How Not to Fall Sick on Your Next Vacation

You planned every detail, put aside savings, and waited all year for that two- week vacation abroad. The last thing you want to do is fall sick during your time in the magical new place and not be able to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, our bodies do get sick every so often depending on what we expose ourselves to. In our day-to-day life, we come into contact with co- workers, friends, kids and neighbors who could pass on an infection to us. Travelling intensely magnifies your chance of picking up germs, as you pass by thousands of people at airports, train stations and attractions. Add to that the changes in weather, time, altitude, latitude, sun exposure, air quality, food, water, and sleep patterns and your body becomes a lot less resistant to fighting the cocktails of bugs you may have picked up along the way.

After travelling to almost 50 countries, I still don’t have all the secrets that will prevent you from falling sick. I travel almost every month and do fall ill from time to time. What I have learned through my own pitfalls is that taking certain precautions can help keep you healthy while on the go.

1. Drink lots of water – but not tap water – throughout the trip. Make sure you drink only boiled or bottled water from reliable sources. Keeping hydrated will help you deal with many illnesses caused by heat, humidity and high altitudes.

2. Avoid taking ice in your drinks. Oftentimes, tap water is used for making ice, so be sure to ask the server if the ice is made from filtered water before consuming it. To be safe, drink only pre-packaged sodas, juices or hot beverages. A few weeks ago, I thought I was drinking a vitamin-packed fresh orange juice at a market in Cuenca, Ecuador, but ended up with a stomach flu due to the unfiltered water mixed in with the juice.

Eating at the market in Cuenca, Ecuador
Eating at the market in Cuenca, Ecuador

3. Carry a surgical face mask when travelling to cities where pollution may be a problem. Properly wash the mask from time to time or use a disposable one. Changes in air quality can cause respiratory problems, sinus and throat infections or even the flu. Not realizing that the valley trapped all the pollutants from motorcycle exhausts, I found that my expectation of breathing clean mountain air in the Himalayas was unmet. The moment I arrived in Kathmandu, I started coughing insatiably and had to run to the pharmacy for medicine.

Motorcycling through the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal
Motorcycling through the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal

4. Do yoga, meditation and stretches every morning. Even if you are not used to exercise, you will find that a few minutes of engaging your organs will aid in better digestion and give you more energy to enjoy the rest of the day. If your hotel offers group exercise classes or a gym facility, be sure to take advantage of it.

Doing yoga every morning in Bali, Indonesia
Doing yoga every morning in Bali, Indonesia

5. Do not forget to take your vitamins every day just as you would at home. If you take multivitamins, fish oil, B capsules, probiotics or any other supplements, don’t stop just because you are on vacation. My chiropractor swears that if you take 1000 mg of Vitamin C and 3 to 4 tablets of zinc daily, you will never fall sick.

6. Use your judgment before deciding where to eat. Don’t think that just because the restaurant is well-rated it will meet your sanitation requirements. Take a peek into the kitchen to ensure that the floors and counters look clean, there are no flies or insects hanging around, and the chefs are wearing gloves and hairnets for protection. Especially when travelling to third world countries, it’s important to understand that every culture has its own standards of hygiene.

7. Many people may say otherwise, but my advice is to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables when travelling so long as they are peeled and properly washed. Constipation is the number one complaint that travellers have, so make sure you get your required daily intake of roughages. I love going to the Caribbean as there is always a variety of affordable fresh fruits available.

8. Don’t eat street food. It can be very tempting to eat where the locals eat so you can taste authentic dishes and save money, but try to have self-control. Know that street food is not always bad, but your stomach has not yet acquired the native enzymes to break it down properly. While in Honduras, I gave into temptation and tried Baleadas (wheat taco) prepared by ladies on the wayside and came home with a rare type of Caribbean hook worm.

9. Eating at people’s homes can be a bit trickier. You don’t want to sound like a snobby foreigner and also want to be grateful to your host. Be polite and use your good judgment. In India, it is considered rude to decline food or drink when you are invited into someone’s home. It doesn’t matter whether you are hungry or not, you simply have to accept it.

10. Long flights, strange beds and flat pillows can cause back and neck aches that make a trip less enjoyable. I always take my own Tempur-Pedic pillow with me, even if all I have is a carry-on bag. If you don’t find the bedding comfortable, ask the hotel’s housekeeping staff to bring you a firm pillow, preferably with an anti-allergy pillow cover.

