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How To Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling -- How To Prevent Montezuma's Revenge

Updated on May 15, 2012

Don't Get Sick On Your Trip

Traveling opens you up to the world and offers you new adventures, but it also comes with some health concerns. When traveling to foreign countries, you're exposed to unusual foods, different types of diseases and bacteria. If you're not cautious, you can end up getting ill ... which would definitely put a damper on your journey. Trust me, I've seen the after effects of people who haven't been careful -- and it wasn't pretty!

Fortunately, it's fairly easy to take care of yourself if you plan ahead, stay on your toes and pay attention to your surroundings. I've traveled to many countries from the time I was a child, including Mexico, Egypt, China, Russia and Nigeria, and -- I'm probably going to jinx myself, but -- can honestly say that I've never gotten sick on a trip. This wasn't just due to luck; I was careful. I had a good time and enjoyed the food and my environment, but I also made sure that I could stay healthy during that time.

You, too, can have a healthy and happy vacation. Here are my tips for avoiding illness on your next exotic vacation.

Don't Drink The Water And Other Practical Travel Tips

When traveling to a forgeign country, you'll often be advised to not drink the water, but staying healthy goes beyond that. Here are the ways in which I've avoided illness while traveling.

1. Make sure that you get the appropriate shots/medications beforehand. Many countries have diseases which you may not have at home. Make sure you get vaccines so you can prevent yourself from getting them, especially since some of these diseases can be dangerous and deadly. For instance, when we went to Nigeria earlier this year, we got several shots, including one for yellow fever and then also got anti-malaria pills. Research your country well in advance and find out what shots you'll need; in some cases, they won't even let you into that country unless you're vaccinated. Most cities have a professional travel clinic which can administer them, but if you're unsure where to go, talk to your doctor. What's also very important is that you make sure you get these shots at least six weeks in advance. Many medications take time to take effect and some require a series of shots, so you'll need that time to get them. Do NOT wait until the last minute to get this taken care of.

2. If given medications, follow the directions for taking them to the letter. Often you'll have to begin taking a pill before you leave for your location and then continue taking it when you return. This was the case with our malaria pills. Once we were back in the United States, it was easy for us to feel "safe" from the illness because we were no longer in Nigeria, but we faithfully continued to take our pills until they were finished, just as our doctor ordered.

3. Bring backup over-the-counter medications. You don't have to bring an entire pharmacy, but it's always good to have some extra over-the-counter medications on hand since the mere act of travel sometimes gives people stomach troubles. I always bring Pepto Bismol and Imodium in case I get a little "traveler's diarrhea." I also bring aspirin and antacid. It never hurts to be prepared!

4. Don't stop taking your non-travel medications. It's easy to forget to take, say, your blood pressure medicine when you're in a new place and your schedule is off. Remind yourself to do so. Since I'm diabetic, I need to take several pills a day. I made sure beforehand that I had enough pills for my entire trip and took all the same as I do at home. I suggest that you count out your pills beforehand and even put aside some extras in case some get lost. Then take them on a schedule. Don't worry so much about a time difference; if you took a pill in the morning, continue to do it in the morning in that place. Just don't skip days. Even set an alarm to remind yourself if you think you might forget.

5. Use sun screen and bug spray. Even if you're taking travel pills, why tempt fate? It's usually insects that spread disease, so take extra precautions to keep them from biting you. If your sleeping quarters have mosquito screens, keep them closed. Also use sunscreen liberally. This is something that you should do, anyway, but use even more if you're in a hot, sunny place. It only takes a few seconds to apply and it's worth it to avoid skin cancer. Besides, being eaten alive or sunburned and sore will just ruin your trip.

6. If you're advised not to drink the water in a certain country, DON'T. Drink bottled water instead or ask your doctor if he or she can recommend tablets that you can use to purify the water. However, you need to more than just that. Don't use ice in drinks. I've seen Americans get Montezuma's Revenge in Mexico because they ordered drinks on the rocks. Don't brush your teeth with the tap water; pour some bottled water into a cup and rinse with that instead. Don't swim in freshwater; you don't want to risk swallowing any. Don't keep your moth open while showering; I actually know someone who got ill from doing this because she ended up drinking a bit of the water. Don't have fresh juice, fruits or vegetables; make sure they're cooked. This can be difficult when you're in a place that has beautiful tropical fruits, but for me, at least, it's not worth eating them. Ask for drinks without ice. Of course, if you're staying in a place for a long time, all of the above is a different story. In that case, talk with a doctor about what steps you can take to gradually adjust to that country's water. Another thing you can do is buy canned juices from supermarkets.

7. Watch what you eat. Trying new foods is fun, but many countries, such as Thailand or Mexico, offer very spicy cuisine. Learn how to ask for mild in that country's language if you can't handle foods that are too fiery. If you do like spicy foods, work your way up the spiciness scale. Don't go eating a pot of hot peppers on your very first day! Let your body get used to the spices first. Also, make sure foods are thoroughly cooked -- and if you're eating sushi, make sure it's fresh. If anything tastes wrong, stop eating it. I had a friend who ate salmon that wasn't thoroughly cooked while traveling and he became very ill. He could've easily avoided this if he'd asked the restaurant to cook it for longer. Also, be careful when eating street foods. Make sure that the stand appears clean and that the food is thoroughly cooked and hasn't been sitting out. If you love street food, see if you can get recommendations for safe, good local fare.

8. If you're prone to motion sickness or sea sickness, bring Dramamine or whatever else your doctor can recommend for you. Chances are you'll be flying during this journey and will be taking trains and buses. In many places, this won't be a smooth trip. In Iceland, for example, we drove along bumpy dirt pathways that could barely qualify as roads. In Mexico, we traveled by herky-jerky buses. Don't let motion sickness derail your good time.

9. Get enough sleep. It's hard sometimes when you're all keyed up and there's so much to do. But don't stay up all night for several nights on end. Give yourself a rest. When you don't get enough sleep your immunity is compromised.

10. Be cautious when drinking alcohol. Remember, alcohol dehyrdates you so if you overdo it, make sure you drink enough bottled water so that you don't get hung over and sick. Also, if you go to any clubs, watch as your drink is prepared because I've heard of some cases where people's drinks were drugged.

11. Get traveler's insurance. When my parents were in South America, my mom broke her arm and needed surgery. Thank goodness she had insurance for this! You just never know what may happen. Chances are, nothing will happen, but it's worth it to have backup in case.

12. Get a checkup beforehand especially if you have a chronic illness or condition. It's always good to make sure that you're in good enough shape to travel, but if you suffer from asthma or a bum knee, check in with your doctor beforehand.

Most importantly -- have FUN! Yes, this list is long, but what traveling healthfully really comes down to is taking care of yourself and using common sense. By doing a few simple things you can assure yourself that you'll have a great time and illness won't get in the way.


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