As borderline panic and the severity of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads through the media networks, far too similar to those terrifying scenes from the 2011 film Contagion, there’s a mad rush for face mask and a serious revaluation of travel destinations, with conversations shifting to how we can avoid becoming ill while travelling.
Personally, as a regular traveller I far too often get sick – almost always after a long-haul flight. There are tales of tonsillitis in Vietnam’s Da Nang, raging fevers that had me pulled off a flight in Austria’s Salzburg, tick-bite fever, and that time my lungs got infected by a vicious hard to shake lurgy after exploring the lower regions of India’s Himalayan mountains from the back of a motorbike. These have meant valuable lessons in the importance of maintaining my health while travelling, with these the guidelines that I try to follow.
Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of yourself is half the battle. Try and avoid anything going wrong by boosting your immune system with vitamins B, D, A and C, as well as adding electrolytes to your water, eating healthy and not overdoing the alcohol consumption – tough if on
a foodie focussed trip, I know. Should you become unwell, after getting the right medications, try to take a day or two to rest and recover. When your body is already struggling, it needs rejuvenation, not to be put under added stress. Get clean, good food, plenty of liquids and lots of good sleep.
Even if you have a relatively strong constitution, it is always a good idea to pack a small bag of medications. Common inclusions are painkillers, anti-nausea and diarrhoea, antibacterial gels and creams for small rashes and skin irritations as well as plasters. Bug repellent, sunblock and malaria prophylactics when in a high-risk area, are a must too. Also know what medicines, if any, you are taking. Most people know the names of the drugs they take but do not keep an eye on the ingredients of these medications. Knowing the ingredients will ensure you receive the right medications at a foreign hospital. I always take photos of front and back and keep them in my iCloud folder for just in case.
Drink more water
Staying hydrated is essential. Very few of us drink enough water and this can make us feel sluggish and lethargic – also at risk of dehydration in steamy Summer weather. Aim to drink around eight glasses of water a day, more so if you are physically active. Rehydrating helps with flushing out any toxins lingering from whatever you may have eaten too. It is always a good idea to buy a reputable brand of bottled water to reduce the chances of succumbing to water-borne illnesses, or better still carry your own reusable bottle and fill it with filtered water at hotels and in restaurants as you go.
Remember to Sleep
With us all living busy lives we rarely get enough sleep, and when we do sleep, it is often not good quality. Bearing in mind that most travel is actually about taking a holiday, it isn’t wise to burn the candle at both ends, leaving you feeling run down, as this will knock your immune system, and potentially detract from the overall experience. Sleep is everything, and taking time to disconnect, replenish your energy and reduce stress while away, is a gift to yourself. Personally, I’m an advocate for big action-packed days with quiet evenings in processing the wonders of all the new discoveries.
Exercise helps maintain both physical and mental strength yet is too often set aside whilst travelling. Staying fit as you go doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym daily but can rather be about incorporating exercise into your sightseeing. Consider a walking tour, exploration by bicycle or even joining a local yoga or Muay Thai class. Consider starting each day with a combo of meditation and yoga, and having a travel yoga mat with you wherever you go. It will work wonders in creating consistency and keeping the mind focussed.
Avoid (some) Air Travel
It is well established that aeroplanes form a very potent habitat for different bacteria and viruses to thrive. If you are travelling locally and feel a bit sickly, their pressurised, recycled air can aggravate the situation. Try as much as possible to be around fresh air and outdoor spaces. While abroad, think train before plane, road trip when time allows and reduce your carbon footprint while nurturing your wellbeing where possible.
Always Get Travel Insurance
Some travellers may feel that they don’t need travel insurance, especially when doing a short trip, imagining that the worst that can happen will be a cold or flu. But what if this escalates to something more serious, or you incur an injury? Travel insurance will certainly help take care of medical bills, as well as offer essential support. It’s not worth going anywhere without it.
It’s not always possible to prevent travel-induced illness, but certain measures will have a significant impact on reducing the risk. Knowing when to see a doctor, when to get extra rest and what medications to bring along, are all bound to help when dealing with a health scare while travelling.
Best Health Practices for Travellers
- Avoid travelling if you have a fever, cough or flu-like symptoms.
- Maintain your social distance, leaving a metre or more between you and other passengers while queuing, especially those who are sneezing or coughing.
- Regularly wash your hands regularly with soap and running water.
- Use hand-sanitiser as often as you like.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid contact with live animals. Wash your hands with soap and water if you do touch any.
- Eat only well-cooked food, wash fresh fruit and veggies and check the source of the water and ice.
- If you choose to wear a single-use mask (especially at the moment with COVID-19), ensure it covers your nose and mouth, and wash your hands well after removing and discarding it.