The MLT Guide to Healthy Travels

Nothing beats going on vacation in the dead of winter… and nothing sucks more than a winter vacation ruined by illness. Whether you’re going to Malaga with the goal of partying till sunrise five nights in a row, or jumping on a plane to Nigeria for an exotic cultural adventure, there are precautions you should take to stay healthy. Here, MLT presents the top five travel-veteran-tested rules for avoiding all the nasty pitfalls -- from stomach parasites to the common cold -- that can wreak havoc on your holiday. 

Travel Rule 1: Pack a first-aid kit

If the last safety kit you encountered belonged to the nurse at your primary school, that needs to change. “A pack doesn’t take up a lot of room and can be very useful,” says’s Romain Corraze, 25, who completed a year-long, around-the-world trek after finishing his MBA. “I always take one with me.” Don’t forget the basics from your bathroom cabinet: paracétamol for fevers and headaches, bandages and Bétadine to take care of small wounds, prescription anti-diarrheal meds like Tiorfan and Imodium for tummy troubles and a thermometer because, depending on where you’re traveling, it can be a pain to track one down. [A1] 


Travel Rule 2: Watch what you put in your mouth

“When you travel to exotic places, the most frequent problems are related to food,” says Fabrice, 33, editor of, who’s been going to Asia regularly for the last three years. “Eating raw produce is really the easiest way to get traveler’s diarrhea.” And no one wants that. Avoid raw fruit and veggies religiously when you’re in an underdeveloped country, where restaurants often rinse them in water unsuitable for drinking. You can satisfy any health-food cravings with cooked vegetables, or buy greens at the market and wash them yourself with drinkable water.  

Which brings up an important point: Although we’d normally classify buying a bottle of water every time you want a drink under Big Environmental No-No, you’re exempt from this rule on vacation, particularly in underdeveloped countries where water might be unclean, reused, and swimming with microscopic germs. “I got an amoeba one time in India,” says Fabrice, “and had seriously horrible diarrhea. Luckily I was in a big city, so I had easy access to a doctor and medicine.” If you’re in the wilderness and don’t have access to bottles, boil your H2O or use pastilles micropurs (anti-bacterial tablets that dissolve in water). Buy them while you’re still at home.

Travel Rule 3: Don’t push yourself to the limit

Hey, this tip applies to you, too, Mr. “I’m Soaking Up Rays on Mauritius for My Winter Holiday”. Heat is one of the main causes of exhaustion, which can leave you with muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, tiredness, vomiting, fainting spells and other symptoms that can put a damper on your week in paradise. “When it’s hot,” says Fabrice, “the basic rule is to drink a lot, even if you’re not thirsty. And always have a hat or something on your head.”

For those of you planning on more physical trips -- including ski trips and the like in cold climates -- don’t forget to take breaks and get enough sleep. “You’ve got to have time to relax,” counsels Corraze. “Otherwise you’ll leave your body more vulnerable to health problems.” So take your hot chocolate break as if it’s doctor’s orders. Because it is.

Travel Rule 4: Fight jet lag and cabin colds

Although jet lag probably won’t destroy your trip, it can make things far less enjoyable, causing insomnia, bizarre sleeping patterns, an upset stomach, a loss of appetite -- plus it can leave you more susceptible to illnesses. But jet lag isn’t a necessary evil of long-distance travel. To avoid it, Doctissimo advises preparing in advance by changing your daily rhythm before boarding the plane; try advancing your clock one hour per day toward the local time at your destination. When you take off, make sure you’re well rested so that the time difference’s hit will be less powerful. Avoid naps once you’re there and (during the first few days at least) stay away from soda, spices, coffee, tea and any other stimulants that could prevent you from sleeping.

Like jet lag, cabin colds are also avoidable with a little common sense. Drinking water instead of dehydrating caffeinated beverages during the flight will prevent your nose and throat from drying out, which is a good defense against colds. Another easy way to avoid picking up wayward germs is by washing your hands. (Obvious, yes, but people sometimes forget the obvious when in the throes of pre-holiday excitement.) Pack antibacterial gel or hand wipes before you get on the plane, just in case you’re in the middle seat and the grumpy aisle neighbor is dozing. And use it before touching any food.


Travel Rule 5: Visit a doctor before leaving

One essential step in preparing for a trip to an exotic country is making an appointment with a doctor specialized in travel. Vaccination centers often have a service that caters to travelers; Air France even has its very own Centre de Vaccination in Paris. During the appointment, the doctor will make sure your vaccination booklet is up-to-date, give you a list of medicines to bring along, write prescriptions, tell you what to add to your first aid kit, and answer any questions you might have.

 [A1]Sandrine: Can you please replace these brand names with generic medicine names when translating? Thanks!