As a short term traveller, you don’t have time to get sick. You will get better but being sick will consume your working time and feel unpleasant. We asked frequent travellers to share how they avoid it and what they carry just in case.
One good source is the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) for advice on very specific locations: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. I learned from CDC while preparing for a recent trip that I did not need malaria pills for Addis Ababa, but I did for a city just two hours away.
Always research your destination and special precautions (inoculations, for instance) that are recommended. You can do this online. A better idea is a visit to a clinic with travel health specialists.
Have travel health insurance. It should include provisions for evacuation, particularly if you are going to a country in which the medical facilities may not be the best. Let's hope you will not need to use this option but having it is a life-saver when needed.
Avoid getting sick. Travel with a small container of hand sanitizer in your pocket (small enough to get through airport security) and use it before eating when you can’t wash your hands with soap and water. Just a drop or two. When you anticipate dining someplace where the hygiene may be unknown or the food challenging, chew a Pepto-Bismol tablet before heading out. This will also help after the fact, if you have an upset stomach. (Don’t be alarmed when your tongue and stools turn black – it just happens with Pepto-Bismol.) Don’t eat fresh salads unless you are confident about the country or the cook. Bottled water is safe in most places (as long as you break the seal yourself.) Carbonated (beer or pop) and boiled (tea or coffee) beverages are fine. Ice may or may not be okay, depending on the water with which it was made.
Despite our best efforts, we all get diarrhea at one point or another. Five products are carried to help. The first is toilet paper. A part-roll with the tube removed doesn’t take up much room in a back pack or briefcase and will make you popular when someone less prepared has problems. Pepto-Bismol helps. Re-hydrating is essential. It can be done with fluids found on the spot like salty soups, sugary tea or flat pop – or you can carry a few packets of oral rehydration salts, available in most pharmacies around the world. An antibiotic sounds dramatic, but many travellers keep a course with them. One like Zithromax or Cipro will quickly tame bad bacteria you may have ingested and can be used for other infections if needed. Finally, as a last resort in an emergency (like a flight that you can’t miss) there are Imodium-type products. Be wary, though. They’ll stop the diarrhea – and a week later you may be remembering it with nostalgia because your bowels haven’t yet re-started.
For small wounds and accidents an anti-biotic cream, some Ibuprofen and band-aids are a good idea. Especially if you are going to a warm country, wounds must be well cleaned and protected. If you anticipate a lot of walking a bit of moleskin might help prevent or protect blisters. I always travel with “Traumeel” (or “Arnica”) – a homeopathic pill that accelerates healing from bruises, cuts and other accidental offences to the body. You can find it in many pharmacies and health food stores.
Five additional potions or pills are used often: Antacid tablets for when your eyes or social pressures overrule your stomach’s instincts at a meal; Sudafed, a decongestant which quickly clears painful ears if yours tend to hurt while flying; Gravol in case you have a different kind of problem when flying and which can also serve as a gentle sleeping aid; Melatonin, available in many health food and pharmacies as another sleeping aid and Benadryl in case of unexpected allergic reactions.
Two notes about medications: First, any brand names mentioned here are probably available at home by a generic name, for a lower cost. Second, though you can get virtually any medication without a prescription in many countries, some are counterfeits that won’t work. Ask local contacts to nominate reliable pharmacies. And if you are already on a medication for an existing condition, be sure to take a supply that will carry you through and a bit beyond the period of your travels.
Four other products to consider carrying: A new one on my own packing list is Crazy Glue. The recommendation actually comes from a doctor, who says it is effective in closing and protecting small wounds. More mundanely, dental floss will help deal with unexpectedly tough meat and serve as thread in case of a wardrobe malfunction, and clippers will relieve the aggravation of the nail you will break while trying to open the suitcase that got beaten up in transit. If there is the slightest possibility of sexual contact while travelling, condoms are imperative.
We’ll talk more about your suitcase later. You may be able to get away without the risk of checking it in. And we’ll also talk about managing the stresses of short, intense international assignments – another aspect of well-being.
Safe and happy travels!