Tons of travelers (from tourists to digital nomads) find hard to answer this easy question. You see it in forums and travel groups: How to stay healthy when you travel?
Personal hygiene, accommodation, and food hygiene are crucial issues. Traveling with a limited budget? You start thinking that it will be “OK” to stay in “that” budget hotel/hostel or eat “that” food.
Hey, you may have booked some travel insurance too. But travel insurance is there only to solve a problem and not to prevent it. Isn’t it better to know what to do, so to reduce the risk of having a mild or a serious health issue?
You can’t control everything but there are lots of things you can control. You need to stay healthy during your trip and enjoy as many things as possible.
Let’s see all these important points. Feel free to contribute more from your experience.
How to Stay Healthy When You Travel?
Be proactive and organize your trip is crucial when you want to address the “health” factor. relatively A trip is usually separated into 4 main sections.
- Transportation (from airplanes to a “took took”)
- Accommodation (from hostels to hotel rooms)
- Food & Drinks (from restaurants to street food)
- Activities (from hiking to getting intimate, to simply staying in shape)
- After the trip actions
How to Stay Clean and Healthy in airplanes, trains, and cars?
The basic rule here is to remember that you are not “crazy”. When you use any kind of transportation, do remember that millions of people used the same seats. So what do you do?
Staying clean In Airports
Want to arrive with a clean(er) luggage? Will you drop your luggage? Then wrap it up. That protection provides better protection from scratches. All that plastic cover will keep it cleaner. Do you get into crowded trains after your flight? Dirty luggage or backpack will rub all over your clothes, neck, arms, etc.
Do you remember the 12 Apes movie? You will remember that the person who wanted to spread a virus all over the world, used the airports to achieve so.
How to stay clean In Airplanes?
Do not assume that all head seat covers change from flight to flight. Staff touches the seats. Seats get touched by all the fellow travelers as they walk through the aisle looking for their seat.
The same stands for magazines and seat handle. You don’t know the health status of previous flight passengers. Better to carry your own magazine or (better) electronic device.
Do not put your finger(s) in your mouth to moist them to turn the magazine pages.
Have antiseptic or alcohol moistened wet hankies and clean the areas you are about to touch a lot. These areas are the unfolding tray and seat arms.
Do not put food or other things that you will put in your mouth (fork, spoon, etc) on the tray. Clean the tray first.
Better to travel wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants. That is good for two reasons. First is to keep you from freezing in the airplane cabin (it is cold). The other reason, is to limit how much of your skin – your largest body organ- touches the seat.
Seats don’t get sanitized on every flight.
When it comes to toilets, well, space is limited so don’t go in there with jackets and scarfs for obvious reasons. Leave them at your seat. Better not to sit down too. If you do, it is best to have a toilet plastic cover. If you don’t have that, put paper all over the toilet seat. Yet, best is not to seat.
Take Care of your Hygiene in Buses, Trains or Cars
Touch as little as possible. If it is a short ride, better not sit down (in a train). Even in well-organized cities, seats are not cleaned constantly. When there are lots of tourists, each has its own perception of their personal hygiene.
If you need to hold a grip in the bus or the train, then use antiseptic hankies after.
Avoid extremes. For example, lets say you go to Egypt and decide to ride a camel. You will notice that their saddles can be the dirtiest thing you saw in your life.
In all cases above, when you touch things, do avoid touching your face and eyes. Sounds “crazy”? Well, getting some redness from that doesn’t look good. Always remember: your skin is your largest exposed organ.
Health and Hygiene in Hotel & Hostel Rooms
We like to divide these in 2 sub-categories. Places where you share the toilet and shower, and places where you don’t. For those that take hygiene to a totally different level, there are UV detectors too.
There can be many people in one room unless you pay a bit extra for rooms with less. There will be plenty in the common areas. Depending on the hostel type you maybe have to use the kitchen to make your own breakfast. So will do others…
Again the thing here is: clean first, then use. Do not assume others cleaned what they used.
When you want to use the toilet, follow the airplane method as described already. When you use the common showers make sure to have your own shampoo and sponge.
Avoid at all costs to walk barefoot in the shower (or anywhere, even in hotel rooms).
The risk of catching serious bacteria is real and proved. Showers are not clean. You use showers to get cleaned up and you have no idea where the person before you was. So, always use slippers for showers and walking around your room.
Always have hankies with you.
How to Stay Clean in Hotel Rooms?
Well, many assume that a hotel room is far cleaner than a hostel room, right? Unless you walk around with a UV light bacteria detector, make no assumptions.
We are not talking about cheap hotel rooms only. We also talk about rooms in 4 and 5 stars hotels.
Were you present when the hotel staff cleaned your room? Are you sure they didn’t use the same cleaning cloth for the toilet and the shower and the sink? We know that many of you (like us) will check the “Cleanliness” rating in Booking websites, same as we do.
Personally, we avoid booking accommodation when the overall rating is less than 8 (at least).
