Staying healthy is a big deal when you are out traveling and even a bigger responsibility when you have children that you need to take care of too. Many of
our illnesses come from an unclean food and water supply, so managing your exposure is a big deal. Here are some tips for staying healthy on your journey. We’ve all heard of traveler’s diarrhea and many of us know the saying “Montezuma’s revenge.” This can make for a miserable experience, especially in developing countries with questionable restroom facilities also!!! (Our family got worms in Panama which was incredibly difficult when you’ve got kids running for a bathroom and none to be found. Makes for awkward moments and you don’t want to leave the house). While it’s a learning experience, I think it’s safe to say it’s one we’d all like to learn from other’s experiences, not our own.
- Wash your hands before meals and after using the bathroom. This has become habit for many of us, but children are still learning habits and often it’s hard to find clean water and/or soap to wash with in developing countries. A bottle of Purell in your handbag or a bottle of water for rinsing may be very useful.
- If you peel it, you can eat it. Bananas, oranges, papayas, mangos, and pineapples for example. If you don’t peel it, you can wash it with clean water and a touch of bleach. Make sure your water source is clean too before you pour it on your food. You can clean the water with the water purification tablets below, then use it to wash your fruits and vegetables. Washing lettuce is difficult because of the folds in the leaves, so salad is often a poor choice if you question the cleanliness. Also beware of condiments made from fresh veggies, like salsa, where the tomato skin has been left on and the product has not been cooked.
- Food should be eaten hot, not at room temperature. Even if it was cooked, then sat out, it can become contaminated. Street vendors often prepare their food well in advance and it isn’t kept at safe temperatures. (I LOVED the pineapple on a stick at the street vendors in Bangkok, but steered clear of the unidentified meat on a stick). Traveler’s Tip: When we look for a restaurant to eat at, we look for high turn over. A busy restaurant is likely to have a fresher supply of more recently cooked food that hasn’t been sitting out for hours. We also try to order menu items that are not sitting in the display case and come fresh from the kitchen.
- Raw eggs are also another potential source. Hard boiled or well cooked eggs are generally believed to be OK, but sunny side up, raw or otherwise undercooked can be a problem.
- Water is often contaminated around the world. Even if the locals have grown up with it and have a tolerance, you and your family may not do well with the exposure still. NOTE: They may put tang or other flavoring in their local water and it looks and tastes like juice or other pure drinks, but it can still be contaminated. Also fountain drinks are often carbonated local water with syrups added and are risky despite the carbonation making it feel like it came from a fresh source.
- There are many options:
- Water Purification Tablets – iodine has been questioned for its efficacy. The current tablets have an active ingredient of Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate.
- Water Filtration Systems – the bigger your family and the longer you plan to stay, the more substantial of a system you’re going to want. If you’re going for a week, a sports bottle with a filter straw may be perfect. If you’re moving to India, you may want to consider buying a whole system.
- Purchase bottled water – do be aware that in some places they will refill water bottles, make the cap look sealed, and resell it as new. This water is NOT our or clean, it’s local water. You may want to filter it anyway. In Nepal I had to laugh as I saw beautiful Fiji water bottled filled with literally muddy water. Really?? I did look and the seal looked closed, so it was convincing on that front! So if the water was clear, I would have been suckered and paid top dollar for a bottle of Cholera.
- Boil the water before drinking it. This will not remove minerals or contaminants, like lead, but will destroy bacteria, fungi and amebas in the water supply. Boil it in a full rolling boil for at least one minute, then allow it to cool.
- Be careful for ice!!! It’s often overlooked, but it’s made of local water and freezing it does not necessarily kill all the organisms. If local ice is in a drink, even if the drink came from a can (like a soda), the drink is contaminated!!
- Undercooked pork is a big problem worldwide. Tapeworm in the meat causes cysticercosis and neurocysticercosis. Many people from Mexico suffer from these tapeworm infections that have traveled into their brain and either have active colonies or scarring causing seizures, headaches and other issues. Even after the disease is treated, it leaves calcified scars in your brain. It is the major cause of adult onset seizures in most low-income countries according to the CDC. Be wary of pork in developing countries as handling and preparation may be sketchy. Really all undercooked meat carries a risk that must be calculated.