Traveling abroad can be an incredible and enlightening experience. But if you intend to stay abroad in a foreign country for a few days or weeks, then you have to remember that not every country’s health care system is up to the standards of the West.
Countries like Iraq, Syria, and North Korea have dismal healthcare systems thanks to war and poverty, but few tourists make plan to visit those countries. But tourists should in fact be leery of many popular tourist destinations and their health risks.
Here are five places where tourists should take particular care of their health, both in preventing illnesses and in ensuring proper treatment when ill.
Traveler’s diarrhea is nicknamed “Montezuma’s revenge” for a reason. Any travel guide will tell you that if you carelessly eat contaminated food or drink the tap water in Mexico or other developing nations, you will find yourself laid up for about three to five days and need to go to the bathroom frequently. This disease results from bits of human feces or garbage which can contaminate your food or water. About 30 to 50 percent of travelers to tropical destinations like Mexico will get this disease, so it is critical to be prepared.
Boiling tap water or drinking bottled water will prevent one of the main causes of this disease, but that is not enough. You cannot eat foods which have been washed with tap water. This means eating no unpeeled raw fruit or vegetables, such as apples and lettuce. Furthermore, water used for brushing and shaving should also be purified, and try to avoid swallowing any shower water.
China is an interesting case. Health care in cities like Beijing and Nanjing is adequate, if not on par with the West. But if you travel into the interior, things start to get dicey. Hospitals are not as sterile, and doctors and nurses will not hesitate to reuse needles. The latter should be particularly concerning given that HIV has made inroads into the Chinese population.
One thing which visitors to any hospital should do is make it clear that they will not accept any blatantly unsanitary practices like reused needles, and perhaps carry their own supplies just in case. Doctors and nurses will undoubtedly grouse afterwards about the arrogant, whiny foreigner. But if the choice is between hurting someone else’s feelings or risking a deadly disease, it should be obvious what is the proper choice.
India has many of the problems which afflict Mexico and China. Its health care facilities outside the major cities are problematic and it is advised to purify any food and water before consumption.
But unlike those countries, India is noticeable for having a problem with malaria. Even though this disease has been all but eradicated in the Western world, about 40,000 Indians die from the disease every year. Furthermore, malaria is present throughout all of the non-mountainous regions of India, though it is worse in East India around the area of Kolkata.
Travelers planning to go to India should see about getting preventative medicine for malaria, in addition to vaccinations for typhoid fever, Hepatitis A and B, and maybe even yellow fever if you are passing through a country with a risk of that disease. This preparation should take place four to six weeks before departing.
There is more to being healthy than just eating the right foods and avoiding diseases. In much of the Middle East, you will have to take care to avoid heatstroke, especially if you plan to vacation there in the summer. In Morocco, this is even more of a concern with the inconsistent level of health care you are likely to receive.
Many expats have reported that medical facilities, outside the main cities, are basic. It is advisable for anyone visiting the country to get private insurance. There is also other salient advice to follow when visiting this North African country.
As a tourist who may not be used to such heat, you should probably do the same thing. Drink plenty of (purified) water and wait until it cools down before you explore the beautiful beaches or the rich culture there.
If you do end up needing medical care, make sure you read the fine print of any hospital forms you will be signing. It is not unheard of for healthcare professionals to charge significantly more to tourists and hospital negligence continues to be a problem. Taking out private insurance is a must but also make sure that your cover includes emergency evacuation and repatriation.
5. Aboard a cruise ship
A cruise ship may not pose the same health risks as a village in the Chinese interior, but the luxury which you can find aboard a cruise can pose opposite health problems. Eating too much good food too quickly combined with the roiling of a ship can lead to nausea, seasickness, and a cruise where you end up spending way too much time in the bathroom.
Moderation is key to all health. Eat in moderation, get exercise outside by walking on deck when you can, and do not get completely drunk. All those things will ensure that you actually enjoy yourself and do not end up with a vicious headache or worse.
Traveling abroad without preparing is a foolhardy enterprise, and this applies above all to your health. But this does not mean that you should stay home in fear of a few days’ diarrhea. Some risk-taking is acceptable, and as long as you take adequate health and safety measures, you will gain the experience of a lifetime.