Monday, April 2, 2018

13 Helpful Tips to Prevent Illness While Traveling

Over the last few years I’ve been jet setting around the world, enjoying unique cultural experiences, visiting historical landmarks and marveling at the most breathtaking natural wonders on the planet. Travel makes life more exciting and although I am grateful for every wonderful moment, there are hazards and annoyances that come with venturing out of your comfort zone and taking risks. I don’t want to be a downer (especially since I have another big trip planned) but I am going to hit you with some reality today. Exotic destinations are beautiful but they can also be very dangerous so it’s time to talk about the downside of travel including things you don’t see in those picture perfect postcards.

These tips are particularly helpful when traveling to Asia, South America, Africa or developing nations. 

1. Do your research before leaving home
As a general rule it is a good idea to avoid visiting countries with reported outbreaks, viruses or infectious diseases plaguing the area. Check travel advisories and make informed decisions to protect your family.

2. Invest in travel insurance
No matter how much fun you have planned at that beach retreat, always prepare for the worst. To avoid expensive medical bills and unexpected costs, purchase travel insurance – I never leave home without it.

*Make copies of your passport (leave one at home with a family member/friend) and keep the other somewhere safe in case of theft.

3. Get vaccinated and talk to a healthcare professional
Consider getting the recommended vaccinations before your trip (just to be safe) and consult your doctor. Government websites will usually post travel and health information for other countries. These shots may help protect you from contagions like Hepatitis and Malaria.

4. Boost your immune system before departure
Starting a regiment of multi-vitamins/vitamin C may protect you from nasty travel bugs or at the very least, help you recover faster. Since immune strength correlates to a healthy gut, I take Koena Probiotic Supplements ($34.99) to support gastrointestinal health. The vegan capsules are available in adult daily, extra strength and women daily with no GMOs, soy, gluten, preservatives or allergens. I like that the formula contains additional prebiotic fiber to protect against microbes and keep me regular. I usually take one pill after breakfast and Koena is especially helpful when battling food poisoning or upset stomach. In fact, it seems to balance my digestive system better than most over the counter medication. You can find the supplement at Walmart, Jean Coutu, I.D.A, Rexall and Guardian. For more information visit the website at

5. Disinfect the hotel room yourself
I always book 5 star hotels or resorts (the more luxurious the better I say) but that doesn’t mean the cleaning lady cares about sanitation as much as you do. Consider how many people have touched the lamp, light switch or TV remote (surfaces that rarely get cleaned). Were these people healthy? Did they wash their hands? I know thinking about this is utterly disgusting but better safe than sorry.

*Bring Lysol or disinfectant wipes to clean commonly touched surfaces in your room. This may not kill everything lurking in the corners but it will help prevent illness. I usually wipe down the counter top, soap dish, faucets, door handles, light switches, remote control, toilet flusher etc. This may seem like a lot of cleaning to do on vacation but I saw a hidden camera show that caught a maid wiping the bathroom counter with the same cloth she used on the toilet seat...just saying.

*When booking a private room or residence with Air BnB make sure the home has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

6. Creepy Crawlers
Bed bugs are a traveler’s worst nightmare and you do not want to bring those pesky little blood suckers home. Before bringing in your luggage, inspect the room thoroughly. Check around the bed, behind the headboard, under the sheets, in the pillow cases, around the mattress seam and inspect the other furniture. Remember, even swanky 5 star hotels can be infested.

7. Don’t forget your medication
Food poisoning and travel bugs are a reality many of us must face and I know firsthand just how horrid they can be. In Dubai I contracted an illness that knocked me off my feet for days. My first class pod wasn't enough to cheer me up as I sat shaking and shivering on the 14 hour flight home.

Nothing ruins a trip faster than, projectile vomiting, abdominal pain or spending your vacation in the bathroom. Your destination may not have the same medication you are familiar with or you may not be able to read the language on the packaging.

Things to bring (other than prescription meds):
*Anti-diarrhea medication and hydration packs to refuel your body after fluid loss.
*Charcoal pills – to absorb toxins.
*Pain Relievers.
*Medication for indigestion.
*Ladies, I recommend packing something for yeast infections.
*Sunscreen and ointments for sunburn.
*After Bite to alleviate the itch and pain of mosquito bites.
*Swimmers Ear Drops.
*Antibacterial Eye drops.
Note: Before bringing any medication into a country check their guidelines and penalties. Some ingredients may require a doctor's note and others may be banned.

8. Be extra hygienic
This is probably obvious but I see a lot of people leaving public restrooms without washing their hands (yuck). I am a bit of a germaphobe so I always double wash (wash, rinse and repeat). Generally you should be scrubbing up with soap for the duration of time it takes to sing happy birthday twice.

Things to bring:
*Hand sanitizer or wipes (use frequently and before every meal). You can also use it to clean utensils before eating.
*I like to bring liquid soap with a pump dispenser because bar soap for hand washing tends to collect bacteria.
*Lysol Wipes (for the hotel room).
*Rubbing Alcohol (I bring a 70% alcohol spray to kill harmful germs and disinfect burns, scrapes or cuts).
*Band-Aids or a small First Aid Kit (you can never be too prepared for an emergency).

9. Bug spray is your friend
It seems like every year there is a terrible new illness spread by mosquitoes and these tiny little pests kill more people each year than any other insect or animal on the planet (I watch a lot of National Geographic and BBC Earth).

Things to bring and consider:
*Bug repellent - I like Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard Spray and there are wipes available for your purse or beach bag. Remember to reapply as suggested.
*Off also makes a handy Mosquito Clip-On Fan that emits repellent around your body (I have one).
*Make sure your hotel has mosquito netting around the bed if necessary.

10. Be careful where and what you eat
*Resort buffets can be your demise if food has been sitting out too long.
*Be careful of street food – choose stalls that cook fresh food in front of you and avoid seafood and meat that has been improperly prepared. Establishments with large crowds tend to replenish food more frequently.
*Avoid unwashed leafy greens, salad and fruit or make sure the produce is cleaned with filtered water.
*Research and read reviews to find reputable restaurants. Travelers will often disclose food poisoning incidents.

11. Don’t drink the water
When visiting certain countries you must be mindful of the water quality. Even here in Canada where the water is deemed “safe” I do not drink tap water.

*Always order bottled water and brush your teeth with it if necessary.
*To cut down on plastic waste, bring a reusable bottle with a proper filter.
*When ordering icy drinks make sure the cubes are made with filtered water.

12. Dangerous Animals
I watch nature documentaries so I know that there are a lot of poisonous animals and insects that can seriously injure. Exotic destinations are fun to explore but getting bitten by something dangerous can be fatal. In St. Lucia I was stung by a jellyfish. Luckily it wasn’t serious but the hot, searing pain was like being burned with an iron.

*Do some research on the animals and insects to avoid in the region.
*When traveling to jungles, forests or any wild terrain be vigilant - wear protective clothing and proper footwear.
*Do not venture off the beaten path or through thick vegetation, waterways, ponds, lakes and rivers unless absolutely safe or with an experienced guide. Some water can be polluted or harbor parasites.
*Do not touch or consume unfamiliar meat, fruit or vegetation unless absolutely safe to do so.
*Wear water shoes to protect your feet at the beach - you may not see what lies beneath the sand.

13. Translation Books and apps
In case of a medical emergency, a translation book or app can help you communicate when there is a language barrier. In Florence my sister got very ill after eating some bad gelato and I had to physically act out her symptoms to a Pharmacist who did not speak English. It was embarrassing but he got the picture.

I hope these tips help you plan a safer vacation.
Bon Voyage! 

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