Falling ill when travelling is a most disheartening experience. Usually it means losing time on your precious holiday, trying to find a medical person who speaks your language, or it can turn into a serious illness and you may be a very long way from decent medical care and from the care of friends and family. Here are my suggestions to stay healthy when travelling.
Water – I reckon that more people fall foul of water problems than any other cause. You need to take a cautious approach with water regardless of where you travel. Even in places with a safe water supply just the difference to your normal water can cause minor problems. Remember that contaminated water can catch the unwary as it can be found on salads and in ice-cubes. Drink bottled water or do as I do, carry a UV Water Purifier, mine is a SteriPEN Freedom Water Purifier that is recharged via USB.
Food – One of the great fallacies of travel is “Never eat street food”. Experienced travellers know this to be incorrect for street food is flavoursome and cheap. So how can you tell which establishments are safe to eat? Simple – only eat at busy places frequented by locals. Any busy place with a fast turnover of food is highly unlikely to cause you problems, where quiet places with food sitting for prolonged periods waiting to be consumed is far more problematic. Thus a busy street stall is a safer option than a quiet upmarket restaurant. My rule is that if a lake, river or ocean is not nearby, I almost never eat fish. Further, if a place is subject to frequent power cuts, don’t chance any meats either. Before you eat anything, use a hand sanitizer – I reckon using one ensured that my seven week trip to India and Bangladesh remained illness free.
Biting Insects and Animals – one of the deadliest creatures on earth is the mosquito due to the diseases it may carry such as malaria and dengue fever. The most dangerous period is at dusk, so ensure you have DEET repellent and/or wear long clothes to avoid being bitten. In malarial areas always try to sleep under a mosquito net. If such nets are not available, but a fan is, turn it on to a fast speed and create a large breeze. Mosquitoes avoid such breezes and if you position the fan correctly, they will stay away from your bed. As my doctor told me, a bite or scratch from any animal should be treated as a serious medical situation, so if this occurs seek medical attention.
Immunisations – You name it, it is highly likely I have been immunised for it. There are standard inoculations that everyone should have regardless if they travel or not: Hepatitis A and B, Polio, and Tetanus. Add to this, inoculations for Typhoid and possibly Meningococcal Meningitis if travelling to suspect areas in addition to Rabies (though I have never been immunised for this). Remember that you may require Yellow Fever if heading to large portions of Africa and South America. Some countries (and not just in Yellow Fever areas) insist on checking if you have been inoculated for Yellow Fever if you are entering or have just visited a country in a Yellow Fever area. Ensure you carry your Yellow Fever certificate with you, because if you do not, you may be forced to pay for another expensive jab.
Medication – Try to obtain your medication from your home country for medications may change in name and availability in different countries. It is important that you bring any vital medication with you in your carry-on baggage on a plane. If you luggage is delayed and you miss a dose, that could cause you major problems. Also, bring a medical certificate from your qualified medical practitioner (and carry an extra copy as well) in case you are questioned by authorities at customs or other places. You need a medical kit and mine contains the following: different sized bandages, antiseptic cream, paracetamol, general antibiotic, two types of anti-diarrhoea medication (one a “stopper” when problems arise, and a specific antibiotic if problems persist), sore throat gargle, small scissors, tweezers and any specific your qualified medical practitioner deems necessary.
If you are feeling ill and require medical attention, I would recommend contacting your local embassy should be able to provide you with a list of recommended medical providers. When I caught the potentially life-threatening scrub typhus in South East Asia, I contacted the local Australian Embassy and they directed me to an excellent medical centre.
Of course you should travel with insurance, and further information is provided below.
I use World Nomads travel insurance. Why? Two reasons: first they are one of the only providers that allow travellers to purchase insurance whilst already on the road without the need to return to their home country. Second, their claims procedure is very impressive. My DSLR fell out of my camera bag and was damaged, and World Nomads paid out my claim even before I paid for the repairs on the camera. This fast claims process was repeated on a later claim. If you cannot afford travel insurance you cannot afford to travel. World Nomads has my highest recommendation.