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There are a myriad of articles online providing tips for staying healthy while traveling abroad; stay active, wash your hands, eat well, be cautious of the tap water. However staying healthy should start at home, before you depart for overseas. How can I stay healthy while traveling the world?

Travel can put real pressure on our immune system, even if it’s for fun; the stress, breaking the routine, “plastic” inflight food,  jet lag, exposure to sick people, and environmental toxins. These all take their toll.

So while washing hands with soap and using hand sanitizer while you’re away are all great tips, these practices won’t stop you from getting sick if you have a weak immune system before you go. A strong immune system will keep you healthy despite everyone else coughing and sneezing around you, and will protect you from that bacteria circling through the airline A/C.

So it’s important to take care of your immune system whether traveling for business or pleasure.  And, if you prefer to spend your time abroad doing what you love rather than being sick in bed, there are a few things you can do to prepare your immune system by staying healthy before you travel.

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How to Strengthen Your Immune System Before Travel

Your immune system is your body’s defence against infection and illness. It recognises the cells that make up your body, and will try to get rid of anything unfamiliar. It destroys germs (bacteria and viruses) and parasites. If your immune system is weak it allows germs and parasites to take hold and you get sick. How can I boost my immune system naturally?

A strong immune system can’t be built overnight. You should try to maintain a healthy digestive system and keep stress levels in check most of the time. Make strengthening your immune system a priority two weeks before holiday travel time. A few things to consider: How to make your immune system strong. 

Maintain a Healthy Diet:

Eat high-protein, high fiber, low carb meals, which are easy to digest, with plenty of fresh veggies. Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. How to not get sick overseas?

Eat fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, yoghurt) which contain probiotics. Take extra Vitamin C and B to naturally boost your immune system too.

Drink at least 8 glasses of 8 oz of water per day.  Rehydrate with water, not soda, while traveling. What should I eat while I’m traveling overseas?

Exercise:

Be as active as possible to maintain proper blood circulation, and a healthy weight. Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases.

Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. By maintaining good blood flow and circulation, you are allowing the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.

It only takes 30 minutes of aerobic exercise—a brisk walk counts—to sweep white blood cells back into circulation, making your immune system run more smoothly. What kind of exercise can I do when traveling overseas?

Get Plenty of Good Quality Sleep:

At least 8 hours each night. Sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system and make it more vulnerable to developing an illness. Sleep produces more natural levels of melatonin, restoring the immune system.

The perfect example: college students who get sick after pulling all-nighters cramming for exams. How much should I sleep to stay healthy?

Don’t Smoke:

And don’t be around your friends when they do. Smoking is obviously terrible for the whole body, though secondhand smoke can be just as harmful.

Avoid secondhand smoke as much as you can—including spending time with people while they smoke. Encourage anyone in your everyday life (husband, coworkers, or neighbor friends) to quit. Is smoking bad for you?

Throw Out the Antibiotics:

Those who are addicted to antibiotics at the first sign of a runny nose can often make themselves resistant to these drugs over time, causing more serious infections. Will antibiotics help my immune system?

“Researchers found that certain patients taking antibiotics had reduced levels of cytokines, the hormone messengers of the immune system. When your immune system is suppressed, you’re more likely to develop resistant bacteria or become sick in the future.” How to boost your immune system?

Take antibiotics only for bacterial infections, use them right away, and take the entire course. Don’t use antibiotics preventively unless prescribed by your doctor, and don’t save or share unfinished courses.

Minimize Your Stress:

The relationship between your mind and body are closely linked, and a wide variety of illnesses, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Best healthy travel. 

If you can maintain a positive attitude, and a good outlook on life this may be good for your health. How to avoid getting sick overseas. 

“One study of law students showed that their immune systems kept pace with their thoughts about how tough school would be. When they felt better about school, they had a better immune system. When they were worried, their immune system slowed. The upshot: Looking on the bright side might better equip your body to fight illnesses.” Will I get sick overseas?

Maintain Good Oral Health:

Many people overlook oral health when it comes to preventing a cold, but it can play a big role in your overall health. teeth and your immune system.

Brushing, flossing and using antiseptic mouthwash before your trip will keep bacteria away. How to brush your teeth overseas. 

Pro Tip: Remember when traveling that if the tap water in your destination is not good to drink, you shouldn’t brush your teeth with it either. Source bottled water or use a filtration device first.

