travel ailments

Preparing for common travel ailments

Nothing puts a damper on a vacation faster than getting sick. And because of the stress that travel puts on your body, sickness is sometimes more likely. Trying to explain your symptoms to a pharmacist that doesn’t speak your language can be rough. Luckily, you can prepare for the most common travel ailments by thinking ahead and traveling with some medications.

Jet lag

When you’re traveling across time zones, it’s not uncommon to experience a desynchronization of your sleep schedule. Jet lag causes you to spend your days exhausted and feel restless and awake at night. Usually this goes away on its own with time. But it’s not a bad idea to help it along.

How to prepare for jet lag

If you’re arriving at your destination in the morning, do everything in your power to sleep on the plane. If you’re arriving at your destination at night, do the reverse, so you’ll be tired and ready for bed when you arrive. If natural methods don’t work, it doesn’t hurt to take a sleeping pill at night to give you a restful night’s sleep and prevent you from feeling tired all day. Drinking coffee during the day also helps force your body back into a normal sleeping schedule.


One of the most common travel ailments is traveler’s diarrhea, especially when visiting certain parts of the world like South America or Africa. Aside from constant exposure to foods that your body is not used to, diarrhea can be brought on by drinking contaminated water. Even where water is relatively clean, exposure to bacteria that your body isn’t used to can really mess with your digestion.

How to prepare for traveler’s diarrhea

The best way to prepare for this is to avoid it in the first place. This means taking extra care not to come into contact with unclean water. You should always be drinking bottled water, even when brushing your teeth.

It doesn’t hurt, though, to carry around some medication in the event of such an ailment, like tablets or pills for digestive symptoms. If you’re really concerned about the potential for a stomach virus, your doctor might be able to prescribe you some antibiotics for the most common types of diarrhea before you travel.


Traveling can also make you constipated. Often our bodies feel totally out of sorts being in a foreign land and using foreign bathrooms, making us a little poop shy. This can lead to uncomfortable bloating and pain, and worst of all, can make you feel so constantly full that you don’t get to enjoy the yummy food on your travels.

How to prepare for constipation

One of the chief reasons for constipation, in general, is dehydration. This is also a common byproduct of flying, which makes constipation a very common travel ailment. So make sure that you’re drinking a ton of water, especially since you’ll likely be walking around a lot and sweating. Eating unhealthier things when you travel can also prevent you from getting the nutrients you need. So a smart thing to pack ahead of time is fiber pills to keep you regular.

I don’t recommend laxatives, because those are unpredictable, and they can turn your constipation into traveler’s diarrhea at the worst possible moment. But in a major constipation emergency, laxatives will do what they need to do.

Urinary Tract Infections

As a woman, getting a UTI is one of the most uncomfortable experiences especially on vacation. A few factors make this a common travel ailment. One is the aforementioned dehydration. A second is that UTIs can be caused by constipation, because a buildup of stool can put pressure on the bladder and prevent you from emptying it completely. And the last factor is that you’re probably having a lot more sex than usual on vacation.

How to prepare for urinary tract infections

A full-blown UTI can only be treated with antibiotics, but there are certain things you can do to prevent them, or temporarily treat them while you’re away. AZO is the most well-known medication for symptom relief, though it does little to actually cure UTIs.

Supplements, like cranberry pills, can also be helpful and can be taken daily as a preventative measure. Better yet, you can pack D-Mannose in pill or powder form, a supplement that contains the key ingredient found in cranberries, which prevents bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract.

Aside from that, the best thing you can do is make sure you’re hydrated and that your bathroom habits are regular. And whatever you do, don’t have sex in the hot tub.


Whether you’re going on a cruise or just taking a boat at some point on your trip, this experience can be quickly ruined by sharp headaches, dizziness, and vomiting. The worst part of seasickness is that you might not know you’re prone to this travel ailment until you’re stuck on a boat in particularly choppy waters.

How to prepare for seasickness

The great thing about seasickness is that it’s super fun to treat, because Dramamine (or the generic equivalent) is a combination of a stimulant and an antihistamine that can be used to treat insomnia. While I don’t advocate for the recreational abuse of over-the-counter medications, if you happen to get seasick and you need Dramamine, you might get inadvertently high, and it will be awesome.

You can also prevent seasickness, especially if you know you’re prone to it, by using the slow-acting patch that goes behind your ear. A good way to avoid or reduce seasickness naturally is to simply go outside and look out at the horizon. This will stabilize your perception and reduce your seasickness naturally.

Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness is even worse than seasickness, because you can’t escape it by getting off the boat. At altitudes above 8,000 feet, where you have less oxygen, you might feel extremely nauseous, dizzy, and have the worst headache of your life. Vomiting is also a common symptom of altitude sickness.

How to prepare for altitude sickness

The bad thing about altitude sickness is that medications for it are by prescription only. So you’d have to go through the trouble of seeing a doctor before your trip. Depending on whether your insurance covers it or not, this might be worth it, lest you find yourself paying $25 for four pills from some asshole in Cusco who knows you’re desperate.

But the best way to prepare for altitude sickness is to build in some time to acclimate into your travel itinerary. The first day or two in a high altitude should be full of rest, hydration, and light meals. Take a lot of naps, read an entire book, and just relax until your body is used to the altitude.


It might seem unnecessary to travel with cold medication, until you realize that those horse pills you can get at CVS for cold and flu symptoms might be by prescription only at your destination. Colds can be common when you travel, because aside from being trapped in a metal tube with other potentially sick people, your body’s immune system might be affected by the sudden change in weather, activity, or simply the exhaustion.

How to prepare for a cold

Traveling with handy things, like Emergen-C or zinc lozenges like Cold-EEZE, can give your immune system a boost while you travel. They can be taken daily to prevent colds. But in the event that you get one, it’s a good idea to have something with you for cold and sinus symptoms. If you take Nyquil, you can kill two birds with one stone and fix your jet lag while you get over your cold.


3 responses to “Preparing for common travel ailments”

  1. The-man-with-no-name Avatar

    Some solid advice here. Nearly everyone spends endless hours planning for all the fun they expect to have on their vacation and the biggest decision is whether to pack a swimsuit or wait until they arrive at their destination to buy a new one. Probably the only thing they might consider bringing along in terms of prevention is sun tan lotion (but not Aloe Vera or mosquito repellent or even as simple a thing as vaseline or neosporin). On my first cruise both I and my partner got horribly seasick. Thank God she brought along some dramamine “just in case”. Smart girl. She fell into a deep sleep and I became energized after recovering. So I wandered all over the large cruise ship including areas well below deck where crew members stared at me wondering what the hell I was doing down there! I eventually found my way to a large room where some guy on stage was juggling a machete, a hand axe and a small chainsaw while riding a unicycle. Great entertainment at two a.m. for me and the other ten people who were there. I know you always prefer to travel light, usually only taking a carry on bag. I would like to see a post from you as to what exactly you consider to be the absolute essentials for such a bag. Does it include a mini med-kit(like acetaminophen) ? Snacks? Water bottle ? Only clothing? And what type of bag is best ?

    1. Avatar

      I do have one article similar to what you’re talking about

      As far as what bag I use, I prefer rolling duffel bags. They look smaller if they need to especially if you just pick it up and because they’re malleable, you can cram a ton of stuff into them.

  2. The-man-with-no-name Avatar

    Thanks for the link. Yep, that pretty much covered it. Don’t need the tweezers, q-tips or hair iron….but never would have thought to pack an umbrella or power-converters which would probably save my ass at some point. I .was wondering about a duffel bag as a choice. ” Because I will cut a bitch if I don’t get enough sleep” lol

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