10 ESSENTIAL TIPS TO STAY HEALTHY WHILE TRAVELING INTERNATIONALLY
After traveling the globe to 183 countries, here are some trade-secrets I do and don’t do to avoid getting sick when journeying abroad.
- Drink bottled everything.
One of the fastest ways to get sick is to drink the local water; therefore, I always stick with bottled water, even when brushing my teeth. Do not rinse your mouth in the sink or sing in the shower. I don’t drink juices or consume ice from the hotel buffet or tap water, even if the hotel says their water is filtered. Definitely skip the diet Pepsi from the soda fountains, because any soda from a fountain is mixed with tap water. Remember, bottled water and canned drinks only! Oh, and on an airplane make sure the water the flight attendant offers you comes directly from the bottle, and don’t ever brush your teeth using the water from the airplane bathroom spigot.
- Don’t eat the fruit or raw veggies.
While exotic fresh fruit or uncooked vegetables are tempting, I avoid eating thin-skinned fruits such as apples, grapes, pears, strawberries, blueberries, and olives, because water and bacteria can easily penetrate the produce. Ditto for the raw vegetables at the salad bar, including lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, etc. I skip the cheese too, as painful as that is. I know, what is Europe without cheese?
- Beware of “Common Areas.”
Have you ever seen the bacteria counts in airport, airline, hotel, and restaurant common-areas? Read this jaw-dropping article about common places to avoid. Call me a Germaphobe, but I keep my shirt untucked to open grimy hotel lobby and bathroom doors and dry my hands on my pants because of those disgusting fecal-laced hand dryers. After using the salad tongs at the buffet line, I will use anti-bacterial lotion. Wait, you used the salad tongs? No! They’re covered in e coli! Think about the common areas on an airplane. What do you think is dirtier than the toilet-flush button? The answer is your seat-back tray! It is 9x dirtier–think about how many babies’ butts have been on that tray! So, wipe it off with a sanitizing wipe before resting or eating on it during your next flight!
- Never EVER do this.
Perhaps the worst thing you can do while traveling abroad is swim in a local lake or hotel swimming pool. Just say, no! If you find yourself thinking: “Wow, look at that gorgeous waterfall and lagoon…how romantic. Let’s dive in!” “It’s so warm here in Guatemala, and that pool looks refreshing!” “That South African lake looks so alluring, and the village children are swimming in it, so it must be safe to swim in.” ALL these thoughts are bad and acting on these thoughts is even worse. Here’s another BAD idea: “How about getting baptized in Israel’s Jordan River?” Speaking from experience, this was a bad decision, because the stagnant water was full of bacteria and entered my body through my nose and ears, making me extremely sick. Shudder!
- Be prepared.
It has happened to all of us. The lady behind you starts sneezing and doesn’t stop during your three-hour flight. Forty-eight hours later…you’re running a mild fever and your nose is running. If I am on a plane and someone around me starts coughing or sneezing, I don one of the anti-bacterial masks I carry in my briefcase, which are all the rage in Asian countries. What else can you do if someone is hacking near you on a plane? Before the door closes, alert a flight attendant and discreetly tell him/her you’re concerned about remaining healthy and need to be re-seated.
- Watch where you eat.
One of the worst mistakes I ever made was in Jamaica. Negril’s intoxicating azure waters and palm trees elegantly lining the beautiful white-sand beach…What could possibly go wrong with drinking a freshly made coconut-milk cocktail and eating a curried-goat sandwich from a beach vendor? Lots. Believe me. I still regret that decision 25 years later. Street food is generally something I don’t do, EVER. I can hear people saying, “I’m a foodie, and everything looks and smells so appealing! I want to try new things!” Street fish, chicken, and raw meats should absolutely be avoided because they are highly susceptible to bacteria. Remember, many countries screen travelers to ensure they don’t spread sickness, looking for arriving passengers who are visibly ill or have body temperatures above normal. Sampling street food just isn’t worth the risk of being denied entry into another country and being miserable for days or weeks afterwards.
- Watch what you eat.
When I am on an extended trip, I generally choose bland foods. While it’s tempting to try the local fare, even at a hotel, travelers should exercise caution. In Kiribati, for example, the fresh fish caught in the lagoon can make tourists very sick because raw sewage is in the water and the fish are literally poisonous. So, while the locals eat fish from the lagoon every day, if you or I did, it would end our journey (or worse). It’s a great story to talk about the bird’s nest soup and other delicacies you sampled in China, but it is way smarter to opt for much safer carbohydrate-based foods at your hotel, such as pizza and sandwiches.
- Have hotel room smarts.
Have you ever thought about how many people stay in a hotel room every year? 300 to 400 people a year. How often do you think those rooms are deep-cleaned? Let’s leave it there. On most trips, I generally wear flip-flops in my room after getting out of the shower. Don’t lay on the bedspread. Trust me…you don’t want to see what’s on it. Generally, I exercise every day, but I do not do push-ups or any other type of exercise on the floor. I’ve heard of some travelers bringing their own pillowcases, but I don’t. I like to live on the wild side.
- Carry (and re-stock) your portable medicine cabinet.
So, you probably didn’t know about the poisonous fish in Kiribati, and now you have the world’s worst stomachache! Or, maybe you got a wicked nasal infection from that lady sneezing on your last flight? What to do now? Should you go to the hospital? In Kiribati–are you crazy? That would be a very bad move! Since you’ve planned ahead by reading this article, you’ll take one of the essential antibiotics or medicines you packed in your personal, portable medicine kit. Cipro, Zithromax, Hydrocodone, Tamiflu, Sudafed, ibuprofen, and Ambien are in my kit. I also carry Zicam, which wards off the common cold. At the hint of a cold, I take a Zicam or two, and this miracle drug works wonders–don’t travel without it!
- Be knowledgeable about vaccinations.
About 10 minutes before landing in the Marshall Islands, I struck up a conversation with my seat neighbor who asked, “You got your Hepatitis A shot, right?” “Um…no…do I need one?” was my pathetic response. I certainly should’ve researched that sanitary standards are laxer in this region and should’ve known better. I won’t make that mistake again and neither should you. I am vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, oral typhoid, Yellow Fever (required for most of Africa), and tetanus.
- Stay healthy by exercising regularly.
The best thing you can do to stay healthy while traveling is to exercise daily. “Yeah, but I’ve been flying all day/night.” Yup, you need exercise to boost your immunity! “But, I’m jet-lagged and tired.” Trust me, after 30 minutes on a treadmill you will feel much better and will wake up more refreshed.