I absolutely love to travel abroad – and absolutely hate being sick in a foreign city. Many illnesses contracted through tainted food and water are severe enough to disable you for several days, disrupting your plans and causing general misery for all involved. Some illnesses contracted in foreign countries can be much worse, causing long-term injury or even death. While all this may seem frightening, it is no reason to avoid or even limit foreign travel. As a seasoned traveler, I rarely let concerns about illness abroad influence my travel plans. After visiting nine separate countries, I have never had trouble with more than occasional gastrointestinal trouble and a slight fever. By following the same illness-avoiding precautions I have followed for years, you too can enjoy the perfect international excursion with the smallest possible risk of illness.
Talk to the US Embassy About Vaccines
This is a good idea any time you’re travelling to a foreign country and, sometimes, it’s required. For instance, my trip to Zimbabwe required a vaccination for yellow fever and a vaccination for malaria was recommended, but not required. The country you are travelling to may be having problems with a certain illness – something you would have no way of knowing yourself. Check with the U.S. Embassy of the particular country or countries you’re travelling to as soon as you start planning your trip. You can get more specific information at the U.S. Embassy website. Avoiding illness in the first place is always a great plan.
Pack Some “Safe” Food and Water for Emergencies
Deciding to pack “safe” food and water depends largely upon which country you’re travelling to. I rarely waste packing space on food and water when travelling to countries like Spain and England. When travelling in countries like Zambia and China, however, I fore-go some things I would normally pack to make room for bottled water and safe high-calorie foods in my checked luggage. For what you can pack in your carry-on, check current TSA regulations. Some foods that I have packed in my luggage include beef jerky, dehydrated cheese, dried fruit and trail mix.
Of course, you won’t be able to pack enough food or water to sustain you entirely (water is HEAVY). Emergency stashes of food and water are for periods of time where safe food or water might not be available. If you’re unsure whether a food is safe or not, don’t eat it. If an area’s water supply is in doubt, don’t drink it unless you are absolutely sure it has been boiled. One important note: “safe” and “tasty” are not the same thing. For instance, food sold at a streetside vendor in Beijing may look tasty, but it isn’t very safe to eat. And food that doesn’t look appetizing, such as sea urchin sushi at a reputable restaurant in Tokyo, is probably safe for consumption. If you are staying with friends or sponsors, refusing to eat offered food can be a great insult. Each situation must be handled with tact on a case-by-case basis.
Other Ways To Prevent and Cure Illness
Talk to your doctor if you’re travelling to a country with limited medical resources. I have had doctors prescribe antibiotics for me to take with me in case I became ill when I knew no medical care would be available. Common-sense OTC medications are also great to bring, such as Pepto-Bismol tablets, cold medication and a small first-aid kit. If mosquitoes or ticks carry disease in the area, such as malaria in Africa, spray down with an effective insect repellent from head to toe at least once each day and wear your hair up, preferably in a hat.
International travel is a wonderful thing, opening your eyes and mind to new ways of living. With a little bit of preparation, it can be a safer experience for you and your family.
Resources obtained on May 8, 2010 at: