Americans only vacation 3.8 days of the year, according to the U.S. Travel Association and because vacations are so short, you’re likely to ruin your entire vacation if you get sick. Solution? Don’t get sick while traveling. Here is a list of eight things NOT to do while traveling!
1. Drink lots of tap water. Most tap water is perfectly fine to drink — if you are a local. For travelers, however, the bacteria found in tap water around the world varies considerably, and your own belly biome may not stand up well to the local bacteria. Buy and drink bottled water only. Beware, however, some establishments reuse old water bottles by refilling them at the tap. You will want to open your water bottle yourself to be sure and don’t forget that ice cubes are typically made from tap water. Unless you’re positive the ice was made with bottled or disinfected water, skip the ice.
It may be obvious, but this tip applies mostly to international travel; water standards throughout most of the U.S. allow you to ignore this advice stateside (as well as in Canada, Western Europe and other developed countries).
2. Eat food washed in tap water. Similarly, if you eat food that was rinsed or washed in tap water (or worse, such as in a washing basin filled with water in which other food was also washed), you are vulnerable to the same bacteria as if you guzzled the water down yourself. This tends to happen most frequently with things like lettuce, onions and other vegetables that come from the ground, need washing and are typically served raw.
3. Rummage around in the seatback pockets of a plane. Airplanes are notoriously filthy, and they’re cleaned far less frequently than you might think; certainly there is no deep cleaning going on during the short period of de-boarding and re-boarding that goes on at most airline gates. Some of the dirtiest places on a plane are the seatback pockets. While you should check out the emergency information at the beginning of your flight, avoid rummaging around in the seatback pocket entirely if you can help it.
Some travelers immediately wipe down everything around their seat with an alcohol wipe, which may be going overboard a bit, but it sure can’t hurt. If that isn’t your style, try to keep your hands away from your face until you have had a chance to clean up after your flight.
4. Drink from unclean or unwrapped glasses in hotel rooms. Hotel sanitation can be a nightmare. Some of us have seen hotel cleaning staff merely wipe out a used glass with a towel, or, even worse, spray some kind of cleaning agent in a glass, wipe it with a dirty rag and put it back on the counter. Germs, chemicals, leftover toothpaste; none of these are good for you. The rule of thumb here: If the glass is not wrapped in a sealed plastic bag, wash it yourself using very hot water, or simply don’t use it.
5. Don’t hydrate, especially while flying. Your body needs water to do pretty much everything, and hydration only gets more important when you are tired, run down and under siege by unfamiliar germs. Dehydration not only makes you more vulnerable to invading bugs, but also makes it harder for you to recover once infected. Keep in mind that coffee doesn’t count as a good choice for hydration. The hydration effect of coffee is a net positive, for example — but it wouldn’t be significant enough for unusual or tough conditions.
6. Alter your diet radically. Switching your diet too drastically can really upset your stomach; for example, if you eat mostly fruit and vegetables at home, jumping into having barbecue or other meat three times a day might not be like a great idea. Dig in on the local stuff, but have a meal or two each day that is a bit more like your home fare. As you spend more time in a place, you can often shift gradually to eating like a local around the clock, but give your gut a couple days to get ready.
7. Skip recommended vaccinations. Before you travel, check the CDC and State Department websites to find out if any specific vaccinations are recommended in the regions to which you are traveling. If so, make an appointment to get them done well before your trip.
8. Don’t do any research on health risks in your destination. Check out the CDC’s destination list for loads of information organized by country. While you can’t safeguard against every possible malady, following all of the above recommendations will significantly reduce the likelihood of getting sick while traveling. For the next time you travel, have a safe, fun and healthy trip!
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