Disclosure: I am not a medical professional and this article is not meant to appear in a medical journal. These tips are based solely on my own personal experience of working as a travel writer and crisscrossing the world every few weeks.

How to Pack for Your Trip to Greenland

“There is no such thing as bad weather, it’s only bad clothing.” This is what I heard over and over again before, and during my trip to Greenland. Most of the country lying in the Arctic circle, Greenland is not your typical pack up and go destination. You have to think about where you will be visiting, what time of the year it will be, and what activities you would participate in.

canada goose at 66N

I went to South Greenland (latitude between 60-69 degrees North) during August, which is towards the end of summer. The tempratures ranged from 30-50F, and other factors played a role as well. If the sky for clear and sunny, it felt pleasant, but if it was cloudy and windy, it felt a lot colder. Thankfully, I did some research ahead of time and was well prepared so I never felt uncomfortable.

Here are some tips that I highly recommend when packing for your trip to Greenland:

Dress in Layers – A shell of long sleeve t-shirt or thermal; sweater or fleece; parka or jacket – at least three so you have some way to adjust your comfort based on the dramatic changes in weather. I took a Canada Goose Camp Hooded Jacket and Canada Goose HyBridge Lite Jacket, based on guidance from their Thermal Experience Index. They were both stylish and fitting, available in vibrant colors. I found out that this Toronto based company provides official Parka for Air Greenland flight crew and pilots. Canada Goose is the official jacket of the UNESCO site Ilulissat Fjord and worn by the park rangers. In fact, Canada Goose sells more jackets per capita in Greenland than anywhere else in the world.

canada goose at sailing among glaciers

Layer dressing also applies to pants, hats and gloves. Because of strong winds, you must carry wind proof jacket with hoodie at all times.

Get Good Shoes – Don’t think about carrying a pair of fashionable boots for the day and sandals for the night. All you need is a super comfortable of all terrain hiking boots. Make sure that they are not a brand new pair and are already broken into. I walked on ice, snow, rocks, streets and grasslands – even though this was not an expedition. Of course, warm socks are a must.

Greenlanders dress very casual and even when you go to a restaurant or bar, hiking shoes or boots are perfectly ok. You may want to carry a pair of house slippers as you have to take your shoes off before entering a Greenlandic homes. This rule also applies at some of the hostels.

Pack Some Food – Even though I stayed at hotels and hostels located in somewhat urban areas, there were multiple times during my trip when I needed food and couldn’t find it. The grocery stores close at 6pm (some at 4pm), there may be a restaurant or two in town, no snack bars near tourist attractions, and no vending machines anywhere. I carried few granola bars and snacks with me for these times, and made a run to the grocery store to buy fruit, chips, chocolates, etc. (cost is at least 2-4 times than in US).

food in Greenland

Also, note that alcohol sales at stores ends at 6pm on weekdays, 1pm on Saturdays and not allowed on Sundays. If you are the kind of person who likes a glass of beer or wine in the evenings, make sure you plan ahead. Surely, you can find it at restaurants and bars (if there is one), but its not cheap.

Travel Light – The only way to get around Greenland is by air or water. I took helicopters, planes and boats to move from town to town. Although none of these had issues with luggage allowance, its easier to get in and out with one bag. The two Canada Goose jackets I took with me were super light, unlike any heavy wool, goose-down, or parka I have purchased before.

When we landed by boat at a sheep farm in Ipiutaq, there was no dock. We had to get off the boat and directly climb on to a wet rock with our bags. Then we landed in grass and carried ourselves into the farm house. It was quite an experience!

landing in sheep farm

Take Everything You Need – Greenland is still a remote destination where most of the products are imported from Europe. Only Nuuk (the capital city) has shopping centers and malls where you can find practically everything from backyards pools to hula hoops. In other towns, stores carry basic supplies like food, medicine, alcohol, electronics and household goods. Choice are limited and prices very high. It is better to prepare ahead of time and carry items you may need during your trip, for example enough medication, batteries, toiletries, etc. I also carried my laptop and DVD’s for the quiet evenings where there was no television (even if there was one, it rarely worked), and I didn’t want to pay for internet ($20/ hour standard rate).

Click here to read more about my experiences in Greenland.