Whether you’re jet-setting across continents or exploring hidden gems in your home state, traveling brings a sense of excitement and adventure unlike anything else.
However, it can be pretty easy to get sick when traveling whether it’s the change in climate, the food or water, being on the go so much, or simply catching something that’s going around.
That’s why it’s so important to know how to stay healthy while traveling. You want to avoid getting sick whenever possible so you can enjoy your travel experience to the max and not be held back by feeling crummy. After all, it’s hard to appreciate incredible views or unique cultural experiences if you’re feeling under the weather or burned out.
As an avid traveler spending about 8 months of the year living and traveling out of my Sprinter van, I know the importance of staying healthy on the road. I’ve also traveled a lot internationally including to developing countries like Nepal, Africa, and Mexico where extra precautions need to be taken to stay healthy.
In this guide to staying healthy while traveling, I’m sharing all of my top healthy travel tips and tricks as well as a few from the Bearfoot Theory team who has also traveled extensively to help you prepare for your next adventure.
Note: I am not a doctor. The information shared here is for informational and educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Be sure to check with a medical professional for your specific situation.
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How to Prepare Before Your Trip
Preparing for your trip is the first and perhaps most critical step in ensuring that you stay healthy while traveling.
Preparing for a safe and healthy trip can be broken down into these four steps which we detail below:
- Research your destination
- Schedule a health check-up
- Pack a travel health kit
- Purchase traveler insurance
1. Research Your Destination
Before you set off, take the time to learn about the health risks associated with your destination. This includes understanding the local climate, altitude, and any prevalent diseases as well as the standard of healthcare available.
For example, if you’re traveling internationally to a tropical country, you might need to take precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria or dengue fever. For travel to some countries, certain vaccinations may be recommended.
Here are a few health risks to research depending on where your travels take you:
Once you know the potential risks for where you’ll be traveling, you can prepare appropriately. The more you research and plan for potential sicknesses and situations, the more likely you’ll stay safe and healthy during your travels.
I also recommend making a list of nearby healthcare facilities in the areas you’ll be visiting. This list should include local hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies. It’s essential to know where you can go if you need medical assistance.
2. Schedule a Health Check-up
It’s a good idea to schedule a visit to your healthcare provider for a routine check-up before you travel, especially if you plan to be gone for a long time (like van life) or if you’re traveling internationally. This is an opportunity to ensure you’re in good health before you leave and to discuss any travel-specific health concerns you may have.
Your doctor or health care practitioner can also provide advice tailored to your health history and your travel plans.
If your destination requires certain vaccinations or if you’re traveling to an area where particular diseases are endemic, your medical provider can administer these.
Be sure to do this well in advance (ideally 6+ months before) of your trip, as some vaccines need time to take effect or require a second dose.
You can check the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for the most up-to-date and destination-specific vaccination recommendations.
Tip: If you need special travel vaccines, look up your local country or community health clinic for low-cost shots. County clinics are usually much cheaper than travel health clinics.
3. Pack a Travel Health Kit
A travel health kit is a good idea for any traveler. This kit should include first aid supplies, prescription medications, and any over-the-counter products you might need.
Here are a few items I like to pack in my health kit when traveling:
- Ibuprofen – for headaches, pain relief, etc
- Sudafed or other decongestant
- Benadryl or other anti-histamine for allergic reactions
- Dramamine or other anti-nausea medication for motion sickness
- Immodium or other anti-diarrhea medication
- Electrolytes – we love these NUUN Immunity Hydration Tablets with a boost of Vitamin C and antioxidants
- Activated charcoal pills to help with gas and discomfort
- General cold medicine like Dayquil/Nyquil in case you catch a cold and want to keep symptoms at bay
- Hydrocortisone cream – itch relief for bug bites and certain rashes/allergic reactions
- Antibiotic cream – for cuts and scrapes
Remember to pack enough medication to last your entire trip, plus a little extra in case of delays.
It’s also a good idea to include items like hand sanitizer, insect repellent, sunblock, and a digital thermometer. If you have specific health conditions like allergies, ensure you carry necessary items like an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen).
I like the My Medic First Aid Kits, Med Packs, and Mods because you can build your own customized first aid kit based on your own specific needs and travel style or destinations. It’s perfect for van travel and road trips but might be a little bulky if you’re traveling via plane.
A few of My Medic kits to consider for travel are:
Shop the My Medic Sidekick at:
4. Purchase Travel Insurance
Finally, don’t forget to consider travel insurance. While not a replacement for health insurance, travel insurance will help keep costs down if you get sick and need medical attention while overseas or even within your own country.
World Nomads offers great travel health insurance policies that cover things like emergency evacuation, hospital care, trip cancellation or interruption, doctor visits, and emergency surgeries.
