I was nearing the end of my 70-day backpacking trip in Europe, and was just chilling out in a friend’s home in Belgium. I had over a week left, so I was planning to go see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the tulips in Holland. Suddenly, bam! the next day I felt feverish, then I had the colds, cough, and voice loss. I had no choice but to stay and postpone my France and the Netherlands trips.
Getting sick while traveling really sucks, to say the least. I had been very healthy prior to this; I weathered (pun intended) the temperature change very well when I arrived in Belgium (-15 deg Celsius) last February from sunny and humid Philippines (32 deg C). I stayed in numerous couches, traveled by plane, bus, boats, and trains. If you think about it, I have probably been exposed to a number of germs that could have brought me down. But it didn’t. At least not until towards the end.
If you are backpacking for longer than a month, make sure to stay healthy. Here are some tips on how to avoid getting sick while traveling:
Take Vitamin C regularly. In the Philippines, I usually take 1,000mg a day of ascorbic acid religiously. For some reason, I only bought one bottle of 30 tablets for my Euro trip, and when it ran out, I never bothered to buy a new pack. Backpacking is stressful, yes, and my immune system—lowered by all the stress, drinking beers in Belgium, and inhaling cigarette smoke everywhere—took a beating and finally gave in.
Drink a lot of water. In Europe, if you’re not careful, all you will ever drink is beer or cola. If you buy water, it will cost you 1 euro upwards for a small bottle! So do what I did—I always brought a bottle of water with me whenever I went sightseeing.
Bring tissues, wet wipes, or hand sanitizers. Believe me, you can dirty your hands anytime when you travel. You don’t want those germs to reach your mouth or eyes, do you? In comparison, a headache or colds is peachy compared to diarrhea, so bring a lot of wet wipes or hand sanitizers. Use it especially after you take the public transportation or after using the toilet.
Load up on seafood, vegetables, and fruits. I’m really guilty at not doing this, and my unhealthy meals have probably contributed to my lowered immune system. I just ate sandwiches almost everywhere, pasta in Italy, and meat in Greece (all those moussaka and gyros!). No matter if fruits are expensive or hard to find, eat a lot of them to boost your immune system.
Sleep at least 6 hours a day. Yes, I know this is very hard to do, especially if you’re a party person and you are meeting Couchsurfing members every night. But trust me—you need your sleep, especially if you’ve been guzzling alcoholic drinks like there’s no tomorrow!
Bring a first-aid kit. Yeah, this goes without saying, right? Unfortunately, I don’t always follow my own tips. My medicine pouch only contained Paracetamol and Loperamide. Nothing at all for cough, colds, or even for pain (I always use Mefenamic Acid for that). So, for your own good, bring the meds that you think you might need during your travels. It will save you a lot of trouble!
Bring insect repellant and sunscreen. These are especially important when you’re traveling in Asia. While mosquitoes are not as common in Europe during winter (I only experienced some in Padova, Italy), they are all over Asia any time of the year. You might also consider getting malaria shots, or at least get updated on your vaccines.
Get a medical or travel insurance before you go. You might end up not using it, but better be safe than sorry!
Despite taking all these precautions, you may still get sick. When you do, don’t treat it as if it was the end of the world. Medicate yourself, hydrate, sleep a lot, and enjoy the rest of your travels!
With contributions from Bonzenti Panganiban, Jojo Ayson, Jasper Jugan, Lauren Gaile, Kevin Franciz, Journeying Pinay, Alvin Sabay, Juan DerfulPinoy, Welson Chua, Grasya Bangoy, Plif Damon, and Kimkawayan Lim.
How about you? What are your tried and tested tips to avoid getting sick while traveling?
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!