9 Ways to Not Get Sick While Travelling

I love travelling. I love seeing the sights and tasting new cuisines, just absorbing the atmosphere in a foreign place. I usually spend months planning my next holiday, constantly stalking AirAsia for cheap flights. Once I’ve grabbed the most wallet-friendly flight, I will start planning my itinerary and wait in anticipation for my vacation to roll around.

I remember I had this perfect itinerary, where I had just enough time to see all that I wanted, and still had a little time for some rest and relaxation. Until I got the worst case of food poisoning, that is. My plans went out the window while I spent two days puking into the toilet bowl.

There are few things which could ruin a holiday more than getting sick.

And you don’t want that.

Here’s 9 top tips to not get sick while travelling:

Before You Go

1. Get Vaccinated

Talk to your doctor about your travel plans and see what vaccinations you may need. The vaccinations depend on:

  • destination
  • nature and duration of exposure
  • age
  • health status

Note that you should begin considering vaccination around four to six weeks before your departure. It is acceptable to lengthen the time interval between doses, but significant shortening of the intervals is not recommended as most vaccines take time to become effective in your body.

Even if it is less than four weeks before you leave, you should still see your doctor. You might still benefit from shots or medications and other information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while travelling.

Common vaccine-preventable diseases worldwide include:

  • Hepatitis A – 1.4 million new cases/year

    – Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). The virus is spread when an uninfected (or unvaccinated) person eats or drinks something contaminated by the stool of an HAV-infected person – this is called faecal-oral transmission.
    – Hepatitis A is rarely fatal, but could cause debilitating symptoms.
    – The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends vaccination for travellers to areas of poor or uncertain hygiene. Vaccination is highly recommended even if you have no confirmed past history of disease or immunity – check with your doctor first, though.
    – The hepatitis A vaccine is an inactivated vaccine (with formalin) and needs two intra-muscular injections six months apart. Once vaccinated, it provides protection for at least 10 years.

  • Hepatitis B – over 1 million deaths/year

    – The ninth most common cause of death worldwide.

  • Typhoid – 16 million new cases/year

    – life-threatening illness caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi.
    – You can get typhoid fever if you consume food or drinks that have been contaminated with Salmonella Typhi bacteria.
    – Once you have consumed Salmonella Typhi, it gets in your blood stream and wreaks havoc in your body causing fevers, loss of appetites etc.
    – Typhoid is a serious public health problem in much of the developing world, with 16 million new cases of typhoid per year
    – Vaccination is recommended by WHO for all travellers to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent for more than three weeks.

  • Influenza – affects 10% of working adults

    – Includes Influenza A (H1N1) infection – which remains a concern despite WHO recently declaring this pandemic is over.
    – Vaccination is best against influenza as there are very few effective treatments available.
    – You can get vaccines at most medical centres and the vaccine efficacy is 70% – 90%. Most influenza vaccines come with the protection against H1N1 included.

  • Priority of recommended vaccinations

    • Hepatitis A
    • Hepatitis B
    • Rabies
    • Yellow fever
    • Influenza
    • Typhoid fever
    • Measles
    • Diphtheria
    • Tetanus
    • Meningococcal disease
    • Japanese encephalitis
    • Poliomyelitis
    • Cholera

2. Pack your insect repellent

Dengue, malaria, and other vector-borne diseases are a bummer, and in serious cases, can cause death, especially when you’re not in contact with good medical facilities. Make sure you apply mosquito repellent whenever you’re in a high-risk zone. Google up the places you’re going to if you’re not sure.

3. Bring some sunscreen

As much as you like suntanning, UV damage is a very real issue which could lead to skin cancer down the road. Skip all that stress and bring some good sunscreen instead.

4. Strengthen your immune system

Before you go, you’re probably stressed out dealing with all the extra workload (to fill in for the time you’re missing) and travel planning. Load up on your fruits and veggies and get enough sleep so you don’t get sick the moment you get some time to breathe. Make sure to make time for some exercise too!

While on Your Trip

5. Avoid tap water 

Water is one of the largest vehicle to transfer bacteria, and drinking contaminated water could lead to Hepatitis E, which is not vaccine-preventable. Unless you know it’s safe to drink the tap water, it’s best to only drink bottled water. This includes the water you use to brush your teeth. Ice may or may not be an issue, but you can always ask the restaurant / stall where they get their ice from and if it’s filtered.

6. Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it

Don’t eat anything raw or uncooked, unless it’s a fruit which you need to peel. When eating out, have food that’s piping hot instead of lukewarm, as it is probably not freshly cooked and could already be contaminated.

7. Wash your hands 

You’ll obviously be touching numerous things while on holiday. Just remember to wash your hands before eating and drinking so you don’t contaminate yourself. Bring small bottles of liquid hand sanitizers with you if you can’t find a clean enough sink to use.

8. Get enough sleep

Sure, you want to see and do as much as possible. But remember that your body needs time to recharge as well. Not getting enough sleep and doing too much is a recipe for getting sick, either while you’re on vacation or the moment you get home.

9. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

It’s easy to forget that we need to drink up (not alcohol!) while on holiday. But remember, you’re always on the move and doing something, which means you’re probably losing fluids sweating it out. Lack of water is the quickest way to fall sick, so stock up on the bottled water and make sure you down them throughout the day.

Stay safe, and have a great vacation!


What other advice on staying healthy have we missed out? Share with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Edited by Jolene Foo
Contributed by Professor Datin Dr. Hamimah Hassan, President, Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases and Chemotherapy

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