On top of that you can do this: Go to the nearby store and buy a disinfectant spray (this applies to hostels too). Then:
- Spray the sink, the shower/bath, the toilet lid
- Let it be for 5 to 10 minutes
- Use the spray on door handles, the desks next to your bed, the remote controllers (TV, air condition, etc)
- Use it on hangers and in the safe box and on the surface where you place your toiletries
Staying for many days in the same hotel room and there is a daily room service? You will need more.
Have in mind that the cleaning staff goes from room to room doing their work. Ever seen someone getting sanitized after each room? No.
Well, are you crazy (someone may ask)? You don’t have to get to “Crazy Defcon 1” level or be germophobic. You can’t also ignore that not all have your level of cleanliness.&
Food and Drinks Hygiene when you Travel
Foods and drinks are a tricky case as it can really depend on your budget. If your budget is enough mostly for street food then that comes with a risk. The risk in street food originates from:
- Pre-cooking cleanliness of food
- Quality of water
- Food exposure to elements and temperature
- Utensils used (plates, forks, etc)
- Quality of raw materials
We never eat street food unless it is something that doesn’t need cutlery. Of course, drinking from glasses at food trucks is a no-no. We are fine having a coffee or a beverage at a cafe, though.
There are some destinations where even the locals tell you to avoid eating salads “outside”. That includes any “non-cooked” food. That is due to the water quality of a place.
If the water quality is not good then food can be from bad to dangerous. We have been in African countries where that was a strict rule about that. We were strongly instructed to only eat in restaurants or in the hotel.
When it comes to drinks:
For water: Drink only sealed bottled water, unless you know that free spring water (like in Rome) is good (which it is). If there are problems with water in your destination, do carry a bottle that has an embedded filter.
For alcohol and beverages: Drink sealed bottled liquids (i.e. beers or wines). When it comes to alcohol things can be tricky, so do this in case you ordered a cocktail in a street vendor:
- Smell the drink: If alcohol smells strong, chances are that the drink is rigged. This means it is pumped with extra pure alcohol or other. Some drinks are strong but alcohol doesn’t smell like that, unless mixed with pure alcohol.
- Have only one sip: In all cases drink a sip and wait half an hour. Rigged drinks tend to get you dizzy fast (due to increased alcohol mixtures). That rules is not for 100% of the cases. Different people react different when getting some booze, but it is a good indicator.
- Drink the thing you know: If you drink a specific brand, then get that.
Yes, we know, that it is best to taste new things in your destination. Sure, do that. Just be sure that the store where you get your drink is reliable.
We will repeat that the quality of water is crucial and affects the quality and hygiene of food and drinks in your location. If your research shows that water quality is not that good, then be cautious.
You can also use special tablets that purify water. Such are handy in long hiking trips and backpacking.
Consult your doctor. Depending on the destination, do carry some medicine to cope with possible water & food poisoning conditions.
There are places where street food and food trucks present a high level of quality. In Copenhagen, you can visit the Food Market and enjoy lots of different tastes from tenths of food trucks in one place and not experience the “dirty” feeling.
Keep in mind that street food is normal for locals and they are accustomed to it. Their body is familiar with local food/water conditions and quality, while yours may not be. Their stomach can cop different with “different levels of quality”. That is valid, especially for India.
How to Stay Healthy in Restaurants
When you eat in restaurants make sure to order things that can’t be “recycled”. This means to order breadsticks that come in a sealed package, instead of bread buns or slices. Some restaurants tend to reuse unconsumed food. Not all, but they do.
Good restaurants usually don’t. Street food vendors on the other way might reuse leftover food for the next day. In countries where food is exposed to dust, moist and sun that is not good for you.
How to Stay Healthy in Bars
The same logic stands for nuts and side dishes in bars. Pistachio, almonds and related salty snacks may be from the previous person. That means his/her hands were dipped where you now eat. Ask for a fresh serving in case you can see from where they pour it in.
In countries where “manners maketh man”, people don’t dip their hands in the pistachio bowl. They use a small spoon to get a serving in their hand and eat from there. In that way, snacks are not touched by everyone. When you see a spoon for that, then use it and you can always ask for one.
Never, ever leave your drink unattended. Apart from the obvious reasons of someone slipping something in it, you don’t want some stranger to touch it (i.e. to move it a bit).
In some countries, the custom is to place the coaster on top when a person plans to visit “the loo”. That is a nice practice. Not a “bulletproof” one, but a good habit nevertheless.
When in restaurants do check the cutlery and glasses. If they have signs of not being clean enough, ask politely for others. If your glass has lipstick marks or any other lip mark on it do the same.
When you see that, it is usually not a good sign. If the “eatery” has few customers then that is “Defcon 1”. If the place is packed up then this
How to stay Healthy and Clean during Activities
Things are rather simple. During hiking, trekking, visiting museums & culinary trips, make sure you follow the same hygiene rules as before. Do carry your own water or buy bottled (and sealed).
Public restrooms are usually in good condition unless you decided to visit when there are thousands in the place.
A good tip here is to visit landmarks and sightseeing’s, during lunchtime hours. In that time frame, you will get fewer crowds, which will make your walk easier.
How to stay Clean when you exercise
Apart from outdoor activities, you may want to stay in shape during your trip. Tasting all that food and drinking has a toll so why not burning some calories.
