This was the obvious next post after telling the tale of getting an Asian eye virus and having to go the hospital in Vietnam.
Even though my experience keeps getting funnier in proportion to my eye getting better, the situation is no joke. I was very lucky. I got a skin infection. Last night I met a kid who got Typhoid. I also have a Dad who is a physician and could keep an eye on my condition with relative ease. Most people - including locals who suffer from these same issues - are not so lucky.
My health was something I didn't take seriously in the slightest in regards to my trip. I figured I am young, I am healthy, I am invincible.... what could ever affect me?
Even before I got my eye virus, I realized I had been very wrong. I was in a completely different environment, and my body was struggling to adapt.
It is hot here. My god, it is hot. When I travelled to Sapa and it was only 70 degrees F during the day, I actually wore a sweater. Additionally... it is sticky. The food is different. Clean water isn't very accessible. Bugs are rampant. The sun is so strong it bakes your skin. Even just a few mins outside without protection is enough to give you a bad burn.
Even though I had to go to the hospital, I have, for the most part, been very lucky in my travels in regards to my health. This is how I do it....
MY TOP TRAVEL HEALTH TIPS AS SOMEONE WHO HAS MADE IT THIS FAR..
1. DRINK WATER UNTIL YOU FEEL SICK
.... and then drink some more. This is my number one tip for life, but even more so when traveling. Especially in SE Asia, where the sun and heat are incredibly draining, you don't even realize how much they take it out of you. Always have water on you. Drink it until it becomes such a habit that you don't even realize you are doing it.
2. BUG SPRAY AND SUNSCREEN, ALWAYS
Bug bites are actually one area where I do have superhuman resistance. Bugs don't like me very much... and I STILL am completely polka dotted right now. I brought my bug spray and sunscreen from home because they were brands I knew and trusted. Because it is fashionable to have pale skin in Asia, a lot of sunscreen has skin bleaching agents in it..... I wasn't messing with that, so I brought my own. If you think you don't have room, I was able to fit it into my carryon bag, so trust me, you have room.
I like Ben's Deet Wipes. One wipe covers the whole body and they are easy to keep in a couple of places so you're never without.
3. TRAVEL INSURANCE
You would think this one would be a given, but it is not. A lot of people don't travel with insurance. This is sooo dumb if god forbid something were to happen and you needed medical attention... or if you ever needed air lifted which costs an actual fortune. A lot of countries won't let you in if you don't have insurance, so you see a lot of people (cheap backpackers) buying it at the airport. A lot of people use world nomads. My dad thought the coverage was better with squaremouth. Whatever you pick, just get it.
4. DON'T ACTIVELY DO DUMB THINGS
If you see a white person limping around SE Asia, no one even asks. It is just assumed that they got into a motorbike accident. I think a good thing to remember is that just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn't mean it is safe. Everyone takes a motorbike ride from Hue to Hoi An - this was easily the worst part of my trip. I spent the entire trip fearing for my life. I am in Da Lat right now and everyone is talking about canyoning. That is fine, but I am hesitant. Always take the time to research things, even if everyone else swears it is safe.
5. ZIT CREAM
Everyone I speak to about this agrees - the weather is NOT doing things for our skin. I have never in my life broken out as much as I have in the past 3 weeks in Asia. Sweat, smog, bug spray, and sunscreen is a bad concoction to to mix with inconsistent showers and less then stellar sanitary conditions. You're going to break out, it is a fact. Bring something to fix it.
6. DON'T ITCH YOUR BUG BITES
For all I know, this is the reason I got my skin virus. There is bacteria everywhere... and a lot of it is foreign to your body. Don't let open cuts just chill... apply antiseptic and cover them. Don't itch your bug bites into bloody messes. You can buy tiger balm (basically icy hot) anywhere here, including the women who approach you with baskets of junk to buy. Use that to sooth your bites.
7. BRING PRODUCTS YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH
This is not the time to try a new face wash or cream. Give your body some form of familiarity and bring products from home you use in your daily life.
I am a pedialyte advocate and I am not ashamed to admit it. Yes, yes, pedialtye is for sick babies... but it also for dehydrated adults. This is my quick fix when I am feeling particularly sluggish or dyhydrated. Also, sometimes I am hungover but need to tour a city - pedialtye, I couldn't do it without you.
Pedialtye makes powder packets you can dump in a water bottle (a large one). Bring some, you wont regret it.
8. BRING A FIRST AID KIT
This is obvious.
9. BE SMART ABOUT STREET FOOD
Street food has been one of the best parts of my trip. It is the greatest place to people watch, try local foods, and stay on budget. However... not all street food is made the same. Everyone tells me I am brave for trying it, but I am just smart. Only eat at a place crowded by locals where the food is served steaming hot. That should fix 99% of your issues. If something looks like it has been sitting out for a while, or just generally suspect, don't eat it - problem solved.
10. BE SMART ABOUT WATER/ICE
You have been out in the beating sun all day. You are hot, exhausted, and dehydrated. You stop into a cafe to cool down. You order a drink and... it is served to you chilled with a chunk of ice it it. It looks so refreshing but.. don't drink it. You don't know how that ice was made. Same goes when you are severed a glass of water. Only drink bottled water. Even when they tell you their ice was made from bottled water and they have a filter in the kitchen, you don't actually know. Yes, it is incredibly less convenient, but as someone who met a kid who got Typhoid while traveling, only drink bottled water. This includes brushing your teeth.
11. GET VACCINATED
I wrote an entire post on this. Now that I am here, covered in bug bites and keep accidentally opening my mouth in the shower, I am so happy I have the extra protection.
12. TRAVEL WITH ANTIBIOTICS
On my last trip I travelled with a Zpack. This time I had something a little bit stronger. I was grateful, because when my eye started to look like a halloween mask, I was able to start taking antibiotics immediately. I was lucky because I was close to major city when things started to go awry, but there were many areas where this was not the case and getting to a hospital to get antibiotics would have been a full day trip. Talk to your doctor and make it happen.
13. BE AWARE
If I get seriously injured, I already know how it will happen - from a motorbike driver on a busy street. SE Asia is a place where being vigilant can save your life.
14. HAND SANITIZER, ALWAYS
I am not a clean person (seriously, just ask my mom), but I couldn't live in SE Asia without hand sanitizer. Sanitary conditions are mediocre at best, even in hostels and restaurants. Always have some on you. When you roll over on a night bus and your entire arm gets covered in mystery goo (actually happened), you will be happy you have it.
Stay healthy, kids!
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