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Taking care of your health

Mosquito net, Zanzibar, TanzaniaIf you’ve been really sick on the road because you were careless about what you ate and had to spend your time in disgusting washrooms because you had the runs you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say be careful about what you put in your mouth.

In a letter I wrote home from Bali I joked about how we were eating at the local stalls and would try just about anything. The last laugh was on me for I was unable to keep anything in my body. By the time I got to Jakarta a couple of weeks later I’d lost so much weight that I thought I would have to cut the trip short and return home. Never again, I said, for there are better ways to get skinny.

Unless you’re absolutely sure the local water is safe don’t risk it. Water can be insufficiently treated in developing countries and contain disease. Instead, stick with purified water. Plastic bottles of purified water are widely available and come in different sizes so always carry one with you. Otherwise, have your drinking water boiled and cooled. Avoid ice cubes unless you know they’ve been made with purified water. Use bottled water to brush your teeth and rinse your toothbrush. Don’t open your mouth in the shower. If you take this lightly, you can spend your trip running to the washroom or worse.

Be careful about fruit and vegetables and think twice about stall foods. Here’s the rule about eating fruit and vegetables on the road: Cook it, peel it, or forget it. That cut-up fruit that a vendor is selling could well be sprayed with contaminated water. Restaurants that cater to foreign tourists sometimes offer organically grown salads with greens that have been washed in purified water. Ask around.

Wash your hands frequently and always before eating. This is simple and very important. There are hand sanitizers that you can bring with you that kill most germs without having to use water.

My daughter Jessica, who has travelled all over the world and in now in Guatemala, just informed me that she has a parasite. She is very careful but living in a rather remote village and eating at food stalls. So it was another reminder of how careful you need to be in some destinations.

Talk to a physician who specializes in travel medicine about inoculations and precautions against malaria before you leave home. Make sure you have medical coverage for foreign travel including emergency evacuation.

Stay out of jail

If you break the laws of another country, you are subject to the legal system of that country. Being a foreigner or not knowing the laws is not an excuse. I’ve met too many travellers in foreign countries who are there visiting a friend jailed for illegal drug possession. Detention in these prisons is a side trip you don’t want to take. Never take a parcel or even an envelope across a border for someone else.


Too many tourists get caught in riptides and drown. My (then) husband and I were caught in a riptide in Indonesia and it is a miracle we survived. We swam desperately for about 20 minutes but got nowhere. I finally swam across the tide instead of against it and got out of it but Tom kept drifting further and further out. I screamed for help but no one heard. I kept yelling at him to swim across it and he finally did and hit a sandbar. It was a real scare and taught us a lesson. Two tourists were swept out to sea when I was sitting on the beach in India. Think twice!


Don’t ignore warnings about high altitude. At times when travelling in Peru I felt like I was under water and needed to push my body upward before running out of air. A British doctor staying at our hotel in Cusco was taken to the hospital because he was travelling at a rather mad pace and hadn’t acclimatized.


Sunburns can ruin vacations (aside from all the long-term health implications). I think the worst burns I’ve ever seen were in Costa Rica where many foreign tourists had bright red bodies because they overexposed themselves the first few days in the country. Don’t forget that you can get sunburn when you’re at a high altitude even if the temperature is low (I also know this from painful experience).

By Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2010

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