1. Prepare, “just in case”
Stuff happens! Be as ready as you can. Talk to your doctor at least 8 weeks before leaving on your trip and get all of the necessary vaccines. Pack a first aid kit. Make sure that you have travel insurance. It’s usually about $2 a day and definitely worth it, even for little things that require a trip to the clinic. We have a recommended missions travel insurance for anyone going on a trip with us.
2. Be healthy before the trip
Being in shape and healthy before you go helps your body to be much more ready for whatever gets thrown at it in the country you travel to. For an extra boost, consider taking vitamins and probiotics prior to and during the trip.
3. Research the health risks of your location
Look up the area you will be traveling to and find out if there are any food, water, or disease risks specific to that location that you will need to watch out for. The CDC publishes travel health notices to alert travelers of unusual risks as well.
4. Drink enough water to fill a swimming pool
Seriously. The normal recommended amount of water to drink is 2-3 liters per day… more if you are in a particularly dry or hot climate and very active. Dehydration is the root of many common issues encountered on mission trips: headaches, digestive trouble, fainting and fatigue, even fever. If you don’t feel well, drinking water will usually help if not fix the problem.
5. On that note: ONLY bottled/purified water
Water anywhere other than your home, especially in developing countries, has different microbes than your body is used to dealing with. Drinking it can cause all kinds of sickness and it is not uncommon to come home with a parasite (which can usually be treated pretty easily here in the U.S.). Bottled water goes through an intense purification process and the high standard of purity for bottled water extends across the world, so sticking to purified water (not “filtered” water, which is actually different) eliminates those worries. Don’t forget to use it even to brush your teeth!
6. Skip the game of Russian Roulette that is street food
Only eat cooked fruits and vegetables or ones that you can peel. If you don’t know where meat or fish came from, avoid it. In fact, unless you are right next to the ocean or a (clean) lake and are very confident, just avoid fish. If you do plan to eat out, ask local contacts where the safe restaurants to eat are.
7. Wear sunscreen and bug spray
No, it’s not just something worried moms make their kids promise to do. Sunburn has the ability to make simply wearing clothes miserable so taking a little time to put on sunscreen is worth it. If there are mosquitoes or other biting or stinging insects around, use bug spray. Diseases spread by mosquitoes are not something that you want to mess around with so hold your breath and cover your body in the stuff.
Note: 100% deet bug spray is really not necessary unless you are in a dense jungle area and you know the regular 25-50% just won’t cut it. If you are worried, you can use mosquito nets at night and treat your clothes and gear with Permethrin, a chemical bug repellent, before the trip).
8. Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you
Finally, when you feel sick, don’t ignore it. Usually feeling bad is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and you need to fix it. If drinking water and remedies from your first aid kid aren’t enough, go to a clinic before it gets serious. After all, you have travel insurance, right?