Avoiding Traveler’s Sickness

Traveling to distant places normally comes with a price: your body and mind need to adapt to new conditions, normally leading to traveler’s sickness. These are my tips on avoiding traveler’s sickness.

Jet lag, food, temperature, humidity, altitude, bugs, smells and hygiene conditions among others can have an immediate impact on you. I personally think avoiding traveler’s sickness can be done if you prepare for them and think about what you’re doing. Let’s look more deeply into the most common problems a traveler faces.

Avoiding Traveler’s Sickness: Jet Lag

This traveler’s sickness is hard to avoid. To be honest, I don’t recall jet lag having any real impact on me to the point that it made me miss out on anything. I’ve read about a few techniques to avoid it, but I only really do one thing to minimize it: I force myself into the new time zone.

Long flights can be a burden. I see many people just trying to sleep through them. What I try to do is force myself into the new time zone by managing my sleep time. If I’m going to arrive at my destination very early, I try to sleep as if it were a night flight. If I’m arriving late, I avoid sleeping so I can sleep when I arrive. The most that can happen for me is feeling a little bit tired, but the adrenaline traveling gives me is more than enough to keep me powered up without needing any extra rest.

Avoiding Traveler’s Sickness: Traveler’s Diarrhea

Diarrhea is also a tough one to avoid. In all my travels, I never had it and I think the reason for that is that I played safe. Playing safe does not mean missing out on local food. On the contrary, I only have local food everywhere I go. Playing safe means gently getting used to local food; Here are a few guidelines that can help you adjust:

  • Stay hydrated. I always have a bottle of water on me at all times;
  • Don’t eat street food in the first week;
  • Never eat salads. This is painful because I love them;
  • Avoid eating fruit not peeled by yourself, unless it’s an extremely trustable place like a 4 to 5-star hotel for example;
  • If you don’t trust the tap water, don’t have any drinks with ice. A beer is a sealed bottle that will not give you any problems (unless you drink too much!); Make sure the bottles are opened in front of you and never accept it if already opened;
  • After a week or so of playing safe, start treating yourself to a little riskier food;
  • Ending week two, my body is ready for almost anything. Once I even had homemade ice cream sold on the street in India;

Additional Tips for Avoiding Traveler’s Diarrhea

  • If you don’t trust the general sanitarian conditions, go vegetarian. Cooked veggies are safe. Bad meat isn’t. I was basically vegetarian while in India after seeing how meat was sold on the streets;
  • Stay away from seafood if it doesn’t come from a trusted source. If I was in a third world country far away from the sea, I would not eat seafood. At a coastal city or village, I wouldn’t think twice. The logic is simple: in places with frequent power shortages and bad infrastructure, it is very hard to transport and store sensitive goods in the best conditions and seafood deteriorates quickly if not properly stored;
  • Have an instant Imodium with you just in case. Fortunately, I never used mine, although it was useful for a fellow traveler;

What to Do in case You Get Traveler’s Diarrhea

From what I’ve seen and read, this is what I think you should do to fix this traveler’s sickness. Take this advice at your own risk as I am not a doctor:

  • Have an instant Imodium on you, just in case, but only use it if you really need to;
  • Only take pills in extreme situations, like this example of my friend on a bus. If you’re at a hotel, let your body adjust naturally. If it doesn’t go away in a couple of days, you probably need to go and see a doctor;
  • Drink lots of water;
  • Stay hydrated: take oral rehydration solution packets that accelerate your recovery. I had them with me, but again, never used them for myself;
  • Eat simple things like toasted bread or plain rice. Tea is also good. Stay away from spicy food and coffee;
  • Get plenty of rest. Focus all your energy on your recovery. It’s better to lose a day or two and fully heal;

Avoiding Traveler’s Sickness: Sunstroke and dehydration

The urge to see everything and make the most of each day can sometimes get you into trouble if you aren’t careful. Hot countries like Thailand and Singapore or countries that have deserts like India, Middle Eastern and northern African countries can be a challenge.

Drinking lots of water is your first priority, but it’s not enough:

  • Drink plenty of water (can’t repeat this enough);
  • Always have a good sunscreen on you;
  • Cover your body to avoid direct sun;
  • Wear a hat, scarf or buff;
  • In extreme situations, I stay out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day (12pm to 16pm);

Avoiding Traveler’s Sickness: Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness really is a random and tough traveler’s sickness to deal with as there is no way to predict who will suffer from it. It doesn’t depend on your physical condition or age, although I personally think that being fit is always an advantage in any circumstance.

These are the typical altitude sickness symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite

I saw people taking pills to prevent the effects; others took pills to feel better. I saw a man pass out twice due to lack of oxygen. In some countries in South America, they chew coca leaves.

I didn’t take anything and never felt anything except that it really is harder to breathe at high altitude. I’m probably lucky, but I also have another theory: I think the adrenalin and excitement I feel while traveling just fights these things. Or maybe I’m just lucky.

What definitely helps is taking it easy. When you go above 2400 meters, slow down and acclimatize. This means spending some time letting your body adjust to lesser oxygen levels. Avoid immediately engaging in strenuous activities. Sleep, read or write. Just take it easy and slow down. If you feel the symptoms and they don’t go away or get worse, there is only one thing you can do: descend to a lower altitude. Prepare yourself and read about altitude sickness before you depart.

Avoiding Traveler’s Sickness: Food Poisoning

Can you avoid food poisoning? It depends on the circumstances. Sometimes controlling the circumstances is harder than it looks. Imagine you’re on a tour in a remote location, like a tour in a desert. With limited access to food, you rely on the person responsible for feeding you. How can you get around this? You can plan ahead and take your own food, but this is not always possible.

The truth is food poisoning can happen anywhere, even in a Michelin Star restaurant. It also depends on the person as some people are more resilient to certain food issues than others. The main tip I can give you, in general, is to follow my guidelines for avoiding traveler’s diarrhea.

If you still get food poisoning after reading my great tips, take care of yourself before moving on. A full recovery will make the rest of your trip more enjoyable. If you can, put your trip on hold for a couple of days:

  • Rest as much as you can;
  • Drink lots of water and rehydrate with oral rehydration solution packets that can help your body get back to normal;
  • Eat to keep your energy levels high. Plain and simple food like white rice or vegetable rice and plain toast are good choices;
  • Again, drink lots of water.

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