How to avoid the cold or flu when you travel

Pro tips for travel so you don’t catch a cold or the flu
Here I am, in my 20s and all keen to travel across Northern China and into Pakistan.

Have you ever gotten sick, I mean really sick while travelling? It happened to me a fair amount when I backpacked overland from Beijing to London in my 20s. Now that I’m older and a smidge wiser, I take a ton of precautions to stay healthy whether I’m on a work trip or legit vacation. Check out these tips on how to avoid catching a cold or the flu when you travel.

Here’s what you don’t want to have happen when you travel

I don’t know if this fits in the category of worst sickness or most embarrassing, but I was super ill when travelling across Northern China. I was making my way to Pakistan in a rickety old bus, climbing up crazy high mountain passes. I was so nauseous and I also caught some weird bug. The bug was annoying because I had all my travel vaccinations. Still, you never know if water’s been properly treated, if the cook at your guesthouse washed their hands, etc…

How to avoid the cold or flu when you travel
This was our highway across Northern China

Suddenly, I had to get off the bus and fast, so I didn’t get sick everywhere. There were no gas stations nor public restrooms on this desolate stretch of the Taklamakan Desert. So for the next several hours, at my signal, the bus driver would pull over and I would do my business behind the back of the bus. Looking up, I’d see dozens of curious Chinese faces pressed against the back window. No shame here. I was too sick to care. And hey, I lived in Japan for four years. I know how to squat. But wait! It gets worse. The bus driver decided to join in the fun, and would take a load off right beside me. I shared my toilet paper with him because I’m classy that way.

desert highway
For real, the entire time I was sick, we drove across this

Do this to stay healthy while travelling

You can’t prevent catching every illness that comes your way, but there’s much you can do to mitigate the risk. Before setting off on any trip, you need to make sure all your travel vaccines are up to date. You can go to your doctor, a travel clinic, or have an injection certified pharmacist give you the shots needed. I’m now going the pharmacist route, because it’s super efficient to pick up other travel essentials in one go. Also, I appreciate how pharmacists give out free tips in a way less annoying way then, say, my doctor, who loves lecturing me in a condescending manner.

woman getting flu vaccine
There are like, 100 shots of me being overly dramatic as Patel gave me my flu vaccine.

When visiting family and friends this time of year, the vaccine you ought to consider getting is the flu shot. The flu is the most common vaccine-preventable travel disease. With all those germs on airplanes and different hygiene standards around the world, the risk of catching something is high. Depending on how well the vaccine is matched to this year’s common viruses, 70-90% of flu cases can be avoided through vaccination. Spending a few minutes getting vaccinated could save you a few weeks of misery. Your local Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacists are injection certified, making it super easy to get the flu shot since you don’t even need to book an appointment! Be sure to get the flu shot at least two weeks before travelling.

While you’re at the drugstore getting your influenza shot, I also recommend travellers nab the following to take on your holiday:

  • Fizzy vitamin C tablets
  • Astragalus
  • Pain relief medication like ibuprofen. I also like Tylenol cold to take at night.
  • Throat lozenges (your favourites may not be sold at your destination)
  • Bandaids – all sizes
  • Tensor bandage
  • Herbal tea
  • Electrolyte solution – I like Pedialyte for kids

A word on electrolytes… We get electrolytes through eating and drinking, and we lose them through sweat and going to the bathroom. Your biggest concern if you get sick (including colds and the flu) when travelling is making sure you have enough fluids and electrolytes in your system to function properly. I once met an Irish dude in India whose work colleague had just died from acute electrode imbalance. They ate exactly the same things, except the friend ate an unpeeled apple. He had such horrific diarrhea, he died. This is where solutions like Pedialyte and Gatorade come in. You’ll want to pack some in case your travel destination doesn’t have any.

What to do when you get the flu while travelling?

The flu is a big deal. It’s not a cold you can shake off. People die from it. You know it’s the flu and not a cold when you get a sudden onset of fever, aches, chills. You also feel so very tired.

If you get influenza while travelling, you need to take additional steps to ensure you recover. Number one is making sure you’re getting enough fluids. Water is good, but only if its potable. Make sure you’re getting electrolytes into your system. Go see a doctor (many resorts have them on staff). This is the tough one: realize you ought to stay put for at least a week to rest up and recover. You don’t want to be flying and infect hundreds of other people like Gwyneth Paltrow did in the movie Contagion.

cold and flu remedies
All this could be yours (or put into somebody’s stocking!)

Who wants to win a gift pack valued at $160?

Shoppers Drug Mart is giving me three cold and flu prize packs to giveaway to readers. Want to win? Simply share on social how you avoid the flu. I’d also love to hear any stories about being sick while travelling and how you got through it. Be sure to tag me on Twitter (@Jody_Robbins) or Instagram (@TravelswBaggage) and including the #ShoppersFlu hashtag.

This post is sponsored by Shoppers Drug Mart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Travels with Baggage.

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