With all the beautiful things that comes with traveling, there comes the ugly side of it too. Not that it would ever stop us from going, but travel isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. No matter how invincible we feel when we’re out exploring the wild, sometimes, our body can only handle so much and it reacts like a human body normally would. It’s a wild world out there, and if you’re not very careful, you may catch something that could instantly ruin your trip. There’s hundreds of different unfortunate things that could happen to any of us while away, but with a little education, you can prepare yourself to avoid at least some of them. If you don’t already know, I’m a nurse, so it’s in my nature to educate. I’d like to introduce you to at least the most common illnesses you may come across during your travels, and together with it, I’ve included how to avoid them, AND how to deal with it in case you become a victim. So here goes a comprehensive, yet straight to the point introduction to the 10 most common traveling illnesses.
1.) Acute Gastroenteritis aka Traveler’s Diarrhea
The most common of all diseases while traveling, this diarrhea causing illness can range from mild to…extremely leaky. Usually caused by a mean ol’ microorganism like virus, bacteria, or a parasite, it’s very easy to accuse the water of the food you eat as the culprit. The stomach flu can be fatal if not taken care of so don’t underestimate it. In extremely mild cases, it goes away on its own as long as you keep yourself hydrated. Otherwise, it can make you quite ill– fever, nausea, vomiting… Definitely not something you want to be stuck in your hotel for.
What you can do to avoid it: Be wary about the food the that you eat. Unless you have a gut of steel (like me, thanks to the Philippines for that), be a little cautious.
- Street food IS amazing and I’ve never personally been victimized by food poisoning but while most of the best ones are *safe* enough l, you need to trust your instinct here. Use a little common sense too. If the food looks like it’s been sitting out for hours, with flies lingering around it, it’s probably not the best idea to go for it.
- Be cautious of the water. In certain places such as those in Asia, don’t trust the house water. Buy a bottled water instead. There are some countries like Singapore for instance, where drinking water isn’t an issue. Do your research to be sure. If it feels sketchy, don’t trust it.
- Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to think twice about it, don’t trust it. At least if you really want to be careful.
What you can do if you have it:
- There’s anti-diarrheals available over the counter, but use it only when necessary, i.e. for a day of exploring that you absolutely cannot miss. But if you can, it’s better to…let it all go. Get rid of that bacteria in your system.
- STAY HYDRATED!! Losing all those fluid will cause an imbalance in your body which is absolutely something you wouldn’t want while traveling.
- Keep a light diet. I know it’s hard to avoid all the good food, but it’ll help avoid too much leakiness.
- Stick to crackers and clear liquid diet IF doable. I know how lame that sounds when you’re traveling, but that’s totally up to you to handle.
- BRAT diet (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) helps with the diarrhea as well.
- Activated charcoal is known to be good for diarrhea or other stomach discomforts.
“I went to Thailand and the spicy food gave me the sh*ts. I thought it was safe.”
Your stomach’s reaction to spicy food is completely different from acute gastroenteritis, unless of course the food was contaminated. When you eat spicy food, it releases a chemical compound called capsaicin, which the stomach cannot breakdown, causing an imbalance and irritation to your stomach lining and intestines. But of course the more you get used to spicy food, the less the trouble would be.
What you can do to avoid it: To avoid an upset stomach when eating spicy food, you may try balancing it out with dairy, such as milk or yogurt. Lessening the amount of your spicy food intake is also an option, but I would neverrrrr recommend that. Spicy food is too good! What do I do in this case? I take it like a champ. And suffer later in the bathroom, while losing 5 ibs. of water weight at the same time. Worth it.
2.) Urinary Tract Infection aka UTI
This isn’t just common for travelers, UTI is so common that I’m sure you’ve had it at least once, that your mama’s had it, and your grandmama too. Nonetheless, it’s still easy to contract it when you’re traveling especially when you’re out and about in places that doesn’t even have toilet papers in public bathrooms (talking to you, Asia). Anything that gives easy access for bacteria to enter your bladder through your vagina (or the other thing, if you’re a guy) is a risk factor. That includes getting frisky in a public area! This bladder infection can be uncomfortable, not to mention painful!
What you can do to avoid it:
- Wipe front to back!
- Bring your own feminine wipes or toilet paper, as some places do not have toilet paper (and definitely no toilet seat covers).
