Kota Kinabalu Malaysia grilled squid

Is a Fear of Getting Sick While Traveling Holding You Back?

Many people have fears surrounding travel. But with so many amazing places to visit in this world, fears that hold you back are limiting you from experiences more than they are protecting you. I’m here to help with my Fighting the Travel Fears series.

No one likes to get sick, but it can be especially stressful if it happens while you’re traveling on vacation. Worries about the safety of food and water, diseases, and foreign health care can be enough to make you consider staying home. However, some of these fears are exaggerated, and others can be eliminated or reduced with research and precautions. Don’t let a fear of getting sick while traveling keep you from booking a trip.

Food and Water Fears

Some countries don’t have the the same sanitation standards as your home country, but it just means taking a few extra precautions. Do your research ahead of time so you’ll know if the water is safe to drink. If it isn’t, just stick to bottled water or get a travel water purifier. Also make sure you use bottled water for brushing your teeth.

fear of getting sick while traveling - Kota Kinabalu Malaysia grilled squid

Food might be a little more tricky, but don’t avoid trying new things. If lots of people, including locals, are eating the street food, chances are it’s safe. Trust your instincts. If a restaurant or street vender looks unclean and unhealthy, move on. But if you are watching a street vender grill food right in front of you, if there’s a line of people waiting to eat there, you probably won’t be disappointed. Don’t spend your entire vacation eating at hotel or chain restaurants, otherwise you won’t truly experience the culture.

Disease and Illness Fears

Certain diseases are a bigger risk in some parts of the world. Unfortunately entire regions are known for scary diseases you might not ever get at home. But this shouldn’t be a reason to stay away. Again, do some research. The CDC has a travelers’ health section on their website where you can find all kinds of information about which diseases to be aware of for different countries, recommended vaccines, and general travel health advise.

fear of getting sick while traveling - CDC travelers' health

Of course, talk to your doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip. Your regular practitioner will be able to give you some vaccines, but sometimes they will need to send you to a travel medicine specialist. Discuss your itinerary with your doctor so they know where you’re going, and they can recommend vaccines. They should also know which countries require you to have certain vaccines before entering.

Knowing the risks and taking steps to protect yourself from diseases can greatly reduce or even eliminate your chances of contracting something while you’re traveling. Even something as simple as always remembering to use bug spray and wear proper clothing can go a long way towards preventing mosquito-borne illness.

Foreign Health Care Fears

Of course, sometimes accidents happen or you might get sick despite your best efforts to avoid illness. Preparing for this possibility ahead of time can save you a lot of stress. Your normal health insurance probably doesn’t cover you while you’re out of your home, so it’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance that will cover you.

Many countries, especially developed countries, have excellent health care services. But if you’re going somewhere more remote or less developed, it’s worth doing some research to see where the nearest quality hospital is. When I was in Southeast Asia, I knew I’d be spending time in some countries that don’t have great health care, but some quick research told me that hospitals in Singapore and Bangkok were just as reliable as those in most western countries.

fear of getting sick while traveling - first aid kit and glasses

Always carry basic first aid necessities with you in case something minor happens. Bring a letter from your doctor that shows the generic names of any prescriptions you take, including the dosage. It’s also a good idea to bring a copy of your glasses or contact lenses prescription. Chances are you won’t need any of these things, but they take up relatively little space in your bag and just might come in handy.

Your health is important, and there’s a lot to consider when traveling to make sure you stay healthy. Research your destination, consult a doctor about vaccines, and trust your instincts. Concerns about encountering health issues shouldn’t hold you back. Don’t let a fear of getting sick while traveling prevent you from taking a vacation.

Read more in the Fighting the Travel Fears series to tackle your travel-related fears!


Thanks for your patience and understanding while I took a few weeks off from blogging. I really appreciate all the support and encouragement I got from all of you in the comments and emails. I’m glad I took some time to relax, but it’s great to be back!

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  1. Harvey -- H-Bomb's Worldwide Karaoke

    It’s also worth noting, in the vein of not letting fear prevent people from the amazing experiences that travel offers, that even if you GET sick while abroad, it’s not (usually) the end of the world. When I was in Egypt last month, I somewhat predictably came down with a certain gastrointestinal ailment that Cipro is taken for. Many visiting Westerners in Egypt experience that ailment (indeed, a large proportion of the people in my tour group went through it). But I did have the Cipro tablets that my travel doctor back home had prescribed; and while it wasn’t fun to experience that malady, it did pass relatively quickly.