Typically there are 4 ways you can achieve that:
- In your hotel/hostel room (from yoga to calisthenics to body-weight cross fit routines)
- Weight lifting in the hotel gym
- Swimming in the hotel/hostel pool
- Swimming at the nearby beach
Depending on the availability of these you can do lots of things. However, you need to have some things in mind.
How to Stay Healthy in a hotel/hostel room
In all cases, you don’t want to lie down on the room floor. That floor is maybe the least cleaned area. So, you need to place something down if you want to do some sit-ups or yoga. It is unhealthy to sweat and touch the floor and at the same time to breath all the dust from the carpet.
Some hotels offer yoga mats. Use some disinfectant on them or clean them thoroughly before you use them. If you are not lucky to stay in such a hotel and you plan to stay for long, then either buy a cheap yoga mat (or something close to that) from the local market.
How to Stay Healthy in a hotel gym
Here people come to exercise and sweat a lot. Use a towel on places your back needs to touch. That is a must-do rule for any gym (vacations or not) anyway. There are many posts that indicate that free weights are the dirtiest. If you have some disinfectant hankies you can use them too, although such may seem a bit weird when there are more in the hotel gym.
Do not touch your face, eyes or mouth when you exercise and sweat.
How to Stay Healthy in a pool
Well, pools have a self-cleaning system but that stands for the pool water. Wear slippers to get to the pool, in the pool showers, and around the pool premises. Use the pool shower before entering the pool. It is proper manners and a hygiene requirement for you and other people.
If you lie down on a sun lounge use a towel and not place your skin directly on that chair.
How to Stay Healthy in a beach
Lay down a towel and place your belongings there. If you plan to get a tan, lie over the towel and not directly on the beach sand/pebbles.
The importance of Travel Insurance
As said, travel insurance is a must when you travel. It can help you solve the problem that happened from an accident, sickness and such. If you are a backpacker then read this post for travel insurance for backpackers and nomads.
Most prominent travel insurance companies with a simple subscribe/cancel model are these below. Make sure you check prices and services:
It is also good to know your Traveler’s rights when it comes to legislation. Read this post.
Body Hygiene & How To Stay Healthy When You Travel
Getting intimate with people you get close with is unavoidable and a pleasure. You make new friends. The overall mystery along with some drinks and the necessary chemistry take over.
Make sure you take precautions when getting intimate with people you don’t know.
It is always good to insist on having a shower before any “activity”. Nobody really likes weird odors. When things get really physical, run a quick “body scan” with your eyes. If you see weird open wounds it is best to avoid “getting some”.
Have regular showers during the day if possible, or at least one before and one after you come back from your activities.
Brush your teeth.
Oral hygiene is really important either you travel or not. On a multi-day trip, it is best to avoid visiting dentists in a “land far-far away”. Many skip brushing their teeth. Do you carry a small backpack? Of course, you are. Put a travel size toothbrush and a travel size toothpaste in it. If you don’t have such, have some gum that kinda replaces that for some hours.
Wash your clothes. A great idea is to have clothing that is easy to clean and dries fast too. Such is the sports/active type of clothing.
There are multiple options for either summer or winter trips. You can literally wash them in a sink and have them ready to wear (no ironing needed) the next morning. Visit our hiking gear section to see many different options for such easy to clean and lightweight gear.
In the unfortunate case, you need to visit a dentist or other kind of doctor, contact your insurance office. They will be really helpful in such issues. In all cases do have a list of any medication you take or took. Read this post for seasonal allergies too.
After the Trip Hygiene
The concept of how to stay healthy when you travel doesn’t stop when you come back.
You had a great trip and now you are back home. Yes, you are tired but now is the time to prepare your gear for the next trip (whenever that may be).
How to do that? Easy enough:
- Clean up your luggage, in and out.
- Wash your backpack. Backpacks come with that adventure “allure” but due to their fabrics, they get really dirty. Sweat from all your endeavors has been placed on them multiple times. Wash them well to avoid bacteria cultivation.
- Clean and wash your shoes and any hiking/walking boots (this is a good post on cleaning your leather walking boots). Remember that you walked and stepped on many things. Storing that gear after getting it clean, helps both with hygiene and good gear maintenance.
- Wash all your clothes, either you used them or not, especially after a multi-day trip. You opened that luggage lots of times, right?
- Clean up toiletries used. Use wet hankies for that. It is best to have a travel set of toiletries, used only for that reason.
- Have a blood test, just in case.
Last but not least: Always have a clean house to return to. It is good for the soul too. Plan to have your house cleaned up before you leave.
All these points came up from our travel experience, along with a little bit of “crazy”. The thing is that you can’t worry about cleanliness all the time, but there is a good range of things that you can organize and avoid.
These are not to get you obsessed with being “sanitized”. You can’t be like that. Catching a nasty illness while traveling can get you in trouble.
These issues don’t only happen in 3rd world countries. We got some nasty food poisoning in Belgium from a sandwich. Apart from that we never got anything else and we do travel a lot, hike a lot and spend lots of time in nature a lot.
Just keep it safe as much as you can, to be able to enjoy more from your trip.
Do taste and drink things in your destination; just be conscious of that too.