Carry Your Own Pen:

When you get up in the morning, don’t leave the house without a pen in your pocked or purse. Taking one where-ever you go will help prevent picking up cold and fly germs which are easily passed through hand-to-hand contact.

Anyway you can avoid touching public objects like the communal pen at the bank, the doctors, or the delivery guy, will cut down your risk of picking up a virus. Should I travel overseas if I am sick? Weak immune system. 

Be Skeptical:

There are many products out there which claim to boost or support immunity, however it is largely your lifestyle which will lead to an improved immune response when it comes to tackling disease.

Taking a daily multivitamin is great to stay healthy if you eat poorly. But taking stupid doses of a single vitamin or supplement has not been proven to help the immune system, and is not necessarily a good thing. For example, athletes who pump blood into their systems to boost their number of blood cells and enhance their performance run the risk of strokes.

The problem is that there are so many different kinds of cells in the immune system that respond to so many different microbes in so many ways. Which cells should you boost, and to what number? So far, scientists don’t know.  You should primarily aim to boost your immune system naturally.

These tips were brought to you by IndividualHealth.com. We might do everything we can to stay healthy before we travel, however when it comes down to it, covering ourselves with a comprehensive international health insurance plan is the only way to guarantee avoiding out of pocket medical expenses if you get sick overseas.

We go through Tim Jennings at Individual Health for insurance with #GeoBlue – they’re a worldwide insurer with a network of elite doctors in over 180 countries and a hugely helpful mobile app for quick and easy access to quality care for anything from emergency needs, to filling a simple prescription, to translating your symptoms, to finding the right doctor at home or abroad.

Contact Tim Jennings at sales@individualhealth.com or click for a free quote.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

    82 Comments

  1. This is so spot on! I’m usually so frazzled running around before leaving on a trip that by the time I even make it to the airport I’m exhausted. Not the best start. These are all great tips!

    • Dont worry, I think we’ve all been there done that!! Glad we could help you out with some tips!

    • I can never get enough :D!

    • I needed to write to to remind myself as well!!

  2. Great post! I am the worst sick person in the world so I do everything in my power to try and stay healthy or I feel like my world is temporarily going to end!

    I swear by probiotics when travelling in places like Asia, and for travelling in general I have superfood.

    There is one particular brand, Vital Greens (but they are only available in Australia, or online) which are good because they come in sachets and they have a probiotic element too.

    I don’t eat meat, so if I am somewhere where I have been gorging on things like bread and cheese because there was no other choice, I balance it out by having a Vital Greens sachet with my breakfast in the morning.

    • Thanks Cyra! Glad you found it useful.

      You and my husband are alike – he goes to the ends of the earth to stay healthy and has a huge phobia about being sick, especially when traveling!

      We are yet to travel through Asia, but will definitely be taking probiotics when we do eventually get the opportunity to get there. We’ll probably be based in AUstralia by the time we get to Asia so will definitely look into Vital Green – thanks for the great tip!

  3. Great tips Megan! Sleep and staying hydrated are definitely most important.

    • Thanks Zorica – people underestimate the importance of looking after your health before traveling, but simple things like stress, sleep & hydration actually make such a world of good!

      Safe travels!

  4. Last year I had a cold in March, didn’t take care of myself and in April I went sick to Hawaii. Love the recommendations. In may I’m going to Paris.

    • Glad you found the post useful :) Have a wonderful trip to Paris in May! You’ll love it!!

  5. You’re absolutely right. Whenever and wherever in the world I travel and no matter when,I always put my health at the peak of priorities.Especially when I travel solo, all things are set to remind me with your whole tips.

    • Absolutely – health always comes first, and the one thing we’ve realized is that if you don’t manage it when you can, it can then turn into something even worse and cause bigger problems down the road.

      Travel safe!

  6. My mom is a bit of a health freak, so she preached these kind of tips to me and it has helped me immensely on my travels. There are so many countries that are fascinating to travel to, but don’t have the healthiest environment. It’s no fun to be sick when you are traveling, so great advice :)

    An extra tip would be to put lemon in water. Lemons are easy to find, and it keeps your body alkaline.

    • Lemon in water is a great tip, thanks Natalie! My mum has actually just started doing this each morning as a replacement to her coffee, and she swears by it as part of healthy living.

