. If you have been seriously sick for several days, seek advise from a doctor.
This will only apply if you’re travelling to high altitude destinations, such as Cusco in Peru or La Paz in Bolivia. Stu got really sick in Cusco. Symptoms range from mild headaches to sickness and diarrhoea. Do what the locals do and drink coco leaf tea to help.
We stayed with this lady during our Lake Titicaca trip in Peru. Her family served us lots of coco leaf tea.
Get the correct vaccinations for you trip
Check with your doctor or travel nurse before you travel to get the right medication and vaccinations for your destination. Remember to take malaria tablets regularly and read the information on the packaging carefully. Some malaria tablets need to be taken for a length of time after you have returned from your trip.
Wear insect repellent
Mosquitos spread other viruses which do not currently have a vaccination, such as dengue fever. I have met travellers who have contracted dengue fever so always use an insect repellent. I personally use one containing Deet.
For more healthy travel tips, download our FREE Travel Fitness Guide!