illustration of two people with colds on a planeQ: My family and I are going abroad on vacation. Got any tips on how to prevent getting sick while we’re away? I’d hate to have our vacation ruined by illness.


A: Infection and illness prevention are always important when traveling, especially when you’re traveling abroad. You want to have a memorable vacation for the right reasons, not because you spent most of it in your hotel bathroom.

For starters, if you’re traveling out of the country, it’s important to make sure you’re up to date on all your vaccinations. Sometimes for particular destinations, particular vaccinations are required for entry so check before you go. Also, check with your health insurance company and find out the extent of your coverage should you happen to require medical attention while you’re gone. If you’re going to a place that doesn’t have traditional hospitals or urgent care centers, the U.S. embassy at your destination can tell you where to seek medical attention. You don’t necessarily want to be seen by a doctor who operates out of the back of a gas station, even if all the locals swear he’s the best, know what I’m saying?

Next, make sure to take some basic medications with you: Tylenol and Advil for headaches or muscle pain, Pepto-Bismol and Tums for indigestion, diarrhea and so on (yum), Benadryl for allergic reactions, etc. I learned this important lesson, unfortunately, on my honeymoon in the Caribbean. On the very first day, my husband and I went snorkeling. Our guide told us specifically not to touch the buoy rope attached to our boat because it was covered in stingers. What did I do on the way into the water? Not only did I touch the rope, I used it as my own personal life preserver as someone pointed out a stingray nearby. Needless to say, I spent the next 12 hours soaking in a warm bathtub. Not an ideal way to spend the first night of our honeymoon, but at least my darling hubby had remembered to bring Benadryl along, which relieved the itch and allowed me to sleep.

Another way to prevent getting sick is to make sure that the water you’re drinking and the food you’re eating is safe. Some countries that you may visit may not have the same safety standards you’re accustomed to in the U.S., and the water can harbor harmful bacteria. In those cases, your best option is to take along a water purification system (like the SteriPen) that will make any water that you find potable. Once you sterilize that water, drink plenty of it to keep yourself from getting dehydrated. Choose food that has been cooked well and always use common sense when choosing a restaurant (if you see Rover eating off of the plates in the kitchen or a cockroach crawling out the napkin dispenser for instance, it’s probably best to stay away — and that rule applies even in America, folks). 

If you’re traveling outdoors, make sure to wear long sleeves, long pants and a hat. This will keep you from getting all kinds of insect bites.

Finally, the most important thing to do while you’re away is to use hand sanitizer. The most effective way to prevent infection is to keep your hands clean. This applies right here at home too, but is especially important when water and soap aren’t readily available, often the case when you’re traveling abroad (and the case when you’re traveling the rest stops along any nondescript U.S. highway, for that matter). 

Follow my advice and you’ll be well on your way to making beautiful memories on your vacation. Happy trails.

— Chanie

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How can I prevent illness while traveling abroad?
Chanie Kirschner speaks from experience when she tells you to pack some basic medication and listen to the boat captain.