      Might start trying to introduce one cup a day :)

  7. All good tips, but I especially love the one about the pen. So true and always useful to have in any case.

    • Absolutely! We’ve started carrying around a few – usually I manage to steal them from the hotel rooms we stay in while abroad to stock up on my supply 😀

    • Absolutely! I don’t drink as much as I should, so I’m always trying to remind myself to drink more in the lead up to a trip :)

    • Thanks Marie – glad to hear you haven’t fallen ill while traveling yet. Preventative measures are key :)

  8. I’m sick in bed as I read this! Great tips. I am with you on carrying your own pen. I also wipe mine down when I lend it to someone on airplanes. Another great one is to lay off those creepy overly powerful antibacterial soaps. Not good for the immune system at all.

    • Oh no!! Sorry to hear that Sarah, though glad we could set you up with some immune boosting tips :) Pens are a big one for me – always carry my own supply. Biggest way to avoid the majority of sicknesses and germs.

      Thanks for the tips on the antibacterial soaps – hadn’t considered that at all.

      Hope you feel better soon XXX

  9. Fabulous post Meg! I wish I had this information when I first started travelling nonstop. I’ve been on the road for 6 months now, and learned a few of your tips the hard way, but found a few new ones here too (I had no idea that stress can affect your immune system!). I was incredibly sick the first few months of our trip.. thanks so much for sharing this vital information.
    Andrea Leblang recently posted…A Luxurious Journey To PetraMy Profile

    • Thanks Andrea! Hopefully you’ll be able to apply these tips as you continue your travels and there won’t be any more sick days on the itinerary for you :)

      Travel safe X

  10. Such great common sense tips! Having been around children for so many years, I find my immune system is pretty tough. But, my poor hubby has been sick while we have traveled and now we are very regimented with diet, hydration, and sleep so as not to repeat pharmacy visits across the globe!
    Jackie recently posted…How to Get the Most Out of Your United MilesMy Profile

    • Thanks Jackie! Children will definitely help with toughening the immune system up!! Sorry to hear that your husband has been suck often though – that healthy diet and hydration and sleep really will make a huge difference though.

      Travel safe – all the best X

    • Absolutely Gemma – we like to think we’re invincible when in fact we become more vulnerable as we grow older. Preventative measures really are key.

      Travel safe!

  11. We ate yogurt every day before we went to Mexico City. We didn’t get sick, so I guess it worked. It’s definitely good to be prepared before and during travel, so I’ll have to remember your tips.
    Mindi recently posted…7 Fun Things to Do In Lake Charles LouisianaMy Profile

    • Wooho! Yohurt is a really great source of probiotics – glad to hear you didn’t get sick Mindi. Here’s to healthy travels in there future :) X

  12. So very true. Nothing worse than going on vacation sick! I always found that, when I was super stressed at work, running on adrenaline, as soon as I would take a vacation somewhere and relax, I would immediately fall sick. This happened on so many Christmas! Great tips as always Meg
    Mar recently posted…Chapung Se Bali, Ubud’s sexy hip resortMy Profile

    • Sorry to hear that you were sick over Christmas Mar! It really does take a toll on our body when we’re jumping through so many emotional extremes in a short period of time. It’s the exhaustion and the stress which takes over, and you always feel it afterwards.

      Hope you have a healthier Christmas this year :) Travel safe X

  13. Great tips Megan. Sleep and exercise are definitely key parts to staying healthy on the road. The last few nights I’ve slept terribly and I feel like crap, so now I’m going to go walk 5 miles. Lol.

    • Thanks Carly – so sorry to hear you haven’t been getting decent sleep. Though exercise should definitely help perk you up – I generally hate exercise just for the sake of it lol though I do always feel so awake and so much better afterwards, every single time!! There’s definitely something to it!

    • Thanks Amelie! fermented food is my favorite form of probiotic – try and keep it natural as much as I possibly can :)

    • Thankyou Monica! Glad we could make you think about your health before you travel :) Have a great week X

    • Oh absolutely – I remember getting sick (sunstroke) in Paris while on a trip through Europe with my mum. She ended up heading out to explore Paris for 2 days while I felt sorry for myself in the hotel bed!

      So I can absolutely attest to how much it sucks being sick overseas! Preventative measures are key :)

  14. A nice post, especially in regards to water. However, I believe that the ‘low carb’ approach to meals is a current fad, which will totally be altered again in a few years time. The old advice is always the best – Eat balanced, healthy meals. :)
    Dave from Daves Travel Pages recently posted…The National Historical Museum of GreeceMy Profile

    • Thanks for your input Dave – I do agree that it’s often difficult to stay on top of the latest dietary recommendations because they do seem to change overtime. Definitely the best advice is to eat balanced, healthy meals :)

      Thanks for your comment X

    • Absolutely – we might do everything we can to stay healthy before we travel, however when it comes down to it, a comprehensive international health insurance plan is the only way to guarantee avoiding out of pocket medical expenses if you get sick overseas.

