Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe


Avoiding And Dealing With Illness While Traveling

The avoidance of illness during travel has always been a common concern especially among frequent travelers. Understandably, getting sick is one of the most inconvenient things that can happen to you abroad. Even a small cold or minor bug will need to be treated immediately due to the fact that small ailments have a habit of escalating into debilitating illnesses when you’re traveling.

Coming down with a serious illness abroad is a nightmare. You’ll be far from doctors and hospitals you know and trust. You might not speak the local language well enough to communicate effectively with healthcare providers. And it just plain sucks to find yourself bedridden in a foreign country, especially if you’re traveling alone.

When you travel you need to take care of any sort of illness as soon as it crops up, and you need to do everything in your power to stay healthy at all times. Thankfully, staying healthy while travelling isn’t too difficult or complicated.

There are a thousand and one plans out there for the best way to build and maintain good health, but they all come down to a three basics:

  1. Exercise daily,
  2. Eat Healthy Food,
  3. Get enough sleep.


Exercise Daily

You can exercise easily abroad. If you like to run then ask your hostel or hotel’s employees about good (re: safe) routes to jog along. Personally, I hate running and find a combination of walking everywhere and performing quick intervals and circuits of bodyweight exercises (push-ups, squats, pull-ups) every morning is enough to keep me feeling strong and energetic whenever I travel.

As a note- the first time I traveled abroad I neglected exercise for the first two months of my trip and when I simply started exercising a little bit every morning I noted an incredibly noticeable improvement in how I felt.

Don’t skip exercise when traveling!


Eat Healthy Food

Eating in a healthy manner abroad mostly requires basing your diet in whole, natural foods. It’s a good idea to prepare one or two meals a day and then eat out for one or two meals a day. Pick restaurants that serve real food and not processed garbage, and feed yourself similarly.

Most grocery stores sell:

  • Eggs,
  • Meat,
  • Bagged vegetables,
  • Fruit,
  • Nuts, and
  • Yogurt.

All of which are staples of my diet when traveling. In some countries you won’t be able to cook for yourself, and in those cases just focus on eating at healthy restaurants and you’ll remain strong and healthy without much fuss.

It isn’t hard to find foreign restaurants abroad that base their menu in whole, natural, healthy foods. So, there’s no excuse for eating crap. If you stick to eating where the locals eat (especially middle-aged and older locals) you’ll usually be just fine.



In addition to exercising a bit and primarily eating whole, natural foods, you also need to rest and sleep enough to stay healthy. This is actually very hard to do when traveling abroad, largely due to the fact traveling is very social.

You’ll want to explore your new home and its nightlife, and if you stay in a hostel you’ll have an easy time finding people to go out with. Instead of raging every single night, prioritize getting a full night’s sleep every couple days. If you begin to feel tired, then slow down and give yourself a day’s rest. Sure, you’re going to lose a social opportunity or two by slowing down and taking care of yourself. But you’ll lose many more opportunities if you run yourself into the ground and make yourself vulnerable to illness. So, pay attention to signals from your body and act defensively.


What If You Get Sick?

Should you do become ill while travelling abroad, you have a couple options for getting healthy.

If you develop a minor cold, then I recommend:

  1. Take it easy and give yourself more rest and sleep.
  2. Eat lightly, but well.
  3. Take Echinacea. This is an herb that has considerable scientific studies to confirm its effectiveness. You can read the University of Maryland Medical Center evaluation on Echinacea here. Last year I started taking Echinacea whenever I begin to feel unwell and it does work. When I travel, I always carry some with me.
  4. Generally take care of yourself for a couple days until it clears up.

If you wish, you can ask your hostel’s employees if they have any recommendations for remedies or over-the-counter medicines you can purchase. If it’s a minor illness with no fever, only minor aches and pains, and you aren’t concerned, then you should be able to treat yourself without much fuss.

But if you feel really sick and you feel worried about your illness’ progression, or if you require immediate treatment, then you’re going to need to go see a physician or go to a local hospital. You could have some nasty local super-bug.


Select the Right Hospital

All hospitals everywhere can be hit-or-miss affairs. Most major cities in the world have at least one or two high-quality hospitals that are at least as good as anything you find back at home. Still, you need to take responsibility for finding and getting yourself admitted to the better hospitals, you certainly don’t want to end up in a poorly-rated hospital.

If you’re sick then ask for hospital recommendations from your hostel or hotel’s staff members (or any locals you’ve befriended), and do some research online as well. Look for hospital reviews and recommendations given by other travelers from your country.

It’s also important to remember just because a hospital is great, that doesn’t mean every doctor at that hospital is up to the task of treating you. When you perform your research look for recommendations for specific doctors in addition to general hospital recommendations.

You’re must be insistent in which hospital you go to and which doctor attends to you.

Finally, if possible, make sure you bring someone with you when you go to the hospital. Having a friend, or even a trustworthy acquaintance, can make a HUGE difference when it comes to making sure you’re taken proper care of. Hospital staff WILL be aware they are being observed. Also, having a friendly face who knows where you are and why will give you substantial peace of mind.


Monitor Your Own Treatment

You will also need to remain vigilant about your treatment as well. If you need some convincing on the value of monitoring your own treatment closely, just do a quick Google search on “foreign hospital horror stories” and you’ll wise-up quickly.

Have Travelers Health Insurance

Medical care abroad is often inexpensive, but you still want to make sure you have travelers health insurance before you leave from home. This type of insurance is inexpensive. Not only will your insurance prevent you from paying exorbitant fees (preventing them from trying to scam you) but your insurance provider can also help you find the right medical facilities to meet your needs.