It happens to the best of us. You spend months planning and fantasising about your holiday, only to find yourself catching a bug within a few days of your trip. It can be a stomach bug, caught by eating something that wasn’t cooked to the highest health standards, or a cold after a long flight/bus/train ride, or just the feeling of being worn down. Getting sick can completely ruin your trip and deter you from traveling in the future!

You can hide away in your hotel room, travel only by private transportation and eat food at the hotel restaurant to try and avoid getting sick, but where is the fun in that? We’ve been sick dozens of times during our travels. And yes, we probably increase my chances of getting sick by eating street food, taking local transportation, and not letting ourselves have enough rest, but that’s how we travel.

Enjoying Brazilian food at Central Market in São Paulo

Enjoying Brazilian food at Central Market in São Paulo

Despite all the nasty bugs and illnesses, we haven’t changed my ways. Instead, we have learned how to prepare for the worst. So today we’d like to dedicate a post to staying healthy on the road and share a few tips on how to stay healthy while traveling.

The Serious Stuff: Get Vaccinated

First and foremost, get vaccinated. Do you want to come home with Typhoid for a souvenir? No. So before you embark on your next adventure, visit a travel clinic and make sure you are up to date with your vaccinations. Fit For Travel is a great starting point to learn what vaccinations you might need for your trip. Vaccine Hub is another good source. But of course, your doctor will know best.

Vaccine Hub map shows countries that require vaccinations

Vaccine Hub map shows countries that require vaccinations. Photo Source:

Avoid Jetlag

Don’t let jet lag ruin the first few days of your trip. On trips with a significant change in time zones start adapting to the new time while you are on the plane. Change your clock to the local time at your destination and adapt your sleep/eating patterns before you even board the plane. If you have to pull an all-nighter before your 14 hour flight, so you can sleep on the plane and arrive at your destination already adapted to local time –  DO IT!

If you have trouble sleeping on planes, buy a neck pillow and pop a few Gravol pills (aka Dimenhydrinate) or some sleeping aids to help you snooze.

Take Care to Not Catch the Dreaded Airplane Cold

According to Journal of Environmental Health Research, colds may be more than 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than during normal daily life on the ground. So take extra care. Stay hydrated and take multi-vitamins to boost up your immune system before you go. More on this later.

Stock Up on Medications to Treat Stomach Bugs

It’s no fun talking about the shits, but someone has to, right? So I will.  No matter how careful you are, I suggest that you plan for the worst. Here are some widely used meds that I travel with:

 – Pepto Bismol – useful for indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea. Pepto is so good that I stock up on it every time I’m back in UK/US/Canada. I find it helpful with mild indigestion.

 – Immodium – when you need it to stop for good!

And a few lesser known digestion remedies:

– In Australia, there is a drug called “Travelan”, it contains antibodies that neutralize the e-coli bacteria, that causes travelers diarrhea and is said to be 90% effective if taken before every meal.  I haven’t come across anything similar in North America or the UK.
– Probiotics – there are hundreds of different brands available around the world. Pop into your local pharmacy and find a shelf stable (the kind that doesn’t need to be refrigerated ) probiotic to take on your trip. The higher the bacteria count, the better. Aim to have at least 5-10Billion CFU per capsule. If you do end up getting travelers diarrhea, this is what is going to help you recover quicker (along with an ORS – see below)
– Calcium – a bit of a weird recommendation, but one that definitely saved me in India. When taken in high dozes calcium causes constipation, terrible side effect if you are just taking it as a supplement, but might be a good fix when you’re at your worst and need to survive a 6-hour bus ride without a toilet on board.
– Electrolyte drinks – or Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS), basically just water with small amounts of sugar and salt, sold under the brand names: Pedialyte, Hydralyte or Gastrolyte. These will not only help you re-hydrate after vomiting and diarrhea but will also help you deal with hangovers and dehydration due to excess sweating and physical activity.

Are you screaming “TMI!!!” yet? Ok enough about the shits…

Be Nice to Your Body and it Will be Nice to You

Don’t let your healthy habits go to waste when you are traveling.

– Don’t over-indulge… ok sometimes those drinks just keep on flowing and the food is soooo amazing that you have to.  But try to not do it every single day.
– Don’t reach for chips and a coke in between meals. Pack some nuts, grab some fruit from a local market to keep you metabolism working in between meals.
– Stay active: choose to explore a new city on foot, or hire a bicycle to explore even further.

Selfie from the kayak! Whyte River. Corinna

Staying active on the road: kayaking along the Whyte River in Corinna, Tasmania.

Supplement your Nutrition on the Road

When you feel your diet on the road isn’t very healthy top it up with some vitamins. Here are a few suggestions:

Multi Vitamins – to top up whatever vitamins and supplements you are missing from your diet
Vitamin B  Complex – can help you top up your energy levels
Magnesium  – to aid muscle recovery after a long hike, bike ride or a day of walking around

Don’t Forget…

Even the most remote towns and villages will have a doctor or a pharmacist to help you in case of a serious illness. Don’t suffer on your own, especially if your illness lasts for more than 2-3 days.

Pharmacy in a small town in India. Here you can get most pills, even antibiotics without a prescription.

Pharmacy in India. I’ve visited a few share of these over my time in India. The pharmacists are always very knowledgable and most even speak a little bit of English. Photo credit: Flickr CC Amit Gupta

And finally, please, take my advice with a grain of salt!  We are not doctors or a healthcare professionals of any kind. The above tips and advice are based solely on our own travel experience and a few tips from some Naturopaths. These are by no means solutions suitable for all. It is always best to consult with your doctor prior to your trip to make sure you are prepared on all fronts and purchase travel insurance that will cover you for any accidents along the way.

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You can hide away in your hotel room, travel only by private transportation and eat food at the hotel restaurant to try and avoid getting sick, but where is the fun in that?

Have any of these solutions worked for you? Do you have other home remedies/health tips to share?