      Because things do happen, people do get sick. Especially if you’re a full time traveler, the more time you spend on the road, the higher your likelihood of falling ill at some stage along the way.

      Best to be covered so you have a security blanket just in case.

    • I’ve found that common sense tips seem to be the most underrated 😀 BUt definitely little things like keeping your own pen and minimizing stress are things people don’t consider in the lead up to a trip.

      Definitely all worth it though…I also find it difficult sometimes to keep stress levels low in the lead up to a departure, but it always pays off in the end :)

      Happy travels Carol :)

    • Thanks Elaine – exercise is always key. I’ve actually never tried Yoga before, but I did love that when we were staying in Kimpton Hotels throughout the States every room included a Yoga mat just in case you wanted to stretch!

      Love that brands like this are beginning to promote healthy living while traveling :)

    • Thanks Natalie! And that’s definitely difficult sometimes when you travel because I found that my time overseas was the only time I would head out to party! But if we can boost our immune system as much as possible before we go maybe it’ll be able to withstand a couple of late nights while we’re away 😀

      I’m right there with you on 8 hours sleep. Mike can probably attest that I’m fairly grumpy the next day without it 😀

      Travel safe! X

  15. great tips! so nice to see them all listed in “list” form. I know most of those things and practice them but seeing them all written down makes it so much easier. my favorite…bring your own pen. one that needs practiced…don’t take antibiotics like candy like so many of my friends do at the first sneeze.
    melody pittman recently posted…36 Hours in Basel, SwitzerlandMy Profile

    • Thanks Melody! I find it’s much easier to digest when everything’s put into a straightforward list that you can just scroll through :)

      And absolutely on the pen and antibiotics – some of my friends too could probably start running their own pharmacy they keep hold of so many of their unfinished courses!!

  16. Great tips! I love the one about bringing your own pen–it’s a bit disturbing to think about how many germs you pick up throughout the day with things like that, lol! I definitely need to work on getting more sleep–that one always is hard for me!!
    Jenna recently posted…Kayaking the Kinnickinnic RiverMy Profile

    • Thanks Jenna! Public pens are one of those things people don’t really think twice about, but I read somewhere that it can actually be worse germs wise than licking a toilet bowl :S Sorry to put that visual out there!!

      I think getting more sleep is a hard one for most people – we try to cram so much into each of our days that sleep ends up just getting in the way 😀 But I’ve come to realize that without my 8 hours I don’t function properly. And I’m not one to say no to an afternoon nap recently either 😀

      Happy travels!

  17. Such good tips! Being sick while traveling is the absolute worst. I think getting enough sleep is number one for preventing sickness; at least for me!

    • Thanks Laura – getting enough sleep is key, and a lot of people try to cut corners on this one, but you’re only doing yourself damage in the long run. Sure, day by day we might be able to run on a little less sleep, but overtime it all adds up and you’ll feel it at some point (been there done that and my body crashed unfortunately!!).

  18. These tips are great. I always use to suffer when travelling, even if it was only a few hours away from home but I think that after traveling full time around France for the last 7 months my system has definitely grown stronger and I am probably healthier as well. I love the tip about the pen though. As someone that always seems to find a pen in the bottom of her bag I have never really thought about the benefits of this until now.
    Tamason Gamble recently posted…Amber’s Bell Tents (Norfolk) – Rustic Glamping at its FinestMy Profile

    • Thanks Tamason – you’re definitely reaping the benefits of carrying your own pen, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. Public pens are the absolute worst for germs!

    • Thanks Tim – absolutely – there are so many small things which we can implement into our lifestyle before we head overseas, all of which are within our control, to maintain our health while away. Prevention is key!

  19. I couldn’t agree with you more! My lifestyle if pretty healthy, I eat lots of fruit and veggies (yet chocolate, too) and exercise at least 1 hour a day, and I almost never get sick when traveling. Sure, I will have some off days but that’s rather normal when there’s a change of routine. I’m currently preparing for Nepal and my physiotherapist told me I’ll make it to Everest Base Camp only if I relax more. Still got 3 weeks to make sure that happens 😉
    antonette – we12travel recently posted…NepalNow: 5 things that I’m worried about when in NepalMy Profile

    • You’ll have an amazing time at Everest Antonette! I’ll be eagerly waiting your blog posts and updates as I would love to get to the mountain myself one day.

