I have an impressively weak immune system and a knack for getting bizarre diseases and sicknesses. I have gotten a number of eye and ear infections while in Hawaii and California, stomach bugs in the Dominican Republic and Canada, and I even discovered I had a MRSA staph infection on my leg two days before leaving for Tanzania. I take my own health precautions more seriously when I travel to foreign countries to avoid malaria, the dreaded “Montezuma’s revenge,” and other travel-provoking illnesses. But unfortunately, within the last two months of trimester 2, I have gotten sick in every city that we’ve been to. Along the way, I’ve learned some things about my own health habits that I’d love to share.
Whether you decide to take a gap year with Winterline, or a family vacation, these tips will help you stay healthier and happier abroad…
#1) Take Daily Probiotics
I always take daily probiotics, whether I am traveling or at home, but it can get easy to slack off on remembering to take these pills every morning. Set a reminder on your phone for the same time every day (and adjust it when you change time zones) so that you remember to take that probiotic every day. Your gut will thank you.
#2) Exercise Regularly
I find it extremely difficult to fit in time (or space) for exercise while traveling. Spending only 20 minutes a day to go on a long walk, roll out the yoga mat, or go for a swim will keep your body so much stronger and up for the toll that travel has on the body. I have found many simple exercises that you can do without any equipment online and recommend coming up with a plan that will keep yourself accountable to your physical wellbeing while traveling.
#3) Everything in Moderation (even moderation, sometimes)
One of the biggest challenges for a lot of people this trimester has been eating healthy. With all the amazing new food in different countries, there are plenty of healthy options to explore. But there are also Burger Kings on every corner of Phnom Penh and 7-11’s in Bangkok, which can be tempting, especially when you’re homesick. The way I have been able to avoid this issue is to allow myself “treats” such as an ice cream bar on a particularly hot day or a soda with dinner. It has helped me immensely to not be strict with my diet, but to keep in mind that almost everything I eat should be in moderation. Encourage yourself and your travel buddies to try the local street food and skip the McDonalds.
#4) Get Good Sleep!
This is a huge one that I am convinced has caused a lot of my sicknesses this trimester. I have gotten into the pattern of staying up late to watch Netflix, talk to friends, or work on my writing, and then needing to get up early for program days. I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, program day or not, and reserve my late nights for the weekends. It’s easier said than done, but once you get into this habit, which can be aided by incorporating melatonin or meditation into your nightly routine, you will avoid getting sick.
#5) Drink CLEAN Water
I may or may not have gotten sick in Phnom Penh because I wasn’t careful about where my drinking water/ice was coming from in restaurants. It’s obviously important to drink water, whether you’re traveling or not. For me, this looks like carrying around a Nalgene and filling it up with bottled or filtered water in the hotels and hostels. Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter if their water is filtered or bottled, and even ask them to see their water filter. It’s your health, and it’s your responsibility to make sure that you are consuming clean water and ice. I learned that the hard way, so don’t make that mistake!
#6) Go to the Hospital (if necessary)
My automatic assumption was that healthcare in Southeast Asia was bad. I had to put this stereotype to the test when I went to an international hospital in Bangkok due to my incessant cough attacks and fatigue. It was the most beautiful hospital I had ever been to and the staff was amazing. I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis, got my medication, and was on my way. Obviously not all hospital experiences around the world will be like this, but don’t push the idea of going to a hospital aside, especially when you really need it. Do your research before going to the hospital, and have a friend evaluate you to see if you really even need to go.
This brings me right to my most important tip…
#7) DO YOUR RESEARCH
Before I left for Southeast Asia, I had a check-up with my physician. I showed her the list of the countries and cities I’d be visiting and she showed me how to look up medical facts about each place that are vital to know if you want to be an informed traveler. All of this information is available through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov). If you want to stay healthy, you absolutely have to do your research well before traveling to a new country.
I will be the first person to say that being sick while traveling is not fun. The physical toll it has taken on my body also infringes on my ability to be present on Winterline somedays, and I wish I had taken even more precautions before entering Southeast Asia. Make your health a priority, and I promise your experience anywhere in the world will be so much more worthwhile!