I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac–the type of person to cringe when reading WebMD, sweat profusely at the slightest increase in my heartbeat and sleep with a bottle of mosquito spray when in a third world country. Having called my parents one too many times over a symptom that seems catastrophic, my family has come to laugh at my expense (I imagine them chuckling at my inevitable hypochondriac thoughts at the latest news of a possible Ebola victim in New York City). While my tendency to lean towards the dramatic when it comes to health is something to scoff at when home, when abroad my worry about contracting something has led me to prioritize avoiding sickness during my travels. From probiotics to basic street-wise habits, these are my top tips for staying sick-free abroad.
In-Case of Emergency Kit
Remember when your parents used to pack everything ‘just-in-case’? For every Caribbean destination there would be a warm winter sweater “just in case” and for every vacation there would be a medical kit with enough band-aids to dress up as a mummy. At the time, an in-case of emergency kit might have earned an eye roll but today it is wise to take a page from your parent’s book. Whenever I travel I toss a bunch of items in a bag “in case of emergency” and over the course of my travels being prepared has always served me well. Here are a few of the items I carry with me on my travels:
- Zyrtec Allergy Medication
- Zinc Cold Therapy
- Aloe Vera/Sunscreen
- Pepcid AC
Drinking Plenty of (Safe Water)
I will never forget the time I got a heat stroke from dehydration. For no other reason than stupidity, I was in high school at a hot amusement park and had spent more time waiting in lines for rides than staying hydrated. Like a big yellow bus, the heat stroke hit me head on and saw me go from bouncing in line for Vertical Velocity to hunched over, crumpling to the floor. Drinking water is necessary, especially in hot destinations, but making sure the water is safe is critical. Before you jet off to a destination make sure to reference guide books on the health concerns and safety precautions unique to that region. The knowledge gained from a quick sentence or two can mark the difference between a dream trip or a nightmare.
Tip: Don’t forget about the ice cubes! While most destinations with poor water quality have enough savvy to use clean water ice cubes, some may pour bottled water over tap water cubes. When in doubt, stick to that bottle of water.
The Power of Probiotics
When abroad my diet changes dramatically from the sandwiches, salads and smoothies of my daily life in New York City to the rich, spicy flavors of whatever country I’m visiting. Colombia saw me living off a diet of fried fish, exotic fruits and cervezas, France had me practically falling asleep with cheese and bread in my mouth with an IV drip of red wine on the side, while Italy turned me into Mario Batalli proclaiming my love for pasta. I hardly hold back when I visit a new country, wanting to absorb as much culture, food, drink and experience as possible but, unfortunately, my stomach is not always on board with my culinary adventures. After a week of fried fish or stinky Camembert my stomach starts to boycott, which is where probiotics come in. Probiotics are a daily supplement that maintain healthy digestion, intestinal track and supports your immune system. When I go abroad to off-the-beaten path places, I get in the habit of taking probiotics to arm my stomach with healthy bacteria and steer clear of tummy issues.
Facing the Needle
While it goes without saying, it’s important to remember that some countries are home to deadly viruses and diseases that can be prevented with the prick of a needle. Some destinations may require proof of vaccination upon entry over others that simply recommend facing the needle before you arrive. The CDC is the go-to resource to know what shots are recommended by country, make sure to read up on the health concerns of where you travel.
Remembering the Basics
I often carry hand sanitizer as a quick and convenient way to wash my hands while on-the-go. Especially during air travel where people are in a confined space coughing and sneezing, it can be easy to feel the onset of a flu. Washing your hands is an obvious habit to get into and carrying hand sanitizer while traveling is a great trick for when a bathroom sink isn’t readily available.
Tip: When feeling the early symptoms of a cold, whether that tell tale sore throat in the morning or a slight cough, try taking Zicam. This is my trick during the winter and when I travel if I start to feel the grip of the flu start to take hold of me. Zicam is charged with vitamins and is used as a “pre-cold” remedy to curb the early symptoms of the flu.
Although emergencies are the last thing you want to think about when traveling abroad, Help Call is a useful phone app that auto-detects your location and allows for one-touch access to local police, fire stations and ambulances in over 120 countries. ‘Knock on wood’ that you won’t have to use this little app while on the road but it is good to know that if needed the large buttons and shake-to-call function are in your back pocket.
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