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How to Stay Healthy On the Road


Maintaining good travel health can be tricky on long journeys such as a visit to Asia. No one wants to think of being sick or too uncomfortable to enjoy an exciting trip after months of preparation and anticipation.

These five common travel ailments are everyday problems for travelers on extended trips abroad.

1. Traveler's Diarrhea

Travelers Diarrhea
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Forget the myth that street food in Asia isn't safe or will cause a bad stomach. When you first arrive, any food -- even from five-star restaurants -- may cause an upset stomach. Traveler's diarrhea, or simply TD, is common and affects an estimated 60% of travelers. Even good, safely prepared food comes with bacterias which your stomach has never encountered and therefore has no natural immunity.

You don't want to spend any more time than necessary in Asian squat toilets!

The Fix:

  • Drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes to prevent complicating things further with dehydration.
  • Eat probiotic foods such as yogurt, or take a Lactobacillus acidophilus supplement.
  • Eat starchy foods such as plain rice, bread, and bananas; avoid spicy food for a while as well as acidic citric and fruits.
  • Learn how to avoid traveler's diarrhea in the first place.

Loperamide (anti-diarrhea pills) should only be taken for TD when absolutely necessary (e.g., you are going on a long bus journey). Anti-diarrhea tablets can extend recovery time by trapping bacteria in your gut rather than allowing it to pass.

Although rare, traveler's diarrhea can become serious. If TD persists for longer than a week or you are passing blood, antibiotics may be required.

2. Jet Lag

A flight to Asia
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Unfortunately, the moment that you step off the long flight to Asia, you are at a disadvantage. Changing continents can disrupt circadian rhythms and result in fatigue, a weaker immune system, and even mild depression.

Our bodies were never meant to be able to move as quickly as modern flight allows, so getting to sleep on time or eating when you're not hungry can be challenging for the first week of your trip.

The Fix:

  • Use discipline! Your best bet at beating jet lag quickly is to forcefully adapt to the local timezone.
  • Resist the urge to eat in the middle of the night; eat meals by the clock.
  • Go to bed and wake at regular times despite protests from your body.
  • Avoid naps during the day.
  • Get plenty of bright light and sunshine during the day once you arrive to help adjust melatonin levels.

Read about more jet lag remedies in detail.

3. Insect Bites

Avoiding mosquito bites
Photo by Alvesgaspar / Creative Commons

Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, is home to a dizzying array of insects -- many of which would love to make you their next meal. While most are little more than an annoyance, mosquitoes can transmit diseases such as dengue fever, and over-scratched insect bites can turn into draining, infected sores.

The Fix:

  • Never bring food or open snacks into your room; one dropped crumb could attract a horde of hungry biters.
  • Turn off the lights, both inside and outside, when not needed.
  • Check window screens and mosquito nets for tears and holes; spray any openings with DEET.
  • Learn how to properly protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • Learn how to check for bed bugs in your hotel.

4. Small Infections

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Even the most insignificant scratch, ruptured blister, or insect bite can turn into a sore, oozing infection in tropical environments. A weakened immune system due to jet lag, humid environment, and often dirty conditions add to the healing time of small injuries.

Even small infections, if left untreated, can turn septic and evolve into severe fevers that require antibiotics. The key is to prevent infection in the first place by treating small injuries more seriously than you would at home.

The Fix:

  • Travelers should get a tetanus shot before traveling; the vaccination is good for ten years.
  • Treat tiny scrapes and cuts immediately. Use liquid bandage or keep them covered during the day, then remove the bandage at night.
  • Cover "hot spots" before they develop into blisters. Do the same with insect bites to prevent scratching.
  • Get budget travel insurance for your trip in case you need to see a clinic.
Learn what you should carry in your travel first aid kit to maintain good travel health.

5. Sunburn

Sun Protection
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Sunburn may sound like an insignificant concern, but not once you're stuck in the shadows peeling skin while watching others have a good time on the beach.

Parts of Asia are situated directly on top the Equator, and the sun is exponentially stronger. People who would otherwise be fine with SPF15 at home may find themselves baked to a lobster red on the first day of their trip.

The Fix:

  • Increase SPF levels and reapply more frequently than you would normally at home.
  • Apply DEET before putting on sunscreen, as it will dilute the SPF.
  • Don't just use sunscreen at the beach; you can be burned anywhere.
  • Be extra vigilant about sun protection when on boats, in the water, or snorkeling.
  • Read these tips for sun protection.
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