Living out of a backpack has its glory moments, but there are also the times that no one talks about. Getting sick with food poisoning, diarrhea, motion sickness, colds, and other various nasties are a part of the journey that you need to prepare for. However, there are ways to minimize the likelihood that you will get caught up in something unpleasant. Here is our guide for how to stay (relatively) healthy while backpacking.
Watch What You Eat
Eating exotic food is one of the easiest ways to get sick while abroad. Your stomach simply isn’t used to the ingredients used, and that can have a negative effect. I am not telling you to stop trying new foods because that is half the fun of traveling. You just need to do it carefully!
When you eat street food, make sure that it is hot, especially if it is meat. If it isn’t piping hot, don’t get it! Plus, when they give it to you, make sure that it is a fresh one that hasn’t been sitting out for who knows how long.
Go easy on the spice! Levels of spiciness vary from country to country and person to person. What may be mild for someone may be way too spicy for you. Too much spice can lead to severe consequences in the bathroom later on. Be careful!
Always ask if it is okay to drink water in a new place for a foreigner. Just because a local can drink it, doesn’t mean that you can. If the answer is “no,” then drink only bottled water. Better yet, see if there is a clean water refill station (many accommodations have them) so to avoid plastic waste.
Also, try not to eat foods that have to be washed in water, such as fruit or salads. Plus, avoid drinks with ice, like smoothies and cocktails. Lastly, remember to drink lots of water when you travel. It helps to keep you hydrated and to flush all the nasties out of your system.
When you travel, you are exposed to new germs that your body may have never encountered before. This means that you are going to be highly susceptible to getting sick because your body has no built its immunity to it. The best way to avoid that is to keep yourself clean.
Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands frequently with hot water and soap will keep those nasty germs off of you. Try to this after being in a public space like a market, store, or transportation service. It is always important to wash your hands before you eat as well! If washing your hands is not an option, then use hand sanitizer. Grab a travel bottle on your way out of town and clip it to your bag. Always have it with you so you can use it whenever you need it.
Avoid Touching Your Face
Your face is a crucial access point for germs to make you sick, so avoid touching your face. Try to not rub your eyes, rest your chin on your palm, play with your skin, or put anything in your mouth until your hands are clean. There is no reason to give germs a red carpet entrance to making you sick!
Let’s be real, you are probably going to get sick at least once. All of these fantastic precautions have probably stopped dozens of nasties from getting you already, but one may slip through. When this happens, it is essential to be ready!
Before you leave, have a stash of medications with you. You can get most things over the counter at a local store. It is much easier to get them before you leave, then to scramble trying to find them in a foreign country, while sick, and likely in a different language. Save yourself the trouble and go prepared.
We recommend taking medications like antidiarrheals, laxatives, Gas X, Dayquil/NyQuil, Emergency C/Airborne, light painkillers, and daily vitamins. In addition, make sure to bring any essentials medications that you need like allergy medicine. Be aware though, some countries have strict laws on what you can and cannot bring through customs. Having a doctor’s note can help, but there is a chance that your stuff could be confiscated.
If you get genuinely sick, find a doctor or go to the hospital. When you are backpacking through a third world country, it may not be the quality you are used to, but it is better than dying. That is why it is vital to get health insurance, like World Nomads, before you leave.
Half of how to stay (relatively) healthy while backpacking is being smart.
- The food looks gross, don’t eat it.
- You touch something gross, don’t feel up your face.
- Feeling sick, take preventative measures.
Most likely, the worst that will happen is a little stomach ache from lousy food, but being prepared will keep you knowledgeable about what to look out for and help you avoid the worst! Just remember, don’t be afraid of getting sick, it is all a part of the adventure!
Staying healthy out there while backpacking the world is nearly as important as not being the annoying roommate in the hostel dorm. Check out our article on How to be the Least Annoying Person in the Dorm to make sure you never find yourself as THAT person.