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Travel Triad: 3 Tips for Staying Healthy While Abroad

July 31, 2015

Each year, millions of Americans will travel overseas for vacation, business or volunteerism. When you travel, the first things that come to mind are what to pack, where to stay and where to visit. I'm here to tell you that there is another aspect of travel you should consider, yet gets overlooked far too often: your health.

Traveling abroad can be exciting, but it is important to remember that many locations throughout the world do not have the same public health standards that we do here in the U.S. Further, many countries have environmental hazards that we don't often encounter at home. These can pose a threat to the healthy of the unprepared traveler.

With proper planning and understanding, you can greatly improve your chances of avoiding illness when abroad. Here are three important rules, which we call the "Travel Triad", for you to follow when you go abroad. Think of them as the ultimate common-sense rules for travel safety. If you follow these tips, you’re less likely to spend your entire trip clutching your stomach.

Rule # 1: Watch What You Eat

Traveler’s diarrhea affects up to a whopping 70 percent of travelers. In many countries, food safety isn’t as tightly regulated as it is here in the United States. Bad hygiene and food safety practices are the number one causes of traveler’s diarrhea. If you buy food from a street vendor or eat at a local restaurant, there’s no way of knowing for sure what safety measures they have in place. Taking that risk could lead to a sour stomach, cramping, fever and multiple trips to the bathroom. If you’re in doubt about whether to eat something, follow this simple guidance:

  • Don’t eat food from street vendors
  • Avoid raw or undercooked meats or fish
  • Salads and unpasteurized dairy products are a no-no
  • Never eat food served at room temperature
  • Don’t eat bushmeat (bats, monkeys and wild game)

Rule # 2: Watch What You Drink

Food isn’t the only thing you have to worry about when you travel abroad. Drinking water comes with its own health risks, too.

Amoebas, parasites and the hepatitis virus could be in the water supply in certain countries, causing you to get sick when you drink it. For this reason, always avoid fountain drinks, tap water or ice and flavored ice treats made from tap or well water. Instead, stick to bottled water, tightly sealed sodas or sports drinks, pasteurized milk and hot coffee or tea.

Be careful about bathing and swimming, too. In some places, it’s best to use bottled water when brushing your teeth or rinsing. When you shower, keep your mouth closed and definitely don’t swallow the water. If you plan to swim, stick to chlorinated pools or salt water since they are usually safe from infectious diseases.

Rule # 3: Keep Insects at Bay

Clothes, toiletries and a comfortable pair of shoes aren’t the only things you should pack in your luggage. A good insect repellent is a must-have.

Mosquitos, ticks and some flies can spread diseases that may not be treatable with a vaccine or medication. Since prevention is always the best medicine, avoid getting sick in the first place by using an insect repellent with 30-40 percent DEET (a chemical that effectively keeps insects at bay). Picaridin, another insect repellent, and products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus are also good options.

In addition to protecting your skin, you should also apply an insect repellant to your clothing, shoes, hats and other articles you may carry with you. Peremethrin, made from chrysanthemum flowers, is a good option for treating inanimate objects such as these. It is the same repellent that is used in the pre-treated clothing or gear that you can purchase in catalogs and online, and it will last for up to three washings. You can purchase this at any outdoor or sporting goods store. Using both the skin insect repellent (remember, insects can bite any unprotected skin area) and pre-treated clothing will give you very good protection against biting insects.

Other ways to prevent bug bites:

  • Wear long-sleeved or light-colored clothing for added protection
  • Avoid wearing bright colors that attract some insects
  • Wear fragrance-free or unscented perfumes, deodorants or hair gels
  • Use mosquito netting over your bed and stay in screened or air-conditioned rooms
Getting sick can ruin your travel plans, and in severe cases, land you in the hospital. No one wants this, so follow all these rules to increase your chances of staying healthy while abroad.

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