Are you traveling to a developing country for the first time? If so, you may be worried about getting sick. Though it’s always a possibility, there are certain steps you can take to ensure you stay healthy while traveling.
It’s important to remember that illness and injury can happen wherever we are. We must always take care of ourselves, whether we’re at home or on the road. But there are certain risks that increase in developing countries, where many of the best volunteer vacations tend to happen.
Oftentimes the water supply isn’t safe to drink, and certain foods might not be kind to our foreign bellies. Lately, travelers are increasingly seeing the Zika virus in the headlines. You might be nervous to travel to countries where cases of this mosquito-borne illness are increasing.
Lucky for you, we at Discover Corps have learned some tricks over the years. We think it’s important to be careful, but also not to allow unnecessary fear to dictate our travel plans. (And the media does have a tendency of escalating our fears.)
Here are 12 tips you can use to stay healthy while traveling, allowing you to enjoy the experience of visiting developing countries.
1. Get any required immunizations.
Whenever you travel outside of your country of residence, it’s important to research what kinds of immunizations you might need — whether required or recommended.
Many countries in South America require a yellow fever vaccine to enter. Typhoid is a concern in Thailand. But you don’t have to figure this all out on your own. Travelers can check the CDC website for complete lists of what immunizations are recommended for the country they’re traveling to.
You can also visit your local Passport Health office. (There are over 25o clinics in North America, so finding one shouldn’t be difficult!) Just tell them your destinations and they’ll offer you comprehensive information on vaccines and best practices for staying healthy on your trip.
If you’re traveling with Discover Corps, our travel specialists will have all that information ready for you. However you do it, don’t wait; travel health clinics fill up quickly and some immunizations require more than one visit.
2. Pack your medications.
Certain medications may not be available in your destination, so be sure to pack any that you need.
Speak to your doctor about any prescriptions you take. They’ll be able to counsel you on how to access this in your destination, and whether you’ll need to have extra on hand.
If you have a severe allergy and your doctor prescribes epinephrine, you’ll want to bring that along and make sure it’s accessible at all times. Also a good idea: multivitamins, antidiarrheals, Pepto Bismol, pain relievers, and motion sickness pills.
3. Bring an eye mask and ear plugs.
As you probably know, good sleep is essential for good health. But when you’re traveling, it’s not always the easiest: you may need to get some shut-eye on a plane or sleep through early morning rooster calls. Give yourself a hand by bringing along an eye mask and ear plugs. (That being said, we promise you’ll get a good night’s rest at our home bases!)
4. Go to sleep at a normal time.
If you’re traveling across time zones, it can be tempting to go to sleep as soon as you arrive — but this only prolongs your jet lag. If at all possible, stay awake until an appropriate time on your first day; it may be difficult, but you’ll adjust much more quickly. Taking a melatonin a half-hour before bedtime also helps.
5. Peel the skin off fruits and vegetables.
You are eating your fruits and vegetables, right? You are what you eat — so make sure you’re not using travel as an excuse to forgo these nutritional powerhouses. Just don’t forget to peel the skin off them (and avoid eating ones you can’t peel).
6. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag.
You never know when you’re going to find a decent bathroom with hot water and soap — so stay germ-free by keeping hand sanitizer on you at all times. Use some after touching germy things (think: public transportation) and before eating anything.
7. Take it easy.
When you’re traveling, you probably want to “do it all.” But you need to fight this temptation. You don’t need to see every temple on the island, or meet every single local person on one trip. Don’t overdo it: After all, you won’t be able to see anything if you fall ill! Remember that, if you don’t see/do everything you want on your first visit, you can always come back!
8. Drink lots of water.
In the developing countries we travel to, we recommend drinking bottled or filtered water only. The best way to do this is to invest in a sterilizing water treatment pen or water bottle, so that you don’t contribute to plastic bottle waste. Whatever you do, be sure to drink lots of it, as staying well-hydrated is key to staying healthy!
9. Meditate and keep a journal.
A clear mind is an important component of physical and mental health. And travel is the perfect opportunity to escape. Make sure you’re giving your mind the vacation it needs by meditating and journaling daily.
10. Don’t fear street food, but do be aware.
Exploring the cuisine of an unfamiliar culture is one of the greatest joys of travel. Oftentimes, especially in developing countries, street food is an integral part of the local diet. Those who tell you to avoid street food have the best of intentions — they don’t want you to get sick! But is it really necessary to sacrifice this experience?
We think that no, it is not. But you do need to take certain precautions when it comes to street food. The great thing about these food stalls is that it’s all on display — you can watch your food be cooked and prepared.
Use your judgement. Does the food prep area look clean? Is there a long line of locals, waiting to be served? Locals know the good stuff and you can probably trust that the long line will be at the best quality option.
Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads recently published this deliciously helpful guide on How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick. Jodi’s many years of travel and her passion for street food make her the go-to expert for enjoying local cuisines and staying healthy.
11. Pay attention to the news, and do your research.
Talk of the Zika Virus has permeated many travel conversations, especially on the news. Zika is a disease that’s spread by mosquitos. It causes fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (or, red eyes). The disease usually lasts from a few days to a week after being bitten, and it’s often quite mild.
In May of 2015, the first Zika infections were confirmed in Brazil. The virus has since been linked to birth defects, and Zika has continued to spread in many South and Central American countries. Pregnant women, or women who may become pregnant in the near future, are strongly advised to avoid areas where Zika outbreaks have been reported.
Do your research regarding Zika, and any other diseases that might be prevalent in your destination. It’s one thing to watch the news, but those stories are often-sensationalized. The CDC, on the other hand, offers thorough information on the Zika virus, and they have a contact number if you’re seeking additional information.
12. Don’t Stress!
Travel can be stressful, but try your best to make it a relaxing time by preparing ahead of time, or going with an organization that takes care of all the hard stuff. (Like us!)
If you are traveling with Discover Corps, don’t worry about a thing. Our professional team (both here and in the host country) will take care of everything. We have comprehensive travel, medical, and evacuation insurance, and a network of hospitals worldwide that are ready to respond to any issues that arise.
Do you have any additional tips for staying healthy while traveling to developing countries? Add them in the comments below!