Travel brings both rewards and challenges. To travel it’s far better if you can maintain your health and energy and not drop to local illnesses. Staying healthy while traveling is often a very different scenario from maintaining your health at home.It’s preferable to prevent disease by awareness and to follow specific procedures than it is to have to deal with critical illnesses while traveling.
Before leaving, always get a medical/ naturopathic and dental check-up. Dentists are particularly hard to find in many countries, so get your teeth fixed before you go, if at all possible.
In health terms, different areas of the world have different challenges. Traveling to Asia and the Middle East, you are more likely to be exposed to pathogenic organisms that impact on gut function and can make you vomit and trigger diarrhea, If traveling to Europe, Russia and other colder climates, respiratory infections are more common.
Wash your hands
Good hygiene is essential anywhere in the world. Wash your hands frequently and make liberal use of hand sanitizers if you have no easy access to clean water and soap for washing, the hand sanitizers without the antimicrobial chemical triclosan are healthier options.
Are you thirsty?
Never, ever drink the local water. Always drink bottled water from a bottle that is sealed — check it hasn’t been drained and refilled — or drink filtered water.
Never have ice in drinks and always wash your teeth in filtered or bottled water, and never eat salads that may have washed in the local water.
Large hotels are usually safe for salads, but it’s worth checking. Small portable travel filters can be useful for the removal of unwanted chemicals. There are various filters available that are worth considering.
Heavy metal and chemical removal systems may be required if drinking well water — for example, arsenic contaminates ground drinking water in many countries and worldwide is a common contaminant in rice.
Carrying a small light, stainless-steel, BPA-free, an insulated water bottle that can double as a thermos or cool bottle is handy and filling up at hotels, which nearly all have filtered or purified water in the lobby, helps reduce your carbon footprint.
While traveling, you will always be exposed to organisms that the locals are immune to but which you have had no previous exposure to and therefore don’t have the same immunity and are likely to react strongly. These can make you very ill, totally spoiling your holiday.
A scourge worldwide that kills millions of people annually, malaria, along with other diseases such as dengue fever, is transmitted by mosquitoes, potentially the most dangerous of the common insect encounters.
General preventive measures are essential. Don’t go out around dawn or dusk when mosquitoes are active unless covered with light, protective clothing and sprayed with an insect repellent.
- Gut bugs (usually parasites or bacteria)
Gut bugs are the scourge of travelers in many parts of the world. Be very careful of the water in other countries, as mentioned. Don’t eat raw food or have ice in drinks. Make sure street food cooked in front of you.
A protein-digesting enzyme supplement taken immediately at the end of every meal is beneficial. Bacteria are made of protein, while viruses have a protein strand, so will be denatured by the supplemental enzymes before they can reproduce.
Eating the local yogurt for the first three days after arriving is an old trick for travelers. This gives you the local gut bugs in a pre-digested form and allows your immune system to develop antibodies quickly and therefore some resistance to them.
In some parts of the world, ticks are a significant problem. The east coast of Australia has paralysis (not in humans) ticks, while Siberia has large edible ones. Central Asia has toxic varieties and in the US and elsewhere ticks transmit Lyme disease, a debilitating illness that can be very hard to treat. These are not a problem in the cities but can be in the countryside or places like animal markets.
Lavender oil/water is a good preventive if sprayed on regularly, as is a lemon eucalyptus spray. Camping stores have a selection of these that do not contain DEET, which is a very effective insect repellent but does have recorded toxicity issues and, as such, is not recommended for children other than for short-term use — except in areas of high malaria incidence in local populations.
Wounds & general infections
As you have little resistance to the local bacteria in new locations you’ve had no previous exposure to, scratches, wounds or insect bites can become infected very easily and be difficult to treat. Always carry an antiseptic cream to apply immediately.
Even if you love animals avoid patting them in any country unless you’re sure they not infected with rabies or toxoplasmosis, also known as cat scratch fever. It’s not worth the risk.
If vaccination is mandatory, you must have it before you leave the country. Yellow fever is the main one if traveling to parts of South America or South Africa. With vaccines that are “recommended” you have a choice whether to have them or not, but if you decide not to have them, be aware that you will need to protect yourself in other ways. Discuss with your local doctor long before traveling.
The main issues are increased ozone levels causing dryness and respiratory symptoms, the risk of blood clots and the risk of contracting an infection from so many humans nearby for long periods when sleep-deprived and stressed.
All of this challenges the immune system. A couple of tricks you could use include placing a thick ointment of some kind around and into the nostrils. You can use Vaseline, scarless healer, pawpaw ointment or some other thick, sticky healing cream.
Apply frequently. This moisturizes and provides a physical barrier against inhaled organisms; it’s remarkably effective if applied regularly throughout the flight.
Moisturize your skin before traveling and carry a small bottle of moisturizer in your hand luggage — nothing over 100mL or customs will dispose of it. Lip balm can be useful, too. Long-haul flights can be very dehydrating. It may be helpful to use a barrier cream on exposed skin, as some of the airborne chemicals in aircraft cabins can be absorbed through the skin as well.
If traveling overseas frequently, the level of radiation exposure needs to consider. It has shown that airline pilots receive a similar amount of radiation to that experienced by nuclear workers. A good vitamin E capsule with a variety of tocopherols and tocotrienols, taken daily with food, will help repair DNA damage caused by the radiation.
Try to get as much sleep as you can, which is difficult in economy seats but more comfortable in business class. Jet lag is always worse traveling east than traveling west, and it takes a few days after landing to get back to “normal” sleep patterns.
Herbal first-aid kit
Topical applications such as creams and oils are very effective; in fact, they may be better absorbed than many supplements and herbs that swallowed, particularly if you have digestive problems.
Most countries use ginger as a remedy, so it’s easily obtained. Around the Mediterranean basin, thyme cough medicine and elderberry syrup are readily available — great for coughs, colds, and flu, both being antibacterial and antiviral.
The local raw honey can be useful for infections including colds and flu (infrequent doses) and can be used topically to help heal wounds and scratches.
Teas that confer significant health benefits are generally available. Hibiscus tea is famous in the Middle East, and green tea is available in most places; these can be drunk regularly.
Avoiding the large amounts of sugar automatically added to them is trickier. In Europe, apothecaries are common in the cities and in Asia there are barefoot doctors or Ayurvedic practitioners in India and Sri Lanka. These can be helpful, if not quite what you are used to in medical treatment.
A small box containing a few essential oils can keep most people healthy and deal with a few
Lavender oil is antiseptic and calming, reduces headaches and helps with sleep.
Neem oil, oregano oil, and tea tree oil are antimicrobial and antifungal, so choose your favorite. Eucalyptus oil can be useful as an antiseptic but also as an inhalation for chesty coughs and colds; and clove oil is excellent to relieve toothaches, being both a local anesthetic and an antimicrobial.
Lemon eucalyptus oil and lavender oil or water can help protect against being bitten by ticks, mosquitoes, flies, etc, and can help heal the wounds if they missed initially.
Foods as supplements
Dried nettle, Gotu Kola, powdered homemade kale chips or any of the good commercial green powders can be very useful as a source of green leafy vegetables in countries and climates where they’re hard to come by, such as mountainous and desert regions and places like Central Asia/Mongolia, which is largely populated by nomadic people.
In these places, the climates can be extreme, and green leafy vegetables don’t grow well, while the local people are culturally and genetically adapted to their different diets.
These green powders can be added to soups or casseroles and are easy to carry labeled as medicines.
If you are prone to cramps anywhere in the body, they are significant sources of hard-to-get magnesium and folate and are valuable if taken daily when green vegetables are not available. “Naked” ginger, which has less sugar than crystallized, is handy as it can be quite effective as an anti-nausea in mild cases, as well as reducing the squeamishness of travel sickness, although not always as effective for severe nausea and vomiting from acute infections.
Your clothing choice will depend on how long and where you are planning to travel. It’s good policy to pack very light when leaving — you will probably have to carry your bags at some stage, and they can be heavy.
It’s amazing what you don’t need when traveling. Most countries have attractive cheap clothing if you need more, especially in the markets. Always check the weather patterns in the countries you are planning to visit. At times there will be a variety of weather conditions expected, from very hot and steamy to freezing cold.
Thermal underwear is very light and takes up little space in your backpack, and if you do need it you will be very pleased you have it. Also, carry a large warm scarf that can double as a blanket, and a light scarf to wear over my head if necessary.
This can be useful in Islamic countries as a mark of respect and can sometimes get you into places you would not otherwise be admitted to. In Islamic countries, which have some of the most spectacular art and architecture on the planet, you will need to cover up: no cleavage, shoulders or knees should show, especially if female.
You can do this easily with light clothing. While you may not subscribe to their belief systems, it’s important to show respect.
Footwear is bulky to pack, and you actually need very little. A pair of good shoes for going out, a pair of sandals you can safely get wet for warm weather, a soft pair of slippers and a pair of walking/hiking shoes that can be worn on the plane will often be enough.
A little forward thinking
A folding umbrella is useful for rain but also as a sun shield when hot. Make sure you pack a cap or hat and a warm beanie, plus sunglasses for sun protection. In Asia, squat toilets are common. For those inexperienced in their use, loose flowing clothing makes the whole experience much more difficult. Body-hugging pants are easier to manage. Some of these toilets are splendid porcelain creations, but others are commonly little more than a hole in the ground. If you need toilet paper, I suggest you carry an emergency supply with you, but be aware of the environmental implications of traveling “off the beaten track.”
Safety & protection of valuables
A wallet that goes around your waist under your clothing to protect valuables such as your passport, most of your money and any spare cards are invaluable.
Make sure you get into the habit of wearing it at all times.
Take another small bag to carry money and a card you may need each day and that you can reach easily if you need to purchase anything. Only put in the amount you think you will need each day so, if it is stolen, you won’t lose much.
Be aware that obvious valuables can be stolen anywhere in the world and some people are extremely good at it. Don’t carry valuables in backpacks as they are too easy to cut open without you noticing. Also, always be vigilant about your luggage when in cafes and public places. Generally, it’s not a good idea to wear or carry expensive jewelry or precious items as they are easily stolen and can be attractive to people living in poor conditions.
Travel brings both rewards and challenges. Be aware of any cultural differences before you arrive, or ask when you get there, and respect them.
People think and behave the world differently over and, while this is becoming more homogenized with the tourism boom, when traveling you are the visitor and need to be mindful of that. This is why we travel: to learn other ways of being, not to impose our own. Always take a small notebook or journal and pen to record your experiences. You’ll be able to enjoy these memories for many years to come.