I haven’t had the best of luck avoiding getting sick in India. Although they make for funny travel stories, “Did I tell you about the time I had to sprint through the Delhi airport to the toilet?” it’s usually less than fun.
When I lived overseas, I developed a pretty robust “iron gut” because of the exposure to different bacteria. It took a while, and enjoyed my fair share of gastrointestinal challenges (dysentery was not a highlight). That iron gut is long gone and I’ve figured out some ways to manage the inevitable.
Since I’m heading to Mumbai and Goa later this week, I am taking some extra precautions to see if I can avoid getting sick this time. Fingers crossed. Here are some tips if you’ve got travel to India and you’d like to not spend the entire time in the bathroom.
Before you go:
This time, I’m going to my travel medicine clinic in the neighborhood. If you’ve never been to India, I highly recommend it so you can get appropriate vaccines to avoid Hepatitis and Typhoid. They’ll provide advice (similar to below) and set you up with an antibiotic (in case you do contract something nasty) and malaria medication (if needed).
What to bring:
After getting sick on the road, often I don’t over-do it on the kit I bring with me. Pharmacies overseas are helpful (and often cheaper) and have most everything you’ll need. But, if you have certain brands of medicine you like, it’s always good to bring along.
- Mosquito repellant, since I’ll be in a malaria zone
- Sunscreen–a LOT of it
- Immodium, in case I end up sick and have to hop on the 15 hour flight back. Usually, I’ll let a bug work it’s way through the system unless I have to work or I’m getting on a plane. Although, I have been on a plane and had to deal with it.
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer gel
What to avoid:
I used to have the rule to “only eat at the hotel restaurant” before I had a meeting. Until I got sick from the hotel restaurant. I love food, and particularly Indian food and street food, so this can be a pretty sure bet on getting sick. A few guidelines to follow to avoid the worst cases (the throw up kind, you know what I’m saying…)
- Street food that isn’t fresh or isn’t cooked in front of you. Pick stalls that look busy with locals with stuff that doesn’t look like it’s been sitting there a month. Staying veg-only can help, too.
- Salad. Man, I love salad, so it’s hard for me not to eat lettuce for a week or more. Unless you see that salad washed in safe water, best to avoid.
- Juice. Again, there are amazing fruits and juices in the tropics. Stick to shops that look like they use purified water and ice.
- Water. This is the biggest culprit–only bottled water with secure caps. Don’t brush your teeth with tap water. Don’t wash food with it.
- Fruit. If you can’t peel it, don’t eat it. Side of the road fruit cut with a skanky knife can get you sick, too.
- Sauces. Some sauces are made with water.
Let’s be honest, being vigilant will help, but there’s a lot of great food in India. I usually stay pretty vigilant until after my work commitments are done, then I get a little crazy. And then I pay for that.
A funny aside…one time, I was in a very hip/modern hotel with a square toilet seat. I got sick. That was the WORST.
While you’re there:
Wash your hands. A lot. E. Coli and other nasty bacteria spreads when you touch something then touch your mouth. Bring hand sanitizer and wash a ton.
And if all that doesn’t work and you get sick:
Stay hydrated. Go to the pharmacy (if you didn’t bring antibiotics) if you’re in rough shape for 24 hours (or vomiting). They’ll hook you up with hydration salts, antibiotics, and anything else you need.
Wish me luck on this trip!