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The travel bug (but not the good kind)
It’s a common traveller’s tale – you run around in a mad rush organizing yourself to get away for that longed-for annual overseas holiday, desperately trying to pack three weeks worth of work into the 3 days before you depart – then you collapse on the plane with exhaustion and all of a sudden you’re feeling under the weather.
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent every medical ailment, but you can take a few precautionary measures to reduce your chances of getting sick when you’re on the road.
Before you leave
- If you’re travelling overseas, you’ll likely be exposed to nasty bugs and diseases that we don’t have here in Australia. Visit your local doctor before you leave to find out what vaccinations you might need for the countries you’re headed to. It’s important to do this at least six weeks before you travel to give your immune system enough time to respond to any vaccination you’ve had, and to allow for vaccines that need more than one injection.
- Pack any medications or supplies (including inhalers, allergy medication and insulin) that you and your family use frequently because they might be hard to find (or very expensive) at your destination. You should also pack a small first aid kit (with antiseptic, bandaids, etc), sunscreen and insect repellent.
- Take your vitamins – although there’s no conclusive evidence that vitamins will prevent colds, heaps of travelers swear by Vitamin C and Echinacea. Dosing up on these supplements well in advance of your trip may help to build up your immune system and reduce the severity or duration of symptoms.
On the plane
According to a study by the , you’re 100 times more likely to catch a cold on a plane than you would doing your normal day-to-day activities on the ground. So how do you avoid the dreaded plane cold?
- Wash your hands – planes are a breeding ground for all types of germs (especially the bathroom), so make sure you wash your hands before eating. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer to make it easy.
- Stay hydrated – dehydration dries out your body’s natural defenses against gets?. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages (tea, coffee, soft drinks, etc) as much as possible and drink lots of water. Saline solutions (such as?) also can keep your eyes and nose moist, which acts as a barrier against germs.
- Get plenty of rest – the time you have on the plane is an important break from the manic rush you face getting to the airport and arriving at your destination so rest up and recharge – you’ll need all your energy for when you land.
- Fight jetlag – once you’re on the plane, adjust your sleep schedule so that you’re following the local time at your destination.
At your destination
- If you’re travelling in less developed countries, you’re more likely to run into water that contains nasty microorganisms which make you sick. Bottled water is the way to go – use only purified water for brushing your teeth and mixing infant formula, and avoid ice in drinks. If you’re staying in the same place for a little while, buying in bulk is a great idea.
- If you do use tap water, boil it first or purify with an iodine tablet. One TID traveller actually had a great suggestion – if you have a kettle in your hotel room, boil water just before you go to bed, leave it overnight to cool and then fill your water bottle with it in the morning.
- When it comes to food, remember that old rule:“If you can’t cook it, boil it or peel it, you should forget it.” Salads are probably the biggest risk here.
- Stay active – if your hotel has a gym, try to use it daily to keep your body healthy. Early morning walks and bike tours are great ways to not only explore your destination but also get some exercise in.
- Eat wise– this is especially the case for budget travellers who load upon carbohydrates to stretch their dollar. Protein is necessary to resist infection and rebuild muscles, so don’t skimp on it. Lay off fatty foods and opt for healthy options where you can.
What to do if you do get sick
If you’re unlucky enough to be struck down with an illness when you’re travelling, here’s what you should do:
- Keep up the fluids – drink plenty of water and, if necessary, electrolyte drinks help to rehydrate your body.
- Rest up so that your immune system has enough strength to fight off the infection.
- Sip drinks and eat small, light meals and snacks (the blander the better),
- Seek medical advice – if you need to see a doctor, make sure you keep all the receipts. You’ll need all this documentation if you’re making a claim.