However, it’s important to note that they don’t cover pre-existing conditions or prescription refills that you might need. They only cover a health emergency that occurs while you are traveling.
Although I’ve never had to file a claim personally, I’ve heard good things from people who’ve purchased travel insurance through World Nomads and have had to make claims.
I also love the fact that the company gives back to local communities and supports development projects across the world.
How to Stay Healthy During Your Trip
1. Eat Healthy
Maintaining a balanced diet while traveling is an important piece to staying healthy. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the local cuisine and indulge a little, it simply means you want to be mindful and fill your body with the nutrients it needs so it can do its job to keep you healthy while traveling.
With a bit of planning and mindful choices, you can enjoy the local flavors while keeping your nutrition – and health – in check.
Firstly, whenever possible, opt for freshly prepared meals over processed foods. Street food stalls or local markets often offer a wealth of fresh fruits, vegetables, and local delicacies prepared on the spot. Not only will you be immersing yourself in the local culture, but you’ll also be consuming more nutrient-rich foods.
Just be mindful that eating raw fruits and vegetables is often a no-no. If they are washing those fruits and veggies in tap water, then there’s a good chance you could get sick. How do I know? The sickest I’ve ever been while traveling was from a salad in Thailand.
It’s also important to try to maintain a balance of macronutrients in your meals – proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. This balance aids digestion and ensures you’re receiving a wide array of nutrients.
Also, be mindful of portion sizes. Overeating can lead to discomfort and health issues, especially when trying new cuisines.
2. Understand Local Food Safety Practices
Food safety is another aspect to consider when maintaining a balanced diet while traveling.
In some destinations, it may be wise to avoid certain types of food due to local handling and hygiene standards. For example, in some regions, it’s better to steer clear of uncooked foods, tap water and ice, or unpasteurized dairy products.
Do your research before heading out so you know what to be aware of. When in doubt, follow the rule: “Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.”
3. Stay Hydrated
Staying well-hydrated is just as important as paying attention to the food you consume. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, and a host of other issues that can hinder your travel experience. Always carry a reusable water bottle and refill it regularly with safe drinking water.
On that note, it’s important to be mindful of the safety of drinking water – including ice cubes. In some places, tap water might not be safe for consumption. In such cases, always opt for bottled water or use a portable water purifier.
I don’t like using single-use plastic, so I travel with a Grayl GeoPress which filters and purifies water anywhere in the world. I took the GeoPress to Patagonia and loved how simple it was to fill up everywhere without worry.
Tip: Water filters only remove bacteria and protozoa. When traveling in developing countries, you’ll want a water purifier that also removes water-borne viruses.
Bearfoot Theory pick
Grayl GeoPress Water Bottle
Our favorite water bottle purifier for travel is the Grayl GeoPress Water Filter and Purifier.
It’s easy to use and removes bacteria, protozoa, AND viruses (which water filters don’t).
Where to shop
4. Stay Active
Staying active while traveling might seem challenging with the change in your routine, but it helps maintain your overall health and well-being.
Incorporating physical activity into your travel itinerary not only keeps you fit but can also help mitigate the effects of jet lag, improve mood, and enhance your energy levels.
Physical activity has so many benefits when it comes to travel. Staying active helps boosts your immune system, which is crucial when you’re exposed to new environments and bacteria.
It also aids digestion, which is especially beneficial when you’re trying new foods that your body is not accustomed to.
Furthermore, physical activity can also help combat stress, leading to a more relaxed and enjoyable travel experience.
Creative Ways to Stay Active During Travel
Staying active doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the hotel gym every day, although that is an excellent strategy if you enjoy it. Instead, think of fun and creative ways to incorporate physical activity into your travel plans like:
5. Balance Rest & Activity & Get Plenty of Sleep
While it’s important to stay active, it’s equally crucial to listen to your body and rest when needed.
Traveling often involves long hours of transit and a packed itinerary, which can be physically draining.
Make sure to balance your active days with sufficient rest to prevent burnout and allow your body to recover.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for your mental well-being as well. Despite changes in time zones or packed itineraries, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety and negatively affect your mood and energy levels.
Consider bringing a sleep aid kit on your travels. This could include items like:
- An eye mask
- Essential oils
- A white noise machine
6. Take Care of Your Mental Health
Mental health is just as important as physical health while traveling. The excitement and novelty of being in a new place can sometimes be overshadowed by stress, anxiety, or feelings of loneliness.
Therefore, it’s essential to pay attention to your mental well-being and take steps to maintain a positive mindset throughout your travels.
Tips for Managing Travel Stress and Anxiety
There are several techniques you can use to manage stress and anxiety while traveling.