- Keep it clean down there– change your underwear regularly, wash before bed preferably with feminine wash, etc.
- Drink plenty of water– the more diluted your urine is, the more you’ll pee, which flushes out those annoying bacteria.
- Wear loose clothing– to avoid bacteria accumulation, obviously. You want to avoid moisture as much as possible. Traveling and walking = lots of sweat. So keep it fresh and dry.
- If your loyalty remains to sanitary pads, you may wanna consider tampons, or better yet, menstrual cups. It keeps your urethra aka bladder opening drier than a pad would. (READ: How To Travel Peacefully While On Your Period)
What you can do if you already have it:
- You’ll need a prescription for antibiotics, so when your body senses it’s getting worse, see a doctor asap.
- Actually, you should see a doctor asap, no matter what, because if the bacteria travels further up to your kidneys, complications may arise.
- You’ll need to pee in a cup to diagnose your UTI.
- Drink cranberry juice. And lots of water!!
- Coffee, alcohol, and certain sodas can irritate your bladder so you might wanna avoid them.
“Can sex really be a risk factor for this?”
Yes. Honeymoon cystitis, which is basically sexually related UTI, is as real as it gets. It’s really not that hard for bacteria to get in there, you know?
What you can do to avoid it:
- Pee prior to and after sexual intercourse.
- Perhaps ask your partner to wash his wonderful traveling hands, because…you know.
- Frisky public cases…be cautious.
3.) Sexually Transmitted Disease aka STD, VD, etc.
If you’ve never had Sex Ed, then let me tell you now that the possibility is endless. Health Ed probably introduced you to some, but not as comprehensive as Nursing school did, and trust me, it really is something to cringe about. Nobody wants a dirty vagina, but nobody wants to be lonely either. So you do you, but stay protected and don’t be stupid. Guys, the variety of STD’s are endless. Chlamydia. Herpes. Gonorrhea. Hepatitis. Syphillis. And if you’re really unfortunate, HIV and AIDS. It’s a scary world out there.
What you can do to avoid them: Because this is such a broad topic, I might have to write a separate account for this. But here’s a few basic pointers to avoid sexually transmitted diseases;
- You could either walk around with a big A plastered on your chest, but who am I really to tell you not to have sex. But if you represent team abstinence, you’re lowering your chances to contracting STD significantly. It’s the most reliable preventive measure.
- Practice safe sex. Even when you’re not traveling, you really should. That means condoms, because your BCP or IUD won’t protect you from that.
- Other diseases can be transmitted through blood, such as Hepatitis B, HIV, and AIDS. In this case, be careful with those needles. When getting a tattoo, make sure they open a new needle for you.
- You may also take preventive shots for Hep B.
- Wash before and after intercourse.
- Don’t share some of your stuff such as towels, underwear, and swimsuits.
- Get tested. Don’t be the one to pass them around.
What to do when you already have it:
- If you already know you have it, don’t be a douche trying to get some at Full Moon Party. That’s just barbaric. So in this case, I’m actually telling you not to have sex!
- See the doctor ASAP and get on that treatment right away.
- Condoms, if you’re in a relationship or if you really must. But don’t have sex until you see a doctor and get precise instruction from them. Don’t be a tool.
- If you are in a relationship, make sure your partner gets tested also. Some symptoms are asymptomatic, which means the symptoms doesn’t show initially, so it’s better to be one step ahead. For your partner, at least.
4.) Influenza aka The Flu
It started off with a sneeze. Or an itchy throat. Or something you just thought of as allergy. Then you get the fever. And muscle pains. Chills. Sweats. Headache. Fever. And you feel like complete sh*t. Flu is so common, yet it could easily get the best of you. And remember, there was one time in history where it killed thousands of people.
What you can do to avoid it: They key is to get your immune system up so it can naturally fight off the virus. It’s the most reliable preventive measure.
- Get enough rest or sleep prior to traveling.
- Lots of water, because it’s the answer to everything.
- Take vitamins.
- Wash your hands because..germs.
- Get your flu shot.
What to do if you already have it: If you somehow manage to catch the flu while traveling, the best thing that you can really do is to take your prophylaxis like Tamiflu (preventive medicine) before it gets worse. Watch out for early signs such as itchy throat, sneezing, feeling a little clammy, or weakness.
