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How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

12 April 2012 11,817 views 18 Comments

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.

Trappist Beer

The Trappist beers in Belgium are really good, but drink more water to keep healthy!

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:


My couch (an air mattress) in Padova, Italy.

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 everywheretook 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.


Moussaka is certainly delicious, but it’s almost all meat!

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!

frankfurt am main airport

Grab a nap wherever you can, even if you’re in an airport (in Frankfurt am Main).

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?

 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!

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  • Traveling Morion said:

    helpful tips aleah! stay safe and healthy to explore more interesting places in Europe,,
    Traveling Morion recently posted..Morion’s Travel: Don’t tell your momma that I am going to Mindanao

  • mervz | pinoyadventurista.com said:

    Very helpful tips! Thanks for sharing Aleah! ^_^
    mervz | pinoyadventurista.com recently posted..Negros Oriental – Food Trippin’ in Dumaguete City

  • Aleah said:

    Thanks, Jeffrey, Mervz!
    Aleah recently posted..How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

  • Monisima said:

    Nice. Being sick while traveling really sucks. I would add, take Vit. A regularly, as it helps to prevent sickness:)
    Monisima recently posted..OMF’s Dawn Harvest

  • Aleah said:

    @ Monisima: Yes, I usually take Vit A together with Calcium also. I don’t know why I didn’t bring any for the backpacking trip!
    Aleah recently posted..How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

  • Bonzenti [Con Tour Blog] said:

    Japanese style in water therapy, after gargling, drink 4 glasses 45 minutes before breakfast. I am doing it everyday. Plus, flu vaccine. Helpful tips Aleah, get well soon.:-).
    Bonzenti [Con Tour Blog] recently posted..Mind Museum, a Science Museum in Taguig City

  • Andrea said:

    Thanks for the tips! Health can really make or break a trip…I had such a bad cold when I went to Dublin that I barely remember it, and I got dengue fever on my honeymoon in the Caribbean because I forgot to use bug spray. That certainly killed the romance!

  • Aleah said:

    @ Bonzenti: Thanks for reminding me to get a flu vaccine! Will get that when I’m back in the Philippines.
    @ Andrea: Dengue fever! and on your honeymoon! My gosh, I feel your pain! I hope other travelers will learn how to take care of their health more when they travel.
    Aleah recently posted..How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

  • Goody said:

    Thanks for your tips! Staying in good health is foundamental on travel!

  • Cathy Sweeney said:

    Great tips. I’m afraid I don’t always manage to follow them, but I try. I’ve been pretty lucky about staying healthy when I travel — very important about drinking water and hand sanitizers.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Cruising San Francisco Bay

  • Aleah said:

    @ Goody: Yeah, that’s really something I have learned the hard way :)
    @ Cathy: I always carry hand sanitizers. Problem is, I keep forgetting to use them :(
    Aleah recently posted..How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

  • koen said:

    Very helpful tips Aleah, and very nice pics as well. It is also wise to drink from time to time a trappist beer while you’re in Belgium instead of a pilsen beer…being made of only natural ingredients,it contains a lot of vitamines so, logically, it also increases the immunity-system ;-)

  • Aleah said:

    @ Koen: I should have remembered to drink more Trappist beers then, when I was there. By the way, you forgot to make a moussaka for me! :D
    Aleah recently posted..How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

  • grobetrotter said:

    Always carry a scarf with you for those super cold airplanes!!

  • Helen said:

    Fortunately, I have never been sick in my travels ever since. However, I can imagine the discomfort and would not want to ever experience it. I always make sure to stay in a extremely comfortable motel to lessen my difficulty of sleeping.
    Helen recently posted..DTS Home

  • Aleah said:

    @ Grobetrotter: Definitely! Even buses can be so cold also.
    @ Helen: Lucky for you. With preparation, anyone can really avoid getting sick while traveling.
    Aleah recently posted..How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

  • How To Stay Healthy While Travelling | The Travelling Feet said:

    [...] Aside from the things that Angel mentioned, Aleah says “I also do yoga in my room” and she had written a post on “How to avoid getting sick while traveling“. [...]

  • Iris said:

    In Europe you really don’t have to worry about the tap water anywhere, even though it may have a different taste (Madrid has lots of chlorine in it, so tastes like crap and might actually make you more thirsty – in Zürich the water is so clean it is actually possible to drink from the city fountains there). Just bring a bottle and fill it up whenever you can. Throw away the plastic bottle after 4 days to avoid germs collecting too much around the opening. This saves a lot of money.
    If you want to save money on water outside of Europe just start with brushing your teeth with that water, then take small sips until at day tree you can drink it all day. This worked for me in Morocco and I avoided Delhi belly, while my friend was running to the bathroom after she did not drink tap water until we got stuck somewhere and had to. My system already got used to it.

    What also helps if you have the discipline is to run every morning really early for just 10-15 minutes. You work out, get to know your neighborhood really quicly and see locals waking up while inhaling the fresh(er) morning air!

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