How to Travel the World and Stay Healthy
Post from September 8, 2014 (↻ May 18, 2018), filed under Adventure.
The story of my 18 months of travel around the world, including this and other articles, is available as a big but humble e-book: Journey of J.
For long travels, another key beside safety is health. And as my track record in this regard is flawless, essentially, I thought to share a few quick ideas on this, too. (I had the occasional headache or stomachache, but nothing major, and my freak accident in South Africa doesn’t count, either.)
Disclaimer: I’ll not add a disclaimer here because often disclaimers assume people are stupid, if not evade responsibility. If you elevate me to a doctor, that should really be your own problem. But I do want to add that as so often, and as with the ideas about safety, “it depends.” Please use your brain and listen to your guts. 😊
- Get Your Health Checked
- Get Vaccinated
- Inform Yourself
- Eat Where Others Eat
- Clean Your Hands
- Clean Food and Boxes
- Don’t Joke with Water
- Stay in Shape
- Update (March 8, 2015)
Get Your Health Checked
An important preparatory step, it behooves a traveler to make sure he’s fit to go on a journey in the first place. And as I had touched this in How to Prepare to Travel the World, I’ll only suggest in brevity to see your physician and have yourself checked.
Similarly, make sure to get the vaccines you need for wherever you’re going. Some will be critical, others negligible. Here, too, talk to your doctor or specialized institutions like travel clinics. It’s too bad I don’t want to repeat what I wrote earlier, yet check out CDC’s fantastic graph about travel-related incidence rates.
Now, inform yourself about your destinations. This doesn’t need to be heavy-handed; what I found useful is having a quick glance at destination pages on Wikitravel, as they’ll usually warn about major risks. For some things like, say, malaria, one might need to look for information elsewhere (I occasionally google “malaria maps”); similarly, if you have an individual condition, you may need to research for any threats individually.
In Kathmandu, for example, where I am while writing this, it seems the water is pretty bad, and so I’m just a bit more mindful about not drinking from the tap.
Eat Where Others Eat
There are plenty of stories about travelers contracting traveler’s diarrhea, as it does come with a good 20–40% probability. It hit me on my first world tour back in 2012, after having eaten something not-so-good in Hong Kong.
Although street food is not the only concern—and in fact, my own experience didn’t follow street food—it seems to be a common source for traveler’s diarrhea. A good rule of thumb is, as I learned from another traveler, look for places where others eat. Any place may serve good (safe) food that has a few people eating there. Watch out for the places where nobody hangs out. That may well be because of an unworldly time, but here we talk about food safety. If other people eat there, the food is probably okay.
I haven’t had any problems since.
Clean Your Hands
Keep your hands clean. Wash them, use hand sanitizer, rinse them with water if necessary. Just be a bit conscious of what you touch, or touched before you used the same hands to put something into your mouth. Again, this depends, but you’ll know it when you see it. There are some filthy places on this planet, and there it’s better to exercise a bit more caution.
Clean Food and Boxes
In some places in Africa and Asia I personally avoid some fruit and vegetables if these would be eaten raw and don’t come with a shell, and for containers, I might briefly rinse bottles and packages to get dust and some germs off—but I don’t know how effective this last method really is.
Don’t Joke with Water
If not absolutely confident, don’t drink natural or tap water. If locals tell you that it’s safe, and it’s in a more or less “civilized” area, go for it. But otherwise, it’s not even necessarily sound to do what locals do. Use good judgment, but err on the safe side. There are problems with bottled water, but in some places strongly prefer bottled water to drink, and also to brush your teeth with it.
Stay in Shape
Exercise even—especially—while traveling. This is easier said than done, but if even I, as an extremely light traveler and someone who frowns upon fitness gyms, can pull it off, then you can, too 😉
My recommendation, and personal favorite, is to do a mix of cardio and kickboxing exercises in an high-intensity interval training fashion. I do that once or twice a day for 15 minutes each. Although the exercises, like shadow boxing, require a little space, they can be varied so to even be done in very small hostel rooms. For these exercises I’m using the A HIIT Interval Timer app—and for your convenience I uploaded one of my workout plans which you can check out and import if interested.
Lastly, for what springs to my head, just chill 😊 There is a breathable atmosphere anywhere on earth, we people eat very similar things, which we need in a healthy format, our bodies are pretty incredible machines, and—waves at food designers—safe processed food, or fast food, is also at hand everywhere. Cheers.
Update (March 8, 2015)
Quick tip: Consider buying some medication, for example against malaria, on site. I, when restocking, paid perhaps one twentieth for my medication when getting it in a malaria country (Kenya), as opposed to my residence back then (United States).
About the Author
Jens Oliver Meiert is a technical lead and author (sum.cumo, W3C, O’Reilly). He loves trying things, including in the realms of philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.
If you have any thoughts or questions (or recommendations) about what he writes, leave a comment or a message.