How do you keep from getting sick on your vacation?
I actually don’t know the answer to that question.
When you travel you expose your body to microbes it isn’t used to, or immune to. I hate to say it like this but, you’re kind of just bound to get sick at some point from something. It’s just part of the game.
But the good news is that I know how you can reduce your risks, and bounce back up if you do get sick.
My brother came to visit us in the Dominican Republic and about half way through his vacation we had to take him to the hospital to hook him up to an IV due to severe dehydration.
He looked like a grey alien and could barely open his mouth to speak. His eyelids looked like they weighed tons, and he was exhausted from vomiting. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Two hours later, and bunch of antibiotics in his system, he was essentially back to normal.
We’re not sure.
He contracted some sort of gastro bacterial infection. This is generally known under the umbrella name of traveler’s diarrhea. He ate all the same things we ate and drank all the same things we drank.
At first, because we were all perfectly fine and he was so sick we thought maybe he was going through dehydration sickness. How could he possibly be so sick when we’re all OK and we had the exact same thing?!?
Well, his system is fragile. It’s almost always fed sterile food, mostly in the form of Kraft dinner, and we have lived here for almost 2 years. Our internal fauna and flora is just completely different. We were exposed to a little bug and our bodies immediately combatted it, before we felt symptoms, and he just…… succumbed.
So how do you keep this from happening to you?
Build your immune system, all the time, for years before you go somewhere, that will help.
Yes, it’s a lot of work for a week vacation, but really it’s not for your vacation, it’s for your general everyday health.
Even that isn’t enough though, a new bug is a new bug and even if your body is like a well oiled machine that hasn’t been sick in years, you might still just catch the wrong one.
Drink lots of water while you’re in a new place.
Having sufficient water makes all of your organs detox more effectively and increases the chances that your body will have the resources it needs to fight whatever it’s exposed to.
Also, drinking lots of water will keep you from coming down with dehydration sickness, which can look a lot like traveler’s diarrhea.
Wash your hands a lot. Even if the foods and drinks you ingest are completely safe, your hands might not be.
It’s easy to worry a lot about the food being handled by others and forget that we handle it last, and just before it goes into our mouths.
Regular soap will do just fine, you don’t need fancy anti-bacterial soaps, but do make sure to dry your hands completely.
Be careful about what you consume, but also don’t go overboard.
Like I’ve said, sometimes you just have no idea where you contracted the bug, and everyone around you will be fine while you’re puking your lungs out. If you’re too paranoid about what you eat and drink you just aren’t going to have fun.
Yes, the idea of being sick in a bed is horrible, but not enjoying your vacation for fear of a bad day is just not worth it either. For example, this website lists recommendations to prevent traveler’s diarrhea, but if you follow all of them, you just won’t be enjoying the country you visit.
Avoid ice in countries with non-potable tap water, but do keep in mind that most reputable establishments buy bags of ice, so it’s usually not contaminated.
Don’t drink tap water where it’s not potable.
Wash and dry the foods you prepare yourself thoroughly, even rinse them in vinegar.
Get a sense of the trustworthy establishments so you know where you don’t need to worry about poor sanitation.
What if you got sick anyway?
Stay hydrated at all costs. My brother couldn’t keep any water down, and with the heat, it only took him a few hours to reach severe dehydration.
Since he wasn’t taking water the regular route we had to take him to the clinic and rehydrate him intravenously. That and the millions of things they pumped in his system cost us about $200US.
Yes, it’s a dip in the budget, but it’s better than dying.
However, when you’re a tourist in a foreign country the doctors will try everything they can to overprescribe and overcharge you.
Know the symptoms ahead of time so you know what you need to get better and only what you need.
If I’d known what my brother had, I would have been less worried about his immediate health and it would have been easier for me to tell the doctors exactly what he did and did not need.
Yes to the IV, yes to the antibiotics, forget everything else. There’s no need for anti-nauseates or anything else, they’re just trying to rack up your bill.
If you’re worried about this and other illnesses, there’s a good post about travel controversial travel issues on Y Travel Blog.
Don’t freak out, and don’t let it ruin your fun. At the end of the day, every traveler has had some degree of traveler’s diarrhea at some point or another.
Relative to everything else, it’s really not a big deal.
It only usually last a few hours to a day if treated properly.
The more you stress about it, the longer it will take your system to recover.
Know that anytime you expose your body to radically different environments it needs the time to adapt. Take it as a sign that you need to take it down a notch and relax a bit for the next few days to ensure a speedy recovery, and allow your body more time to acclimatize.
Slow travel lowers your chances of contracting traveler’s diarrhea, which is essentially a shock to your system.
It’s your body’s way of exhibiting its very own culture shock.
If you move slowly from one area to the next, you will be exposed in small amounts to the bacteria you are about to immerse yourself in.
It’s not foolproof of course, nothing is, but all things being equal, if you fly from Toronto to the Turkey, you’re more likely to experience tummy cramps than slowly backpacking from France through Eastern Europe to Turkey.
Has this ever happened to you?
We want to hear your stories and your prevention methods.
Where did you get the worst food poisoning?
How did you get over it?