When I told friends and family I would be traveling to India, I was always met with the same two statements: “India will be the most intense place you’ll ever visit” and “just start mentally preparing yourself now for getting sick.”
Getting sick abroad has become somewhat of a tradition for me, unfortunately. My ‘stomach issues without borders’ has hit me unexpectedly in the Philippines, Morocco, Thailand, and Colombia despite my best efforts to be careful.
Admittedly, I am a bonafide hypochondriac, which—for those not savvy to the fancy terminology—means I get anxiety over any health-related ailments. Whereas other people can take a bodily ache or upset stomach in stride, can recognize it as a familiar foe, I worry myself into a frenzy. So, suffice it to say, that second India comment had me stressing for weeks before take off.
Flash forward and I am now on day five of a week-long trip through India that has taken me from Delhi to Jaipur to Agra. Blissfully, I have managed to sidestep the explosive, shitty situation (forgive the pun) I had been anticipating. To-date (and please God, don’t smack me with a stomach virus as an ironic response to this post), I have experienced an infrequent punchy stomach and normal bowel movements (too much information?). So for those traveling to India and worrying themselves silly about avoiding sickness, here is everything I did and brought with me for my trip.
What to do BEFORE you go to India to avoid sickness
Avoiding illness while travel starts well before you pack your suitcase. Before any trip, you should check the CDC for recommended vaccines for your destination, that is step one. Next, you need to start getting your body in tip-top shape for travel. In the weeks leading up to your trip, take care of yourself. Begin taking daily probiotics (I like Garden of Life’s Women’s Once Daily Probiotics), which will strengthen your immune system and digestive tract. Also stay diligent with taking daily vitamins; I like to take Ritual vitamins, which are organic capsules formulated for women with nine essential vitamins. During your travels, you should stay on top of your daily probiotics and vitamins to keep your body healthy and happy.
Another tip is to try and get your body acquainted to the food you’ll be eating early on. In my case, I live down the street from an India restaurant in NYC and so ordered Indian a few nights to get my stomach familiarized with some of the flavors and spices I would be having. Lastly, work out. Use your upcoming trip as motivation to work out—not just for appearance sake but for health’s sake!
What to do DURING your India trip to avoid sickness
The First Line of Defense: Activated Charcoal
By the time you take off for India, hopefully, you’ve been fully vaccinated and have been taking probiotics and vitamins. Should your stomach start to rumble, the first thing you’ll want to take is activated charcoal tablets (I like Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal). Activated charcoal contains many small chambers and cavities that “capture” or bind-up unwanted materials and gas in your digestive tract before carrying them safely through and out of your system. The minute you begin feeling a sour stomach, take activated charcoal as your first line of defense against stomach ailments.
The Second Line of Defense: Hydration Tablets and Activated Charcoal
If activated charcoal fails you and diarrhea have begun then make sure you have hydration tablets on hand to replenish any lost electrolytes (I like Nuun Hydration Tablets in Orange). Add these dissolvable tablets to your water to help keep your body hydrated as it is clearing out the digestive tract. While tempting to take Imodium and “clog” yourself up, try to refrain from jumping to this medication. Imodium should only be used if you are going on an excursion that will keep you away from a toilet for hours on end; otherwise, let your body clear itself out. To recap: your second line of defense is to use Nuun Hydration Tablets in conjunction with activated charcoal to stem diarrhea (and don’t forget to keep taking those probiotics and vitamins).
The Third Line of Defense: Ciprofloxacin
Now, if this particular stomach bug proves unusually strong then your third and final line of defense is ciprofloxacin (a prescription is required from your doctor for this one). Cipro is an antibiotic that is used to treat an array of bacterial infections. It should be noted that Cipro does not work for viral infections, so do not use this prescription for the common cold or flu. In essence, Cipro is like a scorched earth the last line of defense that will kill any bacteria in your digestive tract. According to my physician in NYC, Cipro should only be used after three or four days of diarrhea that is not responding to other over the counter treatments.
Listen to your body. When I travel, I am a literal slave to my body’s every whim. Take yesterday, for example, after a morning spent basking in front of the Taj Mahal, I returned to lunch and begun to feel stomach cramps and waves of nausea. The feelings—though minor—were early warnings signs from my stomach. It’s as if my stomach has stepped outside of my body, whirled around to face me and frankly say, “Listen, I have been a good sport these last five days of travel. I haven’t so much as let out a rumble with the constant flow of Indian food you’ve been giving me BUT enough is enough.
If you don’t give me an evening of rest, I will show you my worst.” Heeding my stomach’s warning, I decided to take the afternoon and evening slow to drink plenty of water, rest and have a simple dinner of clear soup, bread, and a banana, along with two tablets of activated charcoal. Today, my happy stomach seems calm and grateful for the break. So, remember, the best thing you can do when traveling in India (or anywhere else for that matter) is to simply listen to your body. The rest, as they say, will work itself out