Tips to Avoid Getting Sick on Holidays

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We go through all the trouble of planning where to stay and what we are going to do each day on our trip so why is it that after all this effort we leave our health in the hands of the gods. Holiday illness is one of the main reasons why otherwise perfectly planned trips end up being a disappointment. And there’s no wonder – getting sick gets sucks, whether it is during your holiday or when you get home.

Here is a selection of the most common ailments you may encounter on your travels.

Altitude Sickness

If you are planning on traveling to altitudes above 8000 ft then we recommend spending a day or so acclimatizing before doing any strenuous activity. Especially when traveling to countries such as Nepal, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Altitude sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen or low air pressure and the common symptoms include headaches, fatigue, nausea, stomach upsets, and dizziness. If you experience any of these symptoms at altitude it is a good idea to rest up and stay put. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol to avoid getting dehydrated.

Ear Pressure

Doctors say that ear pain is one of the most common travel afflictions. Air pressure in the middle ear should be the same as that outside your body. The ear’s Eustachian tubes help keep it this way. On a plane, the pressure changes rapidly during take-offs and landings playing havoc with this.

So, the air pressure in the middle and outer ears becomes different – and eardrums are pulled towards the brain. In most cases, this is merely painful but in very rare instances eardrums perforate.

Swallowing helps many people while others find chewing gum or sucking sweets helpful. Some say taking decongestants prevents pain. Symptoms are worse if you have a blocked nose.

Travelers Diarrhea

It’s one of the most common holiday illnesses a traveler could contract during their holiday. The cause of diarrhea while traveling is generally a bacterial infection due to poor hygiene.

How to avoid getting Travelers’ Diarrhea

  • Make sure your food is thoroughly cooked. Raw food is a big danger. This includes salad. If you do want salad then make sure it has been washed in bottled water.
  • Eat fruit you can peel like bananas
  • Drink bottled water (make sure the seal is intact when you buy it)
  • Avoid ice cubes as they often contain bacteria

When I travel I generally will take some Imodium with me, just in case I come down with a case of ‘the runs’. If you do happen to get diarrhea, make sure to drink plenty of water and replace your salts to avoid dehydration.

You don’t want this as your holiday
You don’t want this as your holiday


If you’re on an island holiday or a beach break it’s easy to get excited and enjoy the beautiful, scorching sun a little bit too much. Do not underestimate the power of the sun. Have a waterproof sunblock with you at all times. It is recommended to get a sunblock with at least 30 SPF (Sun Protection Factor). It is important to know that this actually means your skin will take 30 times longer to burn than with no protection.

Tips to Relieve Sunburn

  • Apply cold compresses for immediate local relief. Wrap ice cubes in a towel and press against burnt skin
  • Use pain killers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) to relieve discomfort and suffering
  • Apply aloe – aloe will keep your skin moist after sun dried it out
  • Drink lots of water. Keep yourself hydrated – or better yet, over-hydrated. Drink way more water than you would otherwise

If you’re traveling with children, be particularly careful not to expose them to too much sun. Little children should wear sunglasses, hats, and plenty of ‘maximum protection’ sunblock at all times. It’s best to use a sunblock that’s not waterproof on children, as they rub their faces a lot and could get it in their eyes, making it rather difficult to get out afterward. There are also specially designed swimsuits that block out UV rays.


Hepatitis causes serious damage to the liver, so it is not to be taken lightly. As a traveler, you are the most susceptible to Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. There are other strains of Hepatitis, but when it comes to avoiding travel illness, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are the two you need to give a thought. Hepatitis vaccination is routinely performed in many countries – check with your local health center to see if you already have protection.

A vaccination to protect against Hep A consists of a single shot that you should take a few days before departing to your travel destination. A more complete Hepatitis vaccination that gives protection against Hep A and Hep B is also available but needs to be taken as a series of three shots over a six-month period.

Malaria and Dengue Fever

Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. Mosquito bites are unpleasant on principle, therefore, the use of an insect repellent with DEET is highly recommended in any area prone to mosquitos. I also recommend buying inexpensive mosquito netting that can cover your bed and block those suckers from getting to you while you’re sleeping. You can buy one of those in a dollar store and they don’t take up much space in your backpack.