      Glad to hear you’ve got the healthy lifestyle covered – definitely rest up over the next three weeks though. Relaxation and little stress is key!

      Have an amazing time – all the best! X

  20. Great tips. After staying healthy on many trips, I finally got sick after my last trip….due in large part to a lack of sleep and less exercise than I am used to.
    Elena recently posted…What Adventure Travel Means to MeMy Profile

    • Sorry to hear that you fell ill Elena – really is amazing the difference that sleep and exercise can make to keeping our body’s on track.

      Travel safe X

  21. Carry a pen? That’s gold dust! We try to maintain a daily (when possible) bodyweight exercise when travelling. It was a struggle at first but once you get into it, it’s extremely rewarding and a great way to keep fit whilst travelling.
    Stefan recently posted…Our experience diving in the Komodo National Park, IndonesiaMy Profile

    • Such underrated advice to carry your own pen!! But the germs really are ridiculous when it comes to public pens. And it’s something everyone uses on pretty much a daily basis.

      Totally agree with you too that a daily exercise routine is extremely rewarding – I also had trouble getting into mine at first, though if becomes routine after a while and you’re so much better for it.

      Thanks Stefan for stopping by :) Happy travels!

  22. Agree with all of the excellent suggestions and especially like the “pen” one….And here I just thought I was an odd-ball, germ-a-phobe!
    I always carry my own pen on me and whip it out the second I need it at doctor’s offices, grocery store, department store, you name it!
    Cheers,
    Katie @ Los O’Gradys in Mexico

    • Nope, not the only germ-a-phobe!! Me too 😀 Have to keep ourselves healthy if we’re continually on the road. Prevention is key!

      Glad you enjoyed the post Kate :) Thanks for stopping by!

  23. Our little tip is that when we take international flights and they come around offering the hot towels before the meal service, we use them to wash our tray and our arm rests. And sometimes we add some of our own hand sanitizer to the mix too! I’m sure people think we are crazy but they are some of the germiest surfaces of anything you’ll touch and they aren’t regularly cleaned, let alone disinfected, by airlines. So i’ll take the strange looks knowing that I’m un-infesting my seat!

    • Fantastic idea Vanessa! I’m going to start doing that too – can’t believe I hadn’t thought about it before. We generally travel with alcohol wipes just in case a tray table inflight is particularly nasty or there’s no soap left in the toilets, though the hot towels are a brilliant idea too.

      Thanks for the tip!

    • Thanks Mary, and absolutely – some of these may be unpopular choices, though it’s the little things which really add up, and prevention is key.

      Implementing small changes to your lifestyle before you go may really go a long way to seeing you get the most out of each day you’re away :)

  24. These are all good tips and I should be taking them to heart but I love food! Haha, just kidding. I try to eat healthy and exercise but it’s hard to do when I’m traveling. However, getting sick abroad is worse so it’s best to stick to these rules.
    Mia recently posted…Vancouver, Washington: The Original VancouverMy Profile

    • Thanks Mia :) Glad you found them helpful…and if you abide by these tips before you go abroad your immune system should be in top shape to allow for a little extra partying or fun food choices while you’re actually away 😀

      All the best X

  25. Traveling is like working out, you need to condition your body first before you go.

    • Absolutely! Great way to put it :)

    • Glad to hear that Mike – and yes, it’s the “just in case” people that aren’t doing themselves any favors by doping up unnecessarily on meds.

  26. Luckily for me, I maintain a pretty healthy way of living, so traveling often doesn’t get the best of me health wise. The only times I’ve been worried about getting sick, is from things like food poisoning in India (which I somehow was able to escape Delhi Belly during out entire stay!) but sometimes it takes a few days for my digestive system to figure out the local bacteria (like when in Asia) Coconut water is my best friend in those situations!
    LeAnna recently posted…How to Do Christmas Markets in Germany RIGHTMy Profile

    • Happy to hear that LeAna, and yes, food poisoning in India manages to get the better of the best of us!! So it’s always good to have built a strong immune system especially when you are eating in parts of the world with different levels of sanitation and cooking to what you may be used to.

      Glad to hear you managed to escape Delhi Belly during your stay though!! I’ve heard some pretty terrible stories from travelers who weren’t so lucky!

      Coconut water is a great tip – thanks for sharing your experience :)

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