    This also brings up another point — when on the road you should bring not only first aid materials, but also basic over-the-counter stuff to take if you do fall under the weather. During the same trip to Egypt, I developed cold / congestion symptoms a couple of times, but I had a little bottle of DayQuil with me, and both times that made the symptoms go away very quickly. So I would say that basic cold / flu medication in some form is absolutely indispensable to carry with you. (I learned this the hard way, one time in London when I came down with a virulent case of the flu in the middle of the night, and was surprised to learn that the hotel had no meds to offer me; I also felt too weak to set out in a taxi for the nearest 24-hour pharmacy. I had to wait several hours, until a concierge was on duty, for someone to be dispatched to bring me some meds. And then there was the time when I developed a sore throat in Madrid, again late at night, and it was an adventure finding the pharmacy with a 24-hour attendant).

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Thanks Harvey! Exactly! Bring whatever medication you think you might need, and if something happens you’ll have it. And pharmacies are almost anywhere if you need something you didn’t bring with you. Definitely not a reason to stay home! I’m sorry you were sick on your trip, but it sounds like you made it through :)

  2. Andrea

    Peru is actually the only place we have ever gotten sick. Before we left we saw a doctor who specialized in travel medicine and he gave us a “diarrhea kit” with medicines and a flowchart of symptoms so we could self-diagnose on the road. Worked great and we were able to cure ourselves of two different kinds of illnesses when we were there.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Diarrhea seems to be a big one! That’s so awesome your doctor made sure you were so prepared. It goes a long way in making sure you’re ok if something does happen on the road. Thanks Andrea!

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Ha! I’m sure being in Latin America can do that for you! You’re totally right, if the place looks reasonable, the food should be fine. Thanks Stephanie!

  3. Agness (@Agnesstramp)

    Hi Ali,

    I think that if you have a desire to travel, nothing and nobody’ll ever stop you from travelling. If you get sick, take some medicines, don’t postpone your travel plans. This is to leave your comfort zone :-) Great post Ali x

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Thanks Agness! You’re completely right, don’t ever let fear or another person stop you from traveling if it’s something you really want to do.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Thanks Tommy! But the exotic food is one of the best parts of traveling! You’re missing so much if you don’t try the food!

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  5. Adela @ FourJandals

    It is so horrible getting sick while you are away. Cole got really sick in Marrakech and now he never wants to go back! Good tips though, it is so important to be careful!

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Aw, that sucks! Remind him he can get sick anywhere. Thanks Adela!

  6. kle

    I was smiling while reading the article…I am a bit paranoid about illness in general, but as you said, tis isnt stopping me at all! i’m leaving in exactly one month and i already have a quite big beauty case filled with every sort of medication.
    Well, finger crossed i probably wont need all of them, but let’s be generous and think about other people in need too right? i know i know, maybe is too much, but if i feel safer like that…why not?
    I’m so paranoid that im also taking a couple of sterilized needles with me, just in case. For the rest im a normal person! i promise :)

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      I’m glad I made you smile! It’s good that you’re not letting your fear stop you. I hope you won’t need anything more than a band-aid or headache medicine while you travel. You might want to check about the needles though, some countries might not allow you to bring them in without a doctor’s note, and you certainly can’t bring them in carry-on luggage without a doctor’s note.

  7. Melissa

    Great article! But still a bit afraid.
    Last time I did a 3 month trip to India. I ended up in to hospital to get my appendix removed. India is not the place you want to be for surgery. Never was so scared in my life before! I was so happy I wasn’t alone at that time.
    But that experience makes me a bit afraid of my solo trip to borneo this year.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Melissa, that is a bit scary! But I’m glad you survived it. Getting sick when traveling is always stressful, but so much worse if it requires hospitalization or surgery! Try to remember though that you did get through that, and you’re fine now and still traveling. And that’s wonderful! And hey, at least you can’t have appendicitis twice! (Sorry, I hope that’s funny now!) Make sure you have travel insurance for your trip to Borneo, and if something does happen to you, your insurance should cover the cost of medical evacuation if it is necessary. Borneo isn’t far from Singapore, where you can definitely get good medical care. I also like to research escape routes for myself, so that if I get sick enough to not want to be where I am (though probably not something as urgent as appendicitis) I know where the nearest place is with modern medical facilities. So you’d want to get yourself to Brunei or Kota Kinabalu, and maybe hop a flight to Singapore from there depending on what kind of ailment you have.

      Mostly though, just try to have fun! Borneo should be amazing!

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