- Get some rest. It’s better to take a day off to recharge than to wear yourself out and then suffer even more later.
- Drink lots of water!
- Despite what I mentioned above, antivirals wouldn’t really cure the flu, though it could shorten its course and would prevent complication. It’s really all about bed rest.
5.) Typhoid Fever
The way I see Typhoid Fever is similar to my perception of food poisoning except acquiring it is a lot more gross. It has similar signs and symptoms. However, TF transmission is via oral-fecal, which means you have ingested a strain of fecal matter infected with Salmonella typhi. You can get this from eating poorly prepared food– by dirty hands, or perhaps uncooked meat.
What you can do to avoid them: Just like Traveler’s Diarrhea, it’s all about what you put in your mouth.
- Be cautious of the sketchy places you eat at.
- In certain places such as Asia, don’t trust the house water. Buy a bottled water instead. There are some countries like Singapore for instance, where water isn’t an issue. Do your research to be sure. If it feels sketchy, don’t trust it.
- Though sometimes, all it really takes is bad luck to get TF, it takes some serious intuition too. If you feel hesitant or skeptical about a meal in the streets, just don’t do it. But don’t let paranoia take over. Learn how to determine one from the other. (READ: Learn How To Master Your Instincts As A Traveler)
- Use our rule of thumb. If you have to second guess, don’t put it in your mouth.
What you can do if you already have it: You must see a doctor. Your stool will be tested to confirm you have Typhoid Fever, so if your diarrhea is accompanied with vomiting, fever, generalized pain, and you’re overall starting to feel lethargic, go see a doctor so you can receive proper treatment.
6.) Dengue Fever
This is especially prevalent in the summer. Damn those mosquitos! It’s those notorious ones that are known to spread this disease. So if a mosquito who happens to bite you is a carrier, signs and symptoms start to show 4-10 days later. Though it can be treated at home, it can get extremely serious and fatal too. The earlier you diagnose it, the better for your health.
What you can do to avoid it: MUST avoid those sneaky little mosquitos! If you’re going to a place known for them, it doesn’t hurt to keep your guard up. Luckily for me, I haven’t been victimized although I’m constantly bitten by them here in a country where Dengue Fever is pretty prevalent.
- Wear mosquito repellant.
- Cover up well if you know you know you’ll be exposed to mosquitos.
- If you’re traveling to mosquito infested places, just go the extra mile to avoid them– close the windows and door, avoid residential areas where it’s crowded, avoid stagnant water, etc.
What you can do if you already have it: Signs and symptoms include headache, high fever, muscle pain, severe headaches, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, skin rash, and bleeding (gums for instance). See a doctor right away.
- There’s no specific treatment for Dengue Fever. You can only treat the symptoms. But if your temperature goes down but you somehow end up feeling worse during the next 24 hours, see a doctor right away.
- Here’s an easy test you can do if you’re suspecting dengue fever. Grab a tourniquet and wrap it around your arms for at least two minutes. Count the rashes that occurs around. If there’s ten or more, you may be positive for dengue fever.
- BED REST! There’s no going around on this one. Find a good hotel because you’ll need to be indoors.
- Drink lots of water!
7.) Yeast Infection
Yeast infection is a lot more common than you may think, affecting 75% of women at least once in our lives. It’s icky, uncomfortable, and can be quite painful. If you happen to be obsessed with the beach or anything that requires a bikini, you’re definitely more susceptible to it. Symptoms includes pain when urinating, cottage cheese looking discharge, pain during sexual intercourse, and most annoyingly, the itching that burns! Buzz kill, especially if you’re just trying to explore!
What you can do to avoid it: Pretty similar to our preventive measures for UTI, you can avoid vaginal yeast infections by keeping your hygiene standards down there on check.
- Wash like a pro.
- Wipe front to back.
- Don’t stick around wearing wet or damp bikinis, this is absolutely crucial!
- Go for loose fitting clothing.
- Avoid douching.
- Avoid chemical products such as scented tampons.
- Switch out tampons as soon as possible after you swim.
- Yogurts and probiotics are said to decrease your chances of getting yeast infection.
What you can do if you already have it:
- Because of how uncomfortable it can get, you might wanna see your gyno right away.
- Usually, over the counter suppository medicines are available. Suppository, like literally sticking it in and letting it melt down there.
