Updated February 23, 2020
Mariellen Ward is a JourneyWoman who writes about India, yoga and transformational travel on her blog, BreatheDreamGo. She has traveled for more than a year altogether in India and recently published her first book, Song of India. She also leads small group tours to some of her favourite places in India. Mariellen writes…
These are my top tips for how to not get sick in India, how to avoid bed bugs and how to protect yourself from theft and other problems. Travel in India, and in so many other places, definitely has its challenges. But that’s no reason not to go. In fact, it often seems the greater the challenge, the greater the reward! The three biggest fears a lot of people have about traveling in a ‘developing’ nation seem to be bed bugs, bacteria, and bad guys. My own experience is that there’s usually nothing to fear but fear itself. A positive attitude, a healthy immune system, and liberal doses of resilience, resourcefulness, caution and common sense are usually enough to get most travelers through most situations. But here are some tips that I’ve discovered for dealing with the Big Three fears of insect, microbe, and humankind.
To avoid bed bugs in India, don’t stay at the Flea Bag Inn. In India, it is a badge of honour among some travelers — i.e. backpackers — to brag about how they only spent 150 rupees on their hovel, er, hotel. I don’t buy into this at all.
I have found that the backpacker’s ghettos are not only dirty, they are not a very authentic travel experience. Paying a bit more — such as 1,000 to 2,500 rupees a night — can usually put you in a nice, clean guest house run by friendly, local people. And, if you show some genuine interest, they will probably be happy to help you experience the local culture.
Pack a sheet sleeping bag. I use a cotton one, but they also come in silk, which packs smaller and is warmer.
To avoid getting sick in India, and in many other places, it’s really the water you have to watch. Be very careful about the water you drink, and also the water used in ice cubes, drinks, and some food preparations. You also have to remember to keep your mouth closed in the shower and brush your teeth with bottled water. In India, buy bottled water as a rule, and make sure the seal is intact. Also, carry a reusable water bottle or even a water bottle with a filter. Fill up whenever you find RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water — and avoid pitching more plastic waste into the environment.
There are no hard and fast rules about avoiding bacteria in food. You can eat street food and feel fine; and then eat at a five-star hotel and get sick (a lack of continuous power and spotty refrigeration is often the culprit). Make sure the food is fresh or freshly prepared, don’t eat raw foods (such as salads) or fruit, unless you’ve peeled it or washed it in a bacteria-killing solution.
Carry heat-resistant probiotics and either GSE (grapefruit seed extract) or oil of oregano, and take every day. There are homeopathic remedies you can use too — consult a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor before you go. The one thing I always carry with me from those small medical kits is the oral hydration salts pouches. If you get “Delhi-belly” you need to keep hydrated. Otherwise, I follow my “when in Rome” philosophy. In India, I eat lots of homemade curds (yogurt) and if I get sick, I consult a local doctor. They know what works for their particular brand of bugs.
Food poisoning is a different problem than “Delhi-belly” (caused by ingesting bacteria or parasites). However, as with Delhi-belly, you must stay hydrated. Mix up packs of ORS (oral rehydration salts) with clean water and drink it continuously throughout the day — at least three or four per day.
For more tips please read my How to Avoid Getting Sick in India post.
Mariellen Ward is a JourneyWoman who writes about travel in India on her blog, BreatheDreamGo. She has traveled for more than six years altogether in India and lives in Rishikesh — the Yoga capital of the world. She also runs India for Beginners, a custom tour company designed to help women and first-time travellers travel safely and well.