December 10, 2007

Staying Healthy on the Road

Depending on where you’re traveling, you’ll hear lots of different warnings about your health. Whether it’s Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, or something else entirely you’re trying to avoid, you don’t have to be paranoid or avoid local food entirely. A few precautions can help lessen the chances that you’ll get sick without making you miss out on some of the best parts of travel. Keep in mind, however, that no plan is fool proof, and you’re bound to get something sooner or later.

First of all, you should be carrying some kind of travel insurance. Check before you leave whether or not your standard health care plan will cover you when you travel. You may not think that you need insurance in cheap countries, but it’s always best to be prepared. In the unlikely event that something truly unfortunate and catastrophic happens, like emergency evacuation or repatriation of remains, it will cost tens of thousands of dollars. More expensive countries, like the US, Europe, Australia, etc., will cost more for basic health care services. Err on the side of caution and make sure you’re covered wherever you go.

You should also make sure to get your immunizations before you leave. Some countries require you to present an internationally recognized vaccination history upon entry. Without this important document showing you have the necessary shots (jabs), you will be denied entry. Vaccinations can be expensive, especially if you get a bunch of them at one time, but it’s worthwhile. If you’re traveling to any third world countries, I would also recommend a Rabies shot. Stray dogs can be everywhere, and often the local hospitals won’t be able to treat you properly if you get bitten.

Now, on to basic precautions in-country. First, check online or in your guidebook to see whether or not you should be drinking the water. If it’s not safe, then always drink bottled water. And before you drink or buy a bottle of water, check that the seal is unbroken. There have been numerous cases of bottles being filled with tap water and sold to unsuspecting tourists. Avoid ice, and make sure glasses and plates are dry before using them. If you’re in doubt about the sanitation levels of something, don’t consume it.

For street food and eating at restaurants, go for things that are fresh and piping hot. Street food is perfectly safe as long as you can see what’s going on. If the cooking area is clean, there are lots of customers, and your food was cooked right in front of you and served immediately, it should be perfectly safe. The problem is anything that’s been sitting around getting flyblown, picking up bacteria. If a place is popular, then the food shouldn’t be sitting around for long.

Try to pick restaurants that have plenty of local customers. Not only will the food be good, but it should be fresh and hygenically prepared. When buying fruit and vegetables from a market, get things that you can wash and then peel. Don’t eat the skin.

Make sure you stay hydrated when you travel, and try to eat a balanced diet. If you pick up anything while traveling, you’ll need your immune system running at full capacity. Take some rehydration packets with you, in case you get diarrhea.

Staying healthy while traveling is mostly common sense stuff. Street food isn’t by nature scary stuff. A quick look at how things are being prepared in a restaurant or street stall should be enough to tell you whether or not it’s reasonably safe. I got food poisoning at a four star hotel in Kathmandu, so it isn’t always how much you’re spending that makes food safe, only how it’s prepared.

Have any tips for staying healthy while on the road? Share in the comments.


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