Back in 2003, my sister came down with a horrible case of amebic dysentery and salmonella poisoning while she was studying abroad in Italy… Long story short, she had to be evacuated back to the states and spent weeks in the hospital recovering.
As you can imagine, my mom was incredibly paranoid about my health when I told her that Tony and I would be traveling the world for a year… Can’t say I blame her.
But it wasn’t just her that had this concern. Other family members, friends, and colleagues kept on commenting about how sick I would get in some places.
Here were some common words of wisdom I heard both before my trip and during my trip:
“Get prepared to sh*t your brains out if you travel to India.”
“I got Dengue Fever in Asia and almost died.”
“Wash your hands on overnight bus rides in South America or you’ll get pink-eye!”
And my personal favorite:
“You’re going to die.”
After all this “positive” reinforcement, I too became a little paranoid about my health abroad. However, I am 10 months into my trip now and still healthy as an ox… besides that giant tapeworm swimming around in my brain.
Kidding on that last part.
Besides my brief debacle with E. Coli in Peru and getting a mild sore throat in Thailand after back-to-back days of hardcore wine drinking (the verdict is still out on whether or not that was actually just a hangover), I haven’t really gotten sick at all on the road…
My meds from getting sick in Peru!
… Well, I just jinxed that. Watch me now come down with Polio.
If I were back in the states, I would have already been sick about 4 times in the past 10 months with the common cold or the flu… Even AFTER I got my annual flu shot.
So, aside from people’s assumptions, why was my health at greater risk back in the states than abroad? And how is it exactly that I am healthier traveling the world?
I am no doctor, but I took some time assessing what was different in my life on the road than back at home, and here’s what I came up with:
I am no longer stressed from work – I didn’t consider myself to have all that stressful of a job, but every now and then work hours got long, deadlines got tight, and preparing for presentations would put me on edge. Work-related stress can rock your body out of balance… as well as your immune system. Being away from work-related stresses for the past 10 months has been incredibly refreshing on my inner yin and yang!
I am no longer subjected to working in tight spaces – Offices, schools, gyms, airplanes, buses, etc. are breeding grounds for germs. Back home, I worked in an office every day, worked out at my local gym every morning, and commuted on an airplane twice a week.
Such the road warrior!
The office was the worst place to be during the flu season. Especially when I worked with co-workers that had young children… Those folks were practically ground zero.
In South America, Tony and I were frequently in transit bouncing all over the place… But we have since learned to travel slow and stay put for weeks at a time. As such, we really only have to worry about being in germ-infested planes and buses once a month now. But more importantly, separating ourselves from our crowded offices has been the biggest help of all.
I am no longer lacking sleep – Back at home, I would often work late hours at night and have to be back into the office early in the morning. When work got busy, 6 hours of sleep was considered a luxury.
Now, without a job to wake up to every morning, I am averaging 10 glorious hours of sleep each night. Tony and I may have an overnight bus ride or red-eye flight here and there, but since we are our own bosses now, we can just make up for lost sleep and crash for 12 hours until we are back to our normal selves.
Life is sweet, isn’t it?
I am no longer living in cold weather climates – Now, I’m not sure how much cold weather truly plays a role in one’s physical health. All I know is that I personally am less prone to getting sick when it is warm out. And for the past 10 months, Tony and I have been chasing summer… and I have never felt better!
Here are some of my go-to tricks:
Get lots of sleep – When you’re on vacation or travelling, take advantage of your time away from your job (and boss) and catch up on those zzz’s!
Wash your hands often – You should be doing this anyways, but do it twice as much when you’re on the move and traveling on buses, trains, airplanes, etc.
Maintain healthy eating habits – Once again, you should be doing this anyways, but traveling is no excuse to ruin your healthy eating. Order vegetables with your meals when you dine out and snack on fruit throughout the day.
Limit drinking – This is a big one when traveling. When on vacation, a lot of people go wild and will suck down 10 beers throughout each day. Ya know what, if you’re just on vacation for a week, then go right ahead and live the Jimmy Buffet lifestyle. But if you are traveling long-term, try and reduce your consumption to one or two a day… or set aside a day each week to get a little crazy. Trust me, your immune system will thank you!
When eating out, try and stick with cooked meals and go to a place where you trust (or can see) the kitchen – Getting food poisoning on the road is pretty common amongst travelers. Many countries do not have strict FDA laws, so restaurants and food stalls do not always handle their food with proper care… And that’s an understatement.
To help avoid getting sick on the road, be sure to stick with cooked meals when eating out. And if you’re browsing food stands, pick ones that are popular with high turnover. Also, food stalls are great to eat at, because you can see the food being prepared right in front of you before making the decision to order it.
For example, In Bolivia, I decided not to eat at this one food stand after I saw a little kid have explosive diarrhea literally two feet from the cooking area… I call that a no brainer.
If you are in places where Dengue and Malaria are an issue, wear repellent and take the proper medicine if necessary – Don’t be a tasty treat for the bugs! We never had to take malaria pills during our trip, but many places in Southeast Asia are in “Malaria zones” where taking pills might be necessary.
If you’re planning to travel to these hot zones, be sure to get your malaria pills from your doctor or a travel clinic back home prior to travelling. Asia can sell some sketchy meds over the counter, and you don’t want to be buying these pills off a ladyboy in Bangkok!
In Koh Samui, there was a Dengue Fever outbreak in the neighborhood we were housesitting in. There are no pills to take for Dengue, but we just made sure to load up on mosquito repellent throughout the day.
Your turn: Do you find yourself getting sick more when you travel or when you are working 9-5 back home? What are your tips for staying healthy on the road? Please share below in the Comments section!