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Nothing ruins a once-in-a-lifetime vacation quite like getting sick. You pay thousands of dollars to experience a new and exotic land only to spend your vacation in bed, on the toilet—or worse—recovering in a local hospital.

But with a few strategic precautions, you can avoid the infamous “Delhi Belly,” Montezuma’s Revenge and other ailments that are so common in countries where hygiene and sanitation might not be up to American standards. These places still deserve to be experienced, just with a little more mindfulness to your personal health. Here are 17 tips to keep you healthy on your globe-trotting adventures.

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Assess the health requirements.

As soon as I know where I’m headed—sometimes even before I book my trip—I’ll check the CDC destination guide for travel health recommendations. The CDC recommends seeing a doctor at least four to six weeks before travel so that you can get recommended vaccines, medications and health advice before jetting off.

Get the recommended vaccines.

In some cases, you cannot enter a country without proof that you’ve received specific vaccinations. So check your destination country’s requirements carefully. Victoria Sowards, the director of nursing resources at Passport Health, a travel clinic with locations nationwide, says the most critical for all overseas travelers are Hepatitis A series and the Typhoid vaccine — butto not overlook others simply due to cost. One of her patients declined the pre-exposure rabies shot ahead of a trip to India, where he was later bitten by a dog. “After spending $1500 for a plane ticket home, he ended up almost losing his leg,” she says. “He needed to complete the rabies post-exposure series of vaccines and accumulated thousands of dollars of medical bills.” Moral of the story: Don’t be the guy who penny-pinches on health only to regret it later.


Pack over-the-counter meds … just in case.

“Travelers diarrhea is costly to a vacation,” says Sowards. “If you pay $10,000 for a ten-day African safari and spend two days in the bathroom,that is costing you $2,000 plus loss of memories.” To avoid a scenario such as this, she recommends packing over-the-counter medications that can quickly treat common illnesses, along with any daily prescription meds you’re already taking. The CDC provides a great list of what to pack in a health kit.

Purchase travel insurance … just in case.

Your home health insurance might not cover you abroad, so it’s worth checking into this before you jet off. Any additional fee is worth it to secure ease of mind.

ALSO: In sickness and in health, Orbitz Rewards are there for you!

Drink bottled water.

Whenever I travel to a country where I suspect the water to be less-than-safe, I turn to bottled water. Ecological protests aside, this is the safest way to insure that polluted water won’t compromise our digestive systems. Just make sure that the seal hasn’t been broken; it’s from a reputable brand; and that you recycle the bottle when finished.

Stand up for your choice to drink bottled water.

Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself when saying “No, thank you” to unbottled water. I visited a resort in India where the management assured us that the resort’s filtered water was totally safe to drink. I continued bringing bottled water todinner, however, while the rest of the group drank the filtered water. Although I may have offended the resort management, I was the only one in my group to not get sick.

Hot water is fine … as long as it’s been boiled.

Hot tea, coffee and chai are usually fine. However, it’s good measure to check and make sure that steam rises from the cup when served as a way to ensure the liquid has been boiled.


Use a straw whenever possible.

Drinking directly from glassesor cans might mean ingesting something that won’t agree with you. Again, it comes down to the water: You don’t know how that glass or cup may have been washed. So request a straw, and don’t worry if you look weird. Better than being sick.

Ask bartenders to hold the ice.

Avoid the ice cubes because you don’t know the quality of water used to make them.

Avoid unpeeled, raw food.

I always avoid fruits and vegetables that haven’t been cooked. So yes, that means no salad lettuce or sliced tomatoes when I’m on the road in the most exotic of locations. The only way I’ll eat a sliced fruit or vegetable is if the skin has been completely sliced off.


Go vegetarian.

Even if you’re a carnivore, consider going veggie — if only for the duration of your trip. I avoid meat while on the road in extremely impoverished counties, mainly due to concerns about refrigeration and sanitation. While hiking in a remote part of Asia, I saw slabs of freshly cut meat laying out in the sun. That sighting certainly confirmed my rule to forgo meat entirely in that country.

Take Probiotics.

Before setting foot in a country where my Western tummy might be more sensitive, I want it strong and ready. So I typically start over-the-counter Probiotics a week or two ahead of departing. Continue taking them for the duration of the visit, then for another week after returning home.

Brush your teeth with bottled water.

If the tap water is too sketchy to drink, don’t use it to brush your teeth. Try tying a small washcloth around the faucet to serve as a reminder.

Take a shot of Pepto-Bismol each morning.

I’ve been incorporating this into my morning ritual while traveling in exotic locales since I was 19 years old: Wash the face; take a shot of PB, brush the teeth. While it may not be appropriate for everyone, and it’s not on any “official” list of recommendations, it’s helped to keep me sick-free around the world.

Always carry hand sanitizer.

Use it after handling money, especially. There’s lots of nastiness on foreign notes and coins.

Don’t skip meals.

Not eating only weakens overall strength and the immune system. While on the road, make sure to always have breakfast and dinner.

When in doubt or desperate, it’s OK to succumb to McDonald’s.

Yes, I’ve had my WTF moments when it comes to eating in a foreign land. For better or worse, however, I’ve always managed to find the Golden Arches in my times of mealtime despair.

OK, so what if you do get sick abroad? A little advice from a doctor:

  • First, don’t gamble with your health by relying on local advice. “A traveler should not seek care based on a referral from anyone on the street or a front desk person at a hotel, for example,” says Sowards. “The quality of care may not be adequate.”
  • To find quality medical care, both Passport Health and the CDC recommend contacting the U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate in your destination of travel. They’re best suited to tell you where to go.
  • Also worth checking out: The Getting Health Care Abroad page on the CDC’s website, which highlights accredited organizations that recommend doctors and clinics around the world that specialize in helping travelers.
  • Be cautious when purchasing medication at pharmacies abroad. According to the CDC, packaging should be well sealed and only manufactures that are recognizable from the U.S. should be purchased, as counterfeit medications run rampant in many countries.
  • Finally, don’t forget to get copies of all your medical records and pharmacy receipts before you return home in case you need follow-up care.

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Erica Bray

Erica Bray

Erica is a practical free spirit who loves travel, yoga and ice cream. A Northwestern University-trained journalist with more than 15 years of experience straddling digital and broadcast media, Erica can be found doing handstands everywhere she travels -- even risking arrest in some cases. Learn about her at

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