- Other over the counter medicines are widely available– from oral tablets to sprays.
- Garlic (like a clove of garlic inside of you overnight) are rumored to work, although no actual proof or evidence has been found.
- Tea tree oil and vinegar are also said to fight it, although it must be used with extra caution, perhaps by using small amounts in a cotton ball.
8.) General Wound
You fell on your motorbike, you stepped on a coral, or you wounded yourself from a hike. It happens. Sometimes, it’s just a scratch, but sometimes it’s really bad. Learn your proper wound care to avoid getting it infected!
What you can do avoid it: You’re a grown up, so you know what measures to take to avoid getting wounded. But when you have it, what can you do, am I right?
What you can do if you already have it: Proper wound care is the answer. This eliminates the chances of it getting infected or getting any complication at all.
- Wash with water and mild soap.
- You may also use iodine solution or hydrogen peroxide to clean your wound.
- Use an over the counter antibiotic cream or ointment to prevent bacteria getting inside your skin.
- When you’re out and about exploring, I think it’s best to cover it with clean gauze or bandaid. However, keep in mind that this will prolong the healing time.
- Don’t swim in a lake, pool, or the ocean to avoid getting it infected.
9.) Heat Stroke
Unless you’re going to the Arctic Circle or anywhere with low temperatures, then duh, this isn’t something you need to worry about. But if you are going to be in places with extreme heat, then you’re at risk, so it’s better to be in the know before you go. Though I never personally suffered from heat stroke, I’m pretty sure I almost did. Especially for those who hike, this is something that does need to be highly considered. This is an extreme medical emergency so it definitely needs to be taken seriously.
What you can do to avoid it: The goal is to make sure your body doesn’t overheat. You want to avoid dehydrating your body. And when you’re in high temperatures and you don’t happen to be used to it, you need to take some precautionary measures.
- Wear light clothing. They say wearing black makes you feel hotter too, so stick with light colored clothes. You can bring your Morticia Addams on another time in another place.
- Wear a hat.
- Don’t skip out on your sunscreen.
- Stay hydrated– water, water, electroclytes such as Gatorade or Powerade, water, and more water.
- Avoid going out during the hottest times of the day. That’s usually around noon until 3-4 pm.
- Don’t go alone when doing any extreme activities under the sun for a prolonged period of time.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which causes you to lose more liquids.
What to do if you already have it: If someone you know is experiencing heat stroke or if you’re starting feel any of the symptoms and you’re still coherent enough to take some measures, do it as soon as possible because this is an extreme medical emergency. I repeat: this is an emergency! Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, dry skin, cramps or muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting, deep shallow breathing, and unconsciousness. You may also notice behavioral changes such as crankiness, disorientation, and confusion.
- Seek for emergency medical assistance.
- Find a shade, or
- Cool down the patient with fan or by bringing them in an airconditioned room.
- Apply ice packs over the patient.
- A cold shower to cool down the body.
- If the patient is conscious, have them hydrate with fluids.
10.) Insect Bite Allergy
Nobody likes those little bastards. I hate them for sure, but I love nature so much that no matter what, I end up getting victimized by them. Insect bite responses can go from mild to deadly, so you better watch out. You can either have just a small bump or swelling, get it infected like I usually do, or perhaps go in shock.
What you can do to avoid it: Avoid insects. That’s all there is to it.
- Cover up your arms and legs.
- Bring some topical antihistamine just in case. Perhaps some neosporin too to avoid getting an infection.
- It helps to know what you’re allergic to. Wear a medical bracelet.
- Avoid, avoid, avoid…those bugs.
What you can do if you already have it: No matter how extreme your reaction, it will be uncomfortable, so it’s best to at least have some first aid packed.
- Use oral or topical antihistamines to lessen the itching.
- Use calamine lotion.
- Avoid scratching! Don’t be like me. It could get infected, and trust me, you don’t want it to!
- Avoid swimming in the ocean, lake, or pool to avoid getting an infection.
- In emergency cases (anaphylactic shock), GET HELP ASAP before your throat closes up.
Final words: We’re all susceptible to illnesses, no matter where we are. It doesn’t hurt to be careful, or to be prepared. Pack your first aid kit complete with emergency medications. Put sunscreen on. Purchase travel insurance. Don’t do stupid sh*t. Be a responsible traveler.
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