Best ever tips: how to stay healthy while travelling

There's no great magic to keeping healthy when visiting somewhere new. It's a case of preparation, application (of a few simple rituals) and medication if something does go wrong. Lonely Planet's Best Ever Travel Tips offers a few tricks of the trade than can make life a lot easier.

In Asia you can travel with throwaway chopsticks. Or bring a camping spoon, which you can clean yourself. It's handy if you're not sure when the provided cutlery was last used, or how it was cleaned.

Boiling water – at any altitude – is a hugely effective way to ensure it is safe to drink. Five minutes of boiling should be enough. Even if you're using a water purifier, try to choose from the cleanest source possible, and never drink water from rivers, lakes or wells without purifying it first.

If travelling with a phone, set yourself a daily or weekly reminder to take whatever preventatives you need for your journey. If not, coincide taking tablets with the same meal each day to make it part of your routine.

Head to your local travel clinic for medical, dental and eye tests before you go – it could save a lot of pain and expense on the road. Don't wait until you're thousands of miles from home with your only option being a dentist who doesn't speak your language.

Keep fresh on the flight: keep hydrated and use mineral-water aerosol sprays or moisturiser; avoid excessive amounts of alcohol, tea and coffee; stand and stretch regularly, and fl ex your toes and calves while sitting; break up long-haul flights with stopovers – even a few hours of fresh air can help avoid jetlag.

Keep your travel insurance details on you, including contact help lines. In the unlikely event you need treatment, this will speed up the process and make sure your insurer is informed. Also email yourself a scan of your policy certificate.

Keep a small bottle of hand cleanser in your pocket. It's hugely effective in preventing the spread of bacteria and can be used before and after meals – as well as if you're ever away from a shower for slightly longer than you'd like.

It's perfectly feasible to call your doctor at home for a diagnosis or second opinion over the phone. In some cases, your insurance company will insist you talk to someone in your home country, so carry your doctor's number and, if possible, let them know in advance that you're going to be away.


Travel insurance is mostly health insurance, which is why the costs increase hugely when you get to retirement age – and particularly if you're visiting North America if you're not from there. For it to be effective though, every pre-existing condition must be declared – otherwise your policy could be worthless and you could end up with a very large bill.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) likes inactivity. Wear compression socks and do your stretches, and give the travelator a miss – walk to and from your flights. If you've got an hour to kill, power up the iPod and take a walk to the furthest departure gate. You might spot an A380 while keeping your blood pumping.

"Most people don't realise how often respiratory infections – coughs, colds and flu – are linked to travel. Flu is by far the most common infection preventable by vaccine. Seasonal flu occurs during January, February and March in the northern hemisphere; during June, July and August in the southern hemisphere; and all year round in the tropics. It also occurs readily on cruise ships, especially when passengers fly in from all over the world. A pre-trip flu jab is often a good bet."

– David Else, Lonely Planet author



Dr Richard Dawood is the director of the Fleet Street Clinic in London. Here are some of his smart suggestions for keeping healthy while travelling.

Beating Jetlag

People get very confused about why they feel in bad shape at the end of a long journey. If you begin to understand the causes of jetlag you can arrive in better shape.

In fact, there are two different things that make us feel lousy after a long flight. The first is that long flights are stressful and tiring. They involve inevitable worry, discomfort, dehydration and bad sleep. If you tackle each of these separate issues, one by one, potential solutions are obvious. You can't get around them totally, but you can minimise them.

The second is the effect of crossing time zones rapidly. The best way to tackle jetlag itself is to expose yourself to daylight or bright light. Consider also (on medical advice) taking melatonin at bedtime in your new time zone. It's perfectly reasonable to talk to your doctor about short-acting sleeping pills to help avoid lying in bed trying to sleep. It won't change the rate of adjustment but it will mean not being exhausted.

Avoiding Bites

Most of us are aware of malaria but not quite so aware of other diseases that are transmitted by ticks and other biting insects, so it's good to have a generic plan to reduce the number of bites.

You don't have to put insect repellent on your skin – it's not a skin lotion. You don't want to stink of it but it can be on your clothing. Apply an insect killer, such as permethrin, to clothing to kill ticks on contact. Use a plug-in insect killer in your hotel room at night.

Street Food

The cardinal rule is that heat makes things safe. If it's hot food then it matters much less what else is going on and is generally safe to eat, but watch for re-contamination from unhygienic hands, whether they belong to you or the person who's serving your food. If you've seen it come out of the fire, it may be more reliable than what comes out of the kitchen at a five-star hotel.

This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet's Best Ever Travel Tips by Tom Hall © Lonely Planet 2010. $14.99