Personal Hygiene & Travel Safety Tips
Personal hygiene and safety are the pillars of how to stay healthy while traveling. Adhering to a good hygiene routine can prevent most common illnesses while following safety guidelines helps protect you from potential risks in unfamiliar environments.
1. Wash Your Hands Regularly
I know, I know – duh. But really – washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of diseases, especially in a new environment where you’re exposed to different germs.
Wash your hands regularly, especially before eating or preparing food and after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, touching public surfaces, or being on any type of public transit.
Proper hand washing involves using soap and clean water, scrubbing all parts of your hands for at least 20 seconds, then rinsing and drying them thoroughly.
When soap and water aren’t readily available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
2. Protect your Skin
Your skin is your largest organ and one of the best protections you have from diseases and sickness. You’ll want to protect your skin from the sun, from insect bites and stings, and from cuts and scrapes as detailed below.
>> From the sun
While many people go on vacation to soak up some sun, too much sun exposure can lead to an array of illnesses from minor (but uncomfortable) sunburns to life-threatening heat stroke. Plus, getting too much sun is not only bad for your skin, it can be exhausting and drain the energy right out of you.
Your skin and overall health will thank you!
Shop Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen at:
>> From bugs and insects
Many travel-related diseases are carried by bugs and insects – namely the pesky mosquito – but also flies, ticks, fleas, and others.
Protect your skin from bug bites (and potential infection) by using bug spray when you travel if bugs are present.
While we like natural bug repellant in some cases, it’s not always effective. When visiting developing countries where you want serious protection, it’s a good idea to go for the good stuff that contains DEET.
Shop Ben’s DEET Bug Spray at:
>> From infection
Open cuts and wounds are an easy way for bacteria to cause infection. If you do get a cut or scrape, be sure to wash it with purified, soapy water, disinfect with an alcohol based sanitary wipe and keep it covered. (See our first-aid kit recommendations above).
It’s also a good idea to avoid swimming until your cut has healed to prevent waterborne pathogens from getting in.
3. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Apart from health safety, personal safety is equally important. Always keep an eye on your belongings, be aware of your surroundings, and avoid risky situations, especially at night.
Do your research ahead of time, and if you’re unsure about the safety of an area, ask local resources like your hotel staff or tour guide.
It’s also a good idea to follow local norms and customs when it comes to attire. For example, if you’re visiting a country or area where women don’t show a lot of skin, following these practices (such as covering your shoulders and knees) will help reduce unwanted attention.
It’s often a good idea to do what you can to blend in as well and avoid being flashy with expensive clothes, jewelry, and accessories.
What to Do if You Get Sick While Traveling
Despite your best efforts, there’s always a chance you may get sick while traveling. Knowing what steps to take in such a scenario can save you a lot of stress and ensure you get the right care as soon as possible.
Remember that it’s crucial to prioritize your health above all else – if you’re unwell, it’s okay to take a break from your travel itinerary and focus on getting better.
Recognizing the Signs of Common Travel-Related Illnesses
Familiarize yourself with symptoms of common travel-related illnesses such as food poisoning, heatstroke, altitude sickness, or insect-borne diseases, depending on your destination.
Some symptoms to watch for include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, persistent headache, dizziness, and skin rashes.
Also, be mindful of your mental health. If you’re feeling unusually anxious, depressed, or finding it hard to cope, these could be signs that you need professional help.
Seeking Medical Attention
If you become ill, don’t delay seeking medical help, especially if symptoms are severe or persist for more than a couple of days. Refer to the list of nearby healthcare facilities that you prepared before your trip.
When you visit a healthcare provider, give them as much information as possible about your symptoms, activities, and any pre-existing medical conditions. Carry your medical history and a list of medications you’re taking, if any.
In emergencies, don’t hesitate to go to the hospital. If you have travel insurance, your medical bills should be reimbursed.
If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, consider getting help from a translator to ensure effective communication with the medical team.
Depending on your healthcare provider at home, you may be able to schedule a virtual appointment so you can discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
Navigating Healthcare Abroad
Navigating healthcare in a foreign country can be a challenge. In some places, you may need to pay upfront, even for emergency care.
Ensure that you get a detailed medical report from your healthcare provider abroad. This is especially important if you want to claim medical expenses from your travel insurance.
Traveling can open up a world of amazing experiences, incredible landscapes, and diverse cultures, but it’s essential to remember that your health should never take a backseat.
By taking steps to prepare for your trip, maintaining a balanced diet, staying active, caring for your mental health, practicing good personal hygiene and safety, and knowing what to do if you get sick, you can ensure that your travels are as healthy as they are enjoyable.
It’s all about balance and planning – with these healthy travel tips, you’ll be ready for wherever your adventures take you.
Planning an adventure? Check out more of our travel planning resources:
What are your tips for staying healthy while traveling? Do you have a story to tell? Leave a comment below!