Malaria is no fun at all. It’s actually a dangerous disease that could lead to coma and death. There are pills a doctor can prescribe to you that you should consider taking before and during your travels if you are going to a destination that is prone to Malaria. Just be aware of the side effects of these pills which is commonly photosensitivity (your skin is more sensitive to the sun’s rays) and nausea.

Dengue Fever is another nasty disease caused by mosquitoes and more distressingly has no preventative measures. The best prevention is to avoid being bitten so use a high DEET repellent.

If you are going to mosquito areas avoid soaps or lotions with floral scents (no scents is best). Eating massive amounts of garlic and vitamin B also makes you less tasty.

Motion Sickness

If you’re taking a cruise or bus tour you may experience motion sickness. Good thing is that most cruise ships will have medical professionals on board and guess what they deal with most – Sea Sickness. If you are at all concerned about your tummy then it’s a good idea to get hold of some preventative medication before you set off.

I’ve heard of some people having good results sucking on ice…. Accu-Pressure wristbands that rub anti-nausea spots on people’s wrists sound like a much better solution, but those may not work for everyone. Over-the-counter antihistamines can help since the center of motion sickness in the middle ear. Ginger is great for motion sickness. Whether in the form of tea or just plain old ground it works. Chew on some ginger candy and prevent a plethora of tummy troubles.

Check out our complete guide on Motion Sickness.

Stress and Exhaustion

Stress is a major cause of that run-down feeling which can make a person more susceptible to getting sick. You will no doubt encounter setbacks when you travel so it is important you don’t let them get to you. It is important to remember there are some things you have no control over.

Man hunched over looking tired
Man hunched over looking tired

Don’t try to pack too much into your day. Trying to see too many sights, particularly in a hot climate, can lead to exhaustion. Aside from tiredness, symptoms include dizziness and confusion. Related hot-climate risks: painfully blistered feet and raw, itchy groins. (For the latter, over-the-counter anti-fungal creams are available in most countries).

Get Rest: Much like stress, exhaustion can also help make you more susceptible to the airborne germs that multiply during the colder months of the year. Make sure to get 6-8 hours of sleep nightly to help fend off any germs that may be attempting to bring down your immunity.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

For long air trips, doctors often recommend wearing compression socks. They’re long (to just below the knee) and apply light pressure to the legs – where DVT most often occurs – to encourage blood to move more efficiently through the limbs.

Though it’s relatively rare, higher-risk individuals (people who’ve recently had surgery, for example) should ask doctors whether taking a prescribed blood thinner (anticoagulant) is warranted.

Pack Your Own Pills!

I can’t begin to tell you the importance of this but when going on holiday, make sure you pack enough of your own prescribed medication. Make sure you have a full supply and it might even be worth carrying extra. Don’t assume you will find a pharmacy with the medication you need at your destination. That goes in particular if you’re traveling overseas. It’s often extremely difficult to find the medications you need at a dose you need in foreign countries. Even if you’re traveling to a country similar to your home country (for example Australian traveling to New Zealand), pack enough of your own medication.

It’s a good idea to have your doctor write a list of your medication for you to take. In some countries, the prescription drugs you take might be illegal. Avoid the hassle and pack your medication in your hand luggage and declare it to immigration.

Check With Your Travelers Clinic

Consult your local Travel Health Clinic and ask for advice on the requirements for where you’re traveling. They will have up-to-date information on the location and will inform you of necessary or suggested vaccinations and whatever other precautions you should be aware of.

Illnesses that require vaccinations include Typhoid Fever, Influenza, Hepatitis A and B, Varicella, Japanese Encephalitis, Meningococcal Meningitis, Rabies, and Yellow Fever.

If you’re an Australian, go to the Travelvax website for a clinic near you.

Traveler’s Checklist

  • Aloe Vera Gel
  • Diarrhea Pills (Imodium)
  • Anti-Nausea Medication
  • Band-Aids
  • Birth Control
  • Condoms
  • Eye Drops
  • Insect Repellent with high DEET
  • Mosquito Netting
  • Painkillers – Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen
  • Sunblock with 30 SPF
  • Your Prescription Medication
  • Travel Insurance
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Michael Glass

Michael is the founder of Backpacker Travel. He also runs walking tours in San Francisco and is a freelance travel writer. Michael is extremely passionate about travel and loves to explore festivals around the world.

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One comment on “Tips to Avoid Getting Sick on Holidays”

  1. Acetaminophen is contraindicated during dengue fever because of the added strain it puts on the already highly at risk liver.

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