It’s finally here, the trip you saved for all last year. Taking a long, relaxing vacation sounds very soothing and is always “much needed” long before your actual departure date. But what happens if your week of relaxation and sight-seeing turns into a week of sickness? We all get sick from time to time, but just because we plan a trip doesn’t mean our chances of getting sick are on hold, they actually get worse.

When we travel, we expose our bodies to new environments, some filled with a variety of germs, parasites, and bugs that are foreign to our bodies. Because of this, if our immune systems are low, or we become a little less careful of our health and our surroundings, we may find ourselves picking up more than just a postcard as a souvenir. Catching a bacteria bug (or two) can put a damper on the entire trip.

How can you minimize any chances of getting sick and ruining the annual vacation or trip of a lifetime? Two words: Avoidance and prevention. They’re better than any cure out there.

Our two-part series on healthy travel will cover everything you need to know in order to stay healthy while you are travelling so that your vacation memories may all be “picture perfect.”

Part One – Things to Avoid:

Foreign H2O. For domestic travelers, tap water should be fine to drink. But for international travelers, tap water and the bacteria contained in it varies quite drastically. To protect your own “GI” tract, steer clear of tap water, no matter how good it looks in the glass. Even for teeth brushing. Drink bottled water instead. But be careful the establishment you buy it from isn’t reusing the water bottles by filling them with local tap water! Avoid the ice cubes too.

Bad food rinse practices. Not inquiring about how food is rinsed. This is important. Raw lettuce, vegetables, and even onions may be washed along with other food items in a basin filled with tap water. This process can contaminate the food with bacteria and make you just as sick as if you drank the water yourself.

Unsanitary plane seat pocket. Who isn’t familiar with those handy “seat pockets” on the back of the seat in front of you on the plane. Those neat little pockets hold everything from garbage, to magazines, to vomit bags (used and unused), to dirty diapers! And yet we store food, bottled water and even headphones there so they are easy to reach when we need them. The problem here is that those handy seat pockets are never cleaned, which means they harbor a ton of bacteria and germs from all over the world! As silly as it sounds, bring a few wipes and wipe your seating area down before you sit down. Be sure to keep a few wipes on hand for the bathroom door and faucet handles too.

Unsterilized hotel room drinking glasses. During my travels, I have seen certain hotel cleaners actually spray down used drinking glasses, wipe them clean, and put the same glasses back in the room. This means that the glass I used to rinse the toothpaste out of my mouth is probably the same one the person used before me! As a rule, if the glasses are NOT wrapped or sealed, either sterilize the glass yourself with hot soapy water, or don’t use it at all.

Poor hydration. Most people don’t drink enough water in our normal everyday lives. Now we are going on vacation and putting our bodies into an entire other level of stress we call vacation, and we expect our bodies to not let us down! Hydrate yourself as much as you can before you even begin your vacation, because dehydration can leave you feeling run down, fatigued, and vulnerable to all kinds of unfamiliar bacteria and bugs. And if you do get sick, your dehydration level makes it harder for you to recover. Hydrate yourself with water or juice. Alcohol, tea and coffee don’t count.

Lax diet. We all splurge when it comes to food and drinks on vacation, which is fine, as long as it is in moderation. If we are used to eating 85% lean meat, veggies and fruit at home, diving into three heavy high-fat, sugary meals a day may not go over well in your belly. Moderation is the key when trying out new foods or veering off dietary guidelines.

“Undiscovered restaurants”. Don’t eat at places that are “off the beaten path.” I have done this many times out of desperation and starvation and it has backfired every time! If there are no cars in sight, you may want to skip that place to eat. Spoiled or expired food can make you sick for days, sometimes an entire week. Small restaurants filled with lots of locals may be a better stop for you, even if the daily specials sound a bit different from what we are used to.

It may seem extreme, but the travelers’ rule of thumb is a good guideline. It’s hard to be “good” on vacation but when it comes to food, remember this sage advice: when in doubt, eat boiled or peeled food.

Over caffeinating. Time changes and traveling all hours of the day and night can make anyone jetlagged but fueling yourself up with high doses of caffeine can only make things worse (can you say diarrhea)?! On the other hand, stopping your intake of coffee, tea, or caffeine totally isn’t a good idea either. This can lead to fatigue and headaches. Stick with your regular routine as much as possible.

Inadequate sleep. We’ve all been there and we’ve all been sick or in a bad mood because of it. Lack of sleep gets you nowhere but tired, cranky, and less able to fight off the bad stuff.

Forgotten meds. This is not a good thing if you are traveling outside the country. Get organized and see your doctor before your trip begins.

Disrespect for the sun’s strength. I cannot even begin to tell you how many people I know want to come home tan so they pack sun tan lotion instead of sunblock. This is such a “no-no” in so many ways. Too much sun and sunburn brings on a whole new set of problems that can ruin your vacation and sometimes even your life.

Diving blind. So what if diving off a cliff drops you in dirty water – it looks like fun! Think again. Before diving, make sure it’s officially safe to dive there in the first place. Check for pipes, water scum, dead fish, signs of swampy or polluted water, algae, or bacteria from animal or human feces. One polluted dive can change your outlook on swimming forever!

Vaccine ignorance. The CDC has reasons for implementing specific vaccinations for certain parts of the world. Don’t deny yourself when it comes to your health. Before traveling, check the CDC’s website for more information.

Lack of research. Not knowing where you are going or what exactly you are getting into can lead to problems equally unimaginable. Research the country or locations to where you are traveling to before you go. It is one of the smartest things you can do.

Part 2: Prevention – in my next blog I will cover several strategies to prevent any encounter with sickness or bodily harm while you are on vacation.