In case you missed it in Meet Petra through 50 random facts, I am a germaphobe.
And a doctor.
Yes. I know. I make it work.
I also love to travel. And let me tell you, being a part of the sisterhood of travelling germaphobes is NOT easy at all.
So, I have compiled a list of helpful travel tips for all those who share my mysophobia and my wanderlust.
BEFORE YOU WALK OUT THAT DOOR...
1. Know thy health.
I have talked about knowing thyself but knowing thy health is important too. Make a list of any medical conditions you may have, as well as your current medications and the dosages. Always keep this with you! Doctors hate when patients say that they take 'A little white pill'. There are probably over 500 'little white pills'. Know which ones you're taking and why.
No chronic illnesses? Know your allergies. I have the longest list of food allergies and I have learnt to say what I'm allergic to in different languages. Excessive? No, not really. You'll be thinking about this tip when you spend your vacation in the hospital because you didn't know how to say you're allergic to peanuts in french.
Don't forget to wear a medical alert bracelet, especially if you're travelling alone! Also, keep your medical information in a place that it can easily be found (most health personnel will check pockets and wallets first), along your emergency contact's phone number and address.
No one wants to be admitted to hospital in a strange place, especially in developing countries. However, that doesn't give you the right to be rude to the staff there because it's not what you're used to at home. All over the world, doctors and nurses do their best with what they have. Respect the hustle.
2. Know where you're going.
Travelling to new place is exciting but new places have diseases that you may not be immune to. Consult your doctor about recommended vaccines prior to travel. A simple flu shot is always a good place to start. Also, areas where malaria is endemic, require prophylaxis before you arrive.
3. Check travel alerts.
Any disease outbreak in a country or region prompts a medical travel alert e.g. Zika. It's always a good idea to check for these alerts before you travel and pack any extra meds or items that you might need, like mosquito repellant. The CDC website usually has up-to-date travel warnings and advice for travellers.
4. Get travel insurance.
My island is a popular tourist destination and I can't tell you how many times I've seen people get sick and have no money or means to get home. Even if you follow every tip here, there's still a possibility you may get sick or injured. Travel insurance is a definite must-have for your vacation. Some creditcards offer travel insurance, once you've used that card to pay for your trip. If not, there are tons of companies worldwide that offer good rates. Review them carefully though. The cheapest option may not offer the coverage that you need.
4. Read reviews.
I hate creepy, crawly things that bite or sting. That includes bed bugs. There has been a recent resurgence of bed bugs in major cities worldwide, prompting me to check hotel reviews before my trip. I simply use the keyword 'Bedbug' on hotel review sites and eliminate based on that. No one wants to take home a bedbug as a souvenir from a great vacation.
5. Pack it up.
I have an abnormal love of lists and packing lists are my favourite. (It means I'm going somewhere!)
Here are some of those littles things a germaphobe needs to survive:
- Hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes
- Do you know who touched the escalator before you did? Or who used the bathroom before handling that food tray? Eww...
- Do you really want the 'No Toilet Paper' experience? Or, you might need to sneeze. Cover it up.
- Saline nasal spray and eye drops
- Recycled airplane air can dry the nose and the eyes. This interferes with your innate immunity and puts you at risk for infection.
- Walking though security with no socks is just nasty. NASTY!
- Halitosis or bad breath is caused by bacteria. Clean that dirty mouth!
- A travel pillow and blanket. A pashmina or scarf will work too.
- No one wants to sleep on a pillow that someone else sat on for 8 hours. You might also want a pillow case for your hotel.
- Along with your prescribed meds (which should be kept in your hand luggage), don't forget basics like painkillers, lozenges, antihistamines and anit-nausea pills, in case you need them.
- And please, cover your dirty shoes before you pack them.
- I use old plastic bags from the store but shoe bags are another alternative.
6. Wash your hands.
There is no greater feeling in the world than clean hands. This is probably the most important tip I can give (besides not sitting on strange toilets but that's pretty obvious). Hand washing is essential to avoid becoing ill on your travels, especially before you eat. Our hands touch everything and there are germs everywhere. If there's no soap, resort to your santiser.
7. Germs on a plane.
I told you there are germs everywhere, especially on planes. They make multiple trips daily, catering to hundreds of people. I always clean my seatbelt buckle, armrest and tray table. It's covered in bacteria. Don't believe me? Travelmath did the work for me with this infographic. They had a very small sample size but it was a worthy effort.
8. Bag in a bag.
I came across this tip last year and it has been really helpful. I always bring along a washable bag, like a dust bag and put my handbag in it before I store it under the seat. Sometimes I travel with my designer bags and I don't want to put them where someone else had their dirty shoes. They might have stepped in dog poop. Blech.
9. Check for bedbugs.
I mentioned scanning hotel/hostel reviews for reports of bed bugs but you should actually check the room, bed and chairs for bed bugs when you arrive. One vaulable piece of advice: put your suitcase in the bath tub when you first enter the room. Bed bugs can't navigate the smooth surface, so if you do find any bugs, you don't have to spend the entire trip wondering if they got into your underwear.
10. Remember others have been there before you.
Aaaaaand they have touched everything! Hotel room drapes and carpets aren't intensively cleaned after every guest and items like the phone and the remote control tend to be very germy as well. A quick swipe with a sanitising wipe can help.
11. You might have to take that poop.
No one. I mean NO ONE ever wants to get diarrhoea on vacation.
But, sh*t happens. (That awful pun was intended and I am cracking up while typing it.)
That said, taking meds to stop diarrhoea can be dangerous. Sometimes your body needs to rid itself of whatever bug you picked up. Ok, so you ignored that little voice that warned you about eating potato salad from the airport and now you've got the runs.
Not all poops are created equal!
If you have bloody stools or high fevers, you may want to think twice before popping that anti-diarrhoeal pill. See a doctor A.S.A.P!
12. Ice, ice baby.
Everybody knows about the precautions that you take with drinking water when travelling. But have you considered ice?
Remember ice is still water. You can drink all the clean water you want but a couple of cubes of ice made with unclean water and that aiport potato salad will be the least of your worries.
13. Have fun!
God laughs at the plans of man.
So, despite your best efforts, you may still get sick.
We can't completely avoid germs (some bacteria are actually good) and vacations aren't meant to perfect or germ-free.
Enjoy your trip anyway.
I'm off to wash my hands...