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6 Simple Ways to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling Internationally

A model airplane and stethoscope rest on a passport and map.
Gecko Studio/Shutterstock

Exposure to contagions is almost inevitable, especially when you’re on the road. We cross paths with a lot of people, and we come into contact with a whole range of things. Pathogens are everywhere. However, there are simple and practical ways to minimize your risk of getting sick anywhere you go. 

Get Vaccinated

Depending on your travel destination, this could be the first and most important thing you do in preparation for your trip. Prevention is an easy way to avoid all sorts of health concerns, and getting vaccinated is an easy way to get long-term protection against a number of diseases. 

That said, not all vaccinations are necessary, let alone mandatory. Vaccinations depend on a variety of factors, including your itinerary, the length of the trip, the activities you intend to do, and your personal health history. As such, it’s good to consult your doctor and discuss your travel plans to make sure you take the appropriate precaution before departing. 

Yellow fever is one disease that should be on your radar. Countries where the disease is present require you to have proof of vaccination against it, which you need to present if you’re traveling to any other country afterward. A general recommendation is to get immunized against those serious diseases that were never included in routine vaccinations—such as rabies, hepatitis A, and typhus—and any other disease present in the country you’re planning to visit. 

If you’re not sure where to start, the CDC maintains a helpful list of recommended vaccinations based on your destination. Just plug in where you plan on going and take the list to your doctor.

Wash Your Hands

It doesn’t get easier than that. All it takes is water, soap, and the will to rub your hands for about 30 seconds of your time. 

Whether you’re hiking in the mountains or enjoying a sightseeing bus tour, you’re bound to come into contact with a variety of bacteria that could compromise your immunity. Our hands touch all kinds of surfaces and eventually even our faces. The moment our digits meet our eyes or mouths, or even an open wound, that’s when trouble arises. 

While a healthy individual might be able to fight off whatever bug was picked up along the way, sometimes it’s hard to avoid suffering the consequences, which could include wasting precious holiday time in bed or in the bathroom. 

To lower your chances of infection, always remember to wash your hands regularly, especially before having a meal and after going to the toilet. Hand sanitizer surely helps, but it shouldn’t be used as a substitute to good old soap and hot water. 

Watch Out for Raw Food

Roman lettuce being washed in a restaurant sink.
Pj Aun/Shutterstock

Whether it’s a salad or a fresh juice, chances are the fruits and vegetables used to make them were washed with local tap water. Because you’re in a different environment, your immune system is not familiar to the local pathogens and can’t help you fight any germ you come in contact with. This means that even a small amount of something as simple as water can wreak havoc in your body. 

If you want to avoid diarrhea, vomiting, or getting a fever at all costs, opt for cooked vegetables and fruits with a peel. Salads might be refreshing, but they could cost you a lot of bad times and maybe even some meds. Keep the trouble away and try handling fresh produce yourself. 

Stick to Bottled Water

This relates to the previous point. We’ve established that the purity of local tap water in many places isn’t to be trusted, especially in countries where sanitation doesn’t match the standards your body is used to. For that reason, it’s always best to drink bottled or even canned water to avoid upsetting your digestive system. Also, it’s a good habit to double-check that the seal is properly closed as a popular scam is to sell bottles that have been refilled with tap water, both in shops and in restaurants. 

If it’s your first time traveling abroad or you know your immune system to be rather delicate, use bottled water even to brush your teeth for peace of mind. 

Shield Yourself from the Sun

If you’re traveling somewhere with hot temperatures, make sure you do your best to protect your body from all the dangerous consequences that exposure to the sun can lead to. From sunburn to heatstroke, sunlight is a powerful element that can bring you joy as much as it can negatively affect your health. 

Prevention is easy though it requires consistency and consideration. On top of using sunscreen daily, even on a cloudy day, it’s best to avoid sun exposure for extended periods of time during peak sun hours—between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.—when radiation is at its highest intensity. 

However, if your plans include spending a lot of time outdoors as part of a tour or a hiking expedition, don’t forget to cover your head with a hat or scarf, and wear long and loose clothing if possible. And most importantly, drink plenty of water to keep up with the heat. Dehydration, caused by excess sweating and sun exposure, can lead to serious health conditions, including sun exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms include throbbing headaches, dizziness, nausea, muscle weakness, and rapid heartbeat. If left untreated, it could quickly turn into an emergency. 

Beware of Mosquitoes

Although they are a mere nuisance most of the time, mosquito bites can lead to unpleasant situations that could sometimes include a hospital. If you’re lucky, you just get to deal with an itchy swollen bite; if not, you might end up infected with one of the many diseases mosquitos can carry, like dengue, yellow fever, and malaria. 

While there are no infallible prevention methods, there are a few ways to minimize the risk of exposure to those annoying tiny beasts. Mosquitoes thrive in warm and wet environments, which means you can easily lower your chances of getting bitten by sleeping in an air-conditioned room at night. If that’s not an option, find a mosquito net, possibly one coated in permethrin, a potent chemical that can kill mosquitos and that shouldn’t be applied on the skin. 

To avoid being bitten outside your room, apply mosquito repellent on the exposed areas of your body and cover up as much as you can with loose and light clothing. If the situation calls for it, light up a citronella candle as the smell will deter the little beasts and provide the humans in your company with a pleasant sensation on the nose. 

While getting vaccinated is a great way to protect ourselves from many diseases, it only works for a certain number of them. Preventing exposure is the key factor to avoid getting sick. To minimize your exposure to pathogens of all kinds while on the road, follow the easy tips mentioned above and lead your travels with more confidence and fewer worries on your mind. 

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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