N.B. I am obviously not a doctor or medically trained in any way, in fact, I frequently catch colds, have many aches and pains and am something of a hypochondriac (I hope!?). Still, just because I rarely follow my own, or anyone’s good advice doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a look.
Travelling and illness don’t really go all that well together. In fact, it’s something of a nightmare getting ill on the road. Language barriers, obscure, outdated medical practices and costs can all combine to make it a bit of a mission to even find a Doctor, let alone get treatment. Whilst you can never guarantee avoiding illness on your travels there are several practices you can follow to give yourself the best chance of heath.
Whilst you are still analogue: Before you leave
- Know where you are going and plan accordingly, it’s advisable to have a quick look at your governments travel and health pages to see what recommendations if any, they have for travellers. Or, if you trust the British government you can look here. You should also have a look at the World Health Organization website, just to be sure.
- Now that you know what you need, you need to get it done. Ensure you leave yourself plenty of time to organise any vaccinations or medicines you might need. Make sure you are on top of this as you will often find that some of these courses need administering weeks or months before you arrive.
- You might want to go to the tooth doctor as well. Having a quick dental exam before you leave can help you avoid any unnecessary pain, problems and payments abroad. Having said that it is really quite cheap in some countries to get dental work so yeah, maybe check that before you go. Go on a dental holiday. Take lots of pictures.
- Travel with insurance! The best way to avoid paying for any medical emergencies abroad is by not having any! The second best way is by getting someone else to pay for most of it for you! Travel insurance can be a bit of a minefield for make sure you shop around and find a plan that works for you.
- If you are eligible for an EHIC card get one
before brexit happens and the Tories kill off the NHS on their mission to kill off the poorwhilst you can. This guarantees you free/low-cost emergency treatment anywhere in the European Economic Area. You can apply for one here.
- Take your own (non-prescription) pharmacy and first aid kit with you, it won’t take up much space in your bag and could save you a lot of effort in the long run. Things to consider taking include painkillers, antiseptic, plasters, bandages, tweezers, antihistamines and contraceptives. You might not need all of these, you might need additional items but buying it in advance can save you a lot of mime in pharmacies abroad.
Going digital: Getting there
- Stay as active as you can whilst travelling. Fight off the fear of DVT by taking regular (if possible) walks to the toilet or up and down the train/plane. If you can’t walk around stretch as much as you can, wiggle your toes, do anything to keep the blood pumping.
- Keep yourself fed and watered but don’t over do it. Too much food and drink can disrupt sleep, make you moody and possibly lead to stomach issues. No-one needs that on a long train journey.
- You might want to carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser with you at all times. Airports, stations and the people who use them aren’t always the cleanest of things. Regular disinfecting might not be a bad plan (of yourself, not unsuspecting others).
- Keep up your vitamin C levels, eat an orange, the person next to you won’t mind if a little juice squirts onto their face I’m sure.
- Try and stay calm. I hate everything about flying, the airports, the people, the planes, the seats, the magazines, the way you can never really understand what the pilot or flight attendants are saying. Everything. If you are like me you know how easily this experience can ruin your day. My only advice is to try and relax. As soon as I get into the airport my headphones are in, my music is on and I’m looking for a quiet place to sit until it’s time to board the tin tube of terror. Once I’m on that I do the same but a little more anxiously. Still, the trusty headphones help, it’s how I cope, find your way and stick to it.
Going digital: Got there
- If you’re planning an extended stay find out where you need to go if things don’t quite work out health wise. Doctors, hospitals, dentist, chiropodist. Whatever you fancy really. You don’t need to put them on speed dial but knowing where they can be found can save you a lot of hassle later on.
- Check the water supply. If you’re not sure about it, don’t risk it. Head to the nearest shop and stock up on bottled water/pop/alcohol. Dirty drinking water is something we all want to avoid. Nobody goes travelling to get the squits I’m sure. Drinking dirty water can cause all sorts of problems that your tweezers and a bandage won’t fix. So, if in doubt, pour it out.
- Foreign lands offer a wealth of new and exciting foods to try, have fun but use your common sense. Does it look fresh or is it yesterday’s leftovers? Is the restaurant/bar/shanty shack moderately clean? Does the chef/cook/shanty shack owner look moderately clean? It’s difficult to tell sometimes but be cautious and keep your fingers crossed.
- If you are self-catering remember the old favourite. Boil it, cook it, peel it or leave it!
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in vitamins if possible. Not just kebabs.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Not following this incredibly obvious tip was a contributing factor to an incident I had in a Budapest bar which involved a few stitches and a shaved patch on the back of my head. Terribly embarrassing.
- Heat exposure was another factor, cripes it was hot that day. Avoid too much exposure to the sun, wear a hat and keep yourself cool if possible.
- Keep up your personal hygiene, this may be more difficult if you are trekking through the jungle but try to carry some wet wipes, a toothbrush and toothpaste at least. Wash your hands before eating, after bathroom breaks and always carry some deodorant, no one needs to smell you.
- Carry contraceptives and avoid unprotected sex.
- Carry sun cream and avoid unprotected sunbathing.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep, travelling can be tough on your body sometimes. Recharge it.
- Douse yourself in repellent if you are somewhere thick with insects. Various illnesses and diseases are spread through insect bites including malaria and Lyme disease. You really don’t want either of these so ensure you have a steady supply of DEET labelled repellent.
- A lot of travel websites will advise you to avoid all the things that make travelling fun. What’s the point of going if you’re not going to eat the food, drink the wine or have a bit of an adventure? Do what you want just do it with a bit of caution.
- Don’t worry too much, you’ll make yourself ill!
Going digital: Got ill there
- Oh no, you’ve not been paying attention have you? First thing to do is not panic, that’ll just make you feel worse. Hopefully, you will have your travel insurance or EHIC and you will know where to go or who to call and everything will be cosmic. If not, I suggest you re-read this page.
Signing out: Coming home
- Nothing exciting, keep an eye on your general health and make sure to go to the doctor if you notice anything strange. Make sure you tell them exactly where you have been, if you struggle to remember make sure you take all your photos with you. I bet they’d love that.
If you have any more top health travel tips let your fellow digital nomads know in the comments section.