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Traveling In Foreign Countries

For those of us who live in the “First World” traveling to countries that are less developed can be something of a shock in several ways.  There will sometimes be what is termed a ‘culture shock’ when Western visitors are introduced to different living conditions and lifestyles.  Besides these cultural differences, there will often be substandard water and food, which can cause illness.  In order to protect your health, you should prepare yourself adequately when you visit any nation where conditions are not the same as in your home country.


This will be the first area that must be addressed.  The water supply in most countries outside of North America, Western Europe, and Australia/New Zealand should always be viewed as being suspect.  In most countries outside these areas if you drink the water, you will get sick.  There are several ways to provide yourself with safe drinking water when the local supply is suspect, and the easiest is just to purchase bottled water.  Make sure that the bottle is still sealed when you purchase it, however. There are also water bottles with built in filters so you can be sure to know what you are drinking is sanitary.

You can also use water purification tablets to help provide safe drinking water.  These tablets are based either on iodine or chlorine and will kill most bacteria and viruses.  Iodine tablets will be more effective, but should not be used for long periods of time. 

Boiling water is an effective way to kill all bacteria, viruses, cysts, and protozoa.  Make sure that you bring the water to a rapid boil for at least 5 minutes. 

A portable water filter is also an excellent way to make sure that the water is safe.  There are several excellent bottle filters on the market that simply need to be filled and then squeezed to provide you with clean water.  A very nice small gravity feed water filter is made by Berkey water filters that will clean a quart of water at a time. 

Make sure that you use purified water not only for drinking, but for brushing your teeth and cleaning your contact lenses.  It would probably be a good idea to use purified water for washing your face, too.


Once again, you should always consider the food in a non-western country to be ‘iffy’ at best.  Never eat raw fruits or vegetables, they could be contaminated with bacterial or viral agents that could cause dysentery or hepatitis.  Make sure that all the food you eat is hot – cooking will kill most pathogens.  Do not eat food from roadside vendors or any food that you do not see actually being prepared – there will be no way for you to tell how long it has been sitting there or whether it has been contaminated by flies or other insects.

The spread of American fast food restaurants will usually guarantee you of food that is safe to eat. 


If you or anyone in your family are taking prescription medications, be sure to bring an adequate supply with you, as well as a copy of your prescription.  Carry your medications either in a purse or carry-on bag, do not keep them in the regular luggage.  Any over the counter medications that are being used should also be brought along as they might not be available in foreign countries. 

While traveling, make sure to always either carry your own first aid kit or know where one is in case of an emergency. You can never be to careful, especially while you are away from home.