“Did you get sick?” That’s the first question people ask when I returned from a trip to New Delhi recently. Not “How was it?” or “Did you have fun?” In fact, I managed not to get sick, because I’ve traveled to India quite a bit and know what to do and not to do regarding my health. I dare say it is a concern for most non-Indians when traveling there, so I share my tips with you about what you can do to avoid getting sick in India.
1. Don’t drink the tap water
Don’t even brush your teeth with it. Indians can digest the tap water without problems, but most non-Indians are not used to dealing with the different species of bacteria. Keep it safe and only drink bottled water with a sealed cap, or filtered water.
It is okay to drink tea and coffee. The water will have been boiled, killing potentially harmful bacteria.
Avoid ice cubes whenever you can.
Do: Drink plenty of bottled water. Stay hydrated.
2. Be careful with meat or fish
This is a personal choice, but it works for me to eat as little meat and fish as possible. It depends on the establishment you’re in though. Still, you can never be sure about a restaurant’s hygienic standards, even it is a high-end one. If meat and fish are laying around unrefrigerated, chances are higher of contamination. It is less likely you will get sick from vegetables.
I once went to an East Asian restaurant in Delhi and ordered a shrimp dish. My reasoning for it to be safe was that the menu of the restaurant was so large, they would not be able to make all of these dishes with fresh ingredients, so the shrimps were likely frozen. Germs can’t survive that!
For me, it is not a problem to eat vegetarian, because I prefer vegetables over anything else. It is very easy to maintain a vegetarian diet in India.
Do: Eat healthily. Indian food can be oily: soak it up with bread or rice. Eat your fibers. Be vigilant about what you eat, especially with regards to street food.
3. Be mindful about salads and fruit
Only eat fruit you need to peel yourself. Ready-cut fruit can be prone to bacteria. Same goes for salad. I love salads, but I don’t eat them in India. The lettuce and veggies may be washed in contaminated water.
Do: Make sure you get your vitamins. Eat cooked vegetables and peel your own fruit. Bananas are good.
4. Always wash your hands before eating
Especially if you are eating with your hands. Please note that you should eat with your right hand. Left is used to clean yourself after going to the toilet.
Do: Use hand sanitizer if there is no option to wash your hands.
Never: Share a communal meal with dirty hands.
5. Get plenty of sleep
If you are well-rested, you will be able to deal with life better. Sleep is so important for your health. I’m lucky to be able to sleep just about anywhere. If possible, adapt your travel planning so you arrive tired late at night and go straight to bed.
To avoid getting disturbed by mosquitos, make sure the windows are closed before dusk, if you have one, switch on the air conditioning or fan at night to confuse mosquitos (they are attracted by scent), or sleep under a mosquito net.
Do: Take (power) naps if you can. Unless it will ruin your sleep for later, then don’t.
6. Don’t drink alcohol
In line with keeping your overall health and resistance high, this has worked well for me last time in India. Admittedly, I don’t care that much about alcohol anymore since I ‘m slowly approaching the age of 40…
Added benefits of not drinking: you stay sober and vigilant, and: no hangovers!
If you do want to drink alcohol, clearly it is all good with me, as long as you take care of the most important points 1 through 4.
What if you do get sick?
In all of my trips to India over the last decade, being extra careful about what I put in my mouth has helped a lot. It took some trial and error though! If you do get sick, take a rest and be sure to be close to a toilet. Try not to use antidiarrheals immediately unless you can’t take a break because you have to work or attend a wedding or something and don’t have a chance to run to the toilet quickly. If you do use these types of medicine, it will take a while before your digestion is back to normal, which is not pleasant either.
If you are lucky, the virus will have left your body within a few days. However, it can sometimes take more than a week before your system has settled again. Make sure to drink plenty of water (bottled or filtered) to stay hydrated and eat some yoghurt (good for your gut). If you’re worried that it is taking too long, go to the doctor.