How to stay healthy when going abroad: be prepared & proactive

Plan ahead:

Getting sick is a drag anywhere. It is especially heart breaking when you have worked hard all year to take valuable vacation time. When traveling to foreign countries your immune system will likely encounter “new” germs and toxins. So, before you leave home, spend the few weeks ahead preparing your body to fight. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, get lots of sleep and exercise, and try to manage daily stress through Yoga, meditation or mindfulness. It also doesn’t hurt to try and avoid others who may have flu symptoms or colds.Another great way to plan ahead is to ensure that any medications you take regularly are well stocked and easily reachable throughout your trip. Carry any and all prescriptions with you including those for lenses (just in case).  You can also check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for any recommendations for the area you are traveling. It is also a great idea to bring a small first aid kit for any minor emergencies along the way.

Stay healthy:

Now that you have gotten off on the healthiest start possible, stay that way! Here are some helpful tips to avoid unwanted illness during travel:

  1. Drink LOTS of water
  2. Avoid tap water where possible
  3. Wear appropriate footwear for all occasions
  4. Take group or licensed transportation (*a major cause of death or injury while traveling is road accidents)
  5. Always use mosquito repellant when necessary
  6. Don’t forget sunscreen

Although these tips don’t guarantee that you won’t get sick, they will ensure that you are protected from more serious illnesses and injuries that could easily ruin a great trip. And remember, travel with an open mind and be well.

All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you…

Remember that tune by The Hollies from 1974 “The Air I Breathe”?  That plays in my head as I speed through Chiang Mai on the back of my daughter’s motorbike.  I wear a white mask along with my helmet.  And sensible shoes.  And long pants. I rode one timewithout the helmet to a night of Thai barbecue.  As cars sped past us nearly sideswiping us off the road, my mantra was “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.”  The little Thai gals sit sidesaddle on the backs of bikes in straight skirts, their pretty dark hair unemcumbered by an ugly helmet.  Nevermind.  I want to live.

Anyway, back to the mask.  If you remain in northern Thailand for the burning season which can run from February to April, you will encounter smoke, dust, and haze.  It is everywhere.  In the mountains, the valleys, the city.  If you suffer from sensitive sinusesas I do, it can be especially problematic. The air quality suffers so badly this time of year because all the rice farmers burn the leftover straw in their fields. It’s sort of like when they burn the sugar cane in Hawaii.

These are photos published in the Telegraph Travel Section in 2012 showing those protesting the declining air quality.  It got so bad that year a record number of people ended up in the hospital with breathing difficulties.  Supposedly, some laws were enacted to alleviate the situation but it is unclear how well these are being enforced.

smog in chaing maichiang mai smog

So what can you do?

Well, first of all, if you can avoid traveling to the north from March through June, you should miss the haze and bad air. With the start of the rainy season in June, the air will begin to get scrubbed clean and the air quality should slowly begin to improve.

Go to the south.  Tour the famous Buddhas of Bangkok.  Lay on the beach in Krabi.

If you must be in Chiang Mai at this time of year, then plan to stay inside as much as you can. Now would be the time to pay more for an expensive taxi and leave the motorbike at home.

Invest in a good quality air purifier.  Go to your local Tesco Lotus and buy the best one you can afford.  Run it continuously.

While you’re at Tesco, buy some nasal spray.  Get two bottles: one of saline and one of Nasacort.  Use the saline often.  Use the Nasacort as directed on the package.  It is wise to be proactive with it especially if you’re like me and get sinus infections easily.

When you must go out, wear a mask.  Get a good one that is rated N95.  You might have to go to a department or home store to get one of these.  I usually purchase a box of them for myself back in the states and take it with me.

Burn season will be unpleasant, but it won’t last.  Spend a little extra money.  It will be worth your health in the long run.