30 Health Tips for First Time Travelers to India

India boasts some of the best food on the planet. However, if you are worried about dropping like flies and squatting over a hole for days, here are some basic do’s, don’ts and precautions to stick with while traveling across Incredible India.

Indian food

Indian food. Credit: Lakom BG

Tips to Stay Healthy Before traveling to India

  1. Probiotics – Probiotics helps in improving digestion and immunity. They are a must-have before and during your travel in India. You could buy a traveler’s pack that doesn’t require refrigeration to take away with you, or get them from a local medical or grocery store. If you are unable to find a ready-to-drink pack, an alternate is Yogurt. Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics and is easily found in the country.
  2. Probiotic yogurt bottle

    Probiotic yogurt. Credit: flews35

  3. Charcoal – Charcoal tablets helps in stopping and preventing dysentery by absorbing the toxins in the body.
  4. Electrolytes – If you get dysentery, coconut water is an effective remedy to boost your electrolytes. It’s also recommended packing a box of electrolyte salts for situations when coconut is unavailable.
  5. Vaccinations – Make sure to consult your doctor at least six months prior to your travel date and let them know you are traveling to India to get the necessary vaccinations. It’s better to schedule an appointment as early as you can as some vaccinations require a course and need to be spread out over a few months. For first timers traveling to India, these are the recommended vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, and a tetanus booster.
  6. Travel insurance – The most important thing you can purchase before a trip is a comprehensive travel insurance. This should be one that includes full medical cover with a no excess policy. Also check if you can get one with a return flight in case you get ill and prefer to get home in a hurry.
  7. Pack medication – In India, you can easily get medications for common illness without prescription. However, it’s always better to pack a good medical kit to bring with you.
  8. Prepare for spicy food – Restaurants in India normally serve savory foods; even though you can order less spicy dishes, it’s still common that they still can be spicy as everyone as their own idea about spiciness. So, before you travel, it might be a good idea to prepare your stomach by eating spicier food at home to avoid a shock.
Indian spices

Indian spices. Credit: Bhagis Photography

Do’s for Staying Healthy in India

  1. Eat freshly cooked food – Heat kills bacteria and parasite contaminating food items. So it’s always advisable to eat freshly cooked food when possible.
  2. Eat from busy restaurants – Restaurants filled with people is generally an indication that food is good there and runs quickly. This provides an assurance that you would not get stale pre-cooked food. If you are in doubt about a good place to eat, ask the locals.
  3. Busy Indian restaurant

    Busy Indian restaurant. Credit: Sivakumar Ramakrishnan

  4. Eat with your hands – When in India, do as the Indians do. You’ll frequently find people having food with their hands. Eating with your hands could be tricky, but it’s often the cleanest utensil since you know where they’ve been. And do remember to use a hand sanitizer.
  5. Drink bottled water – You might be used to drinking water straight out of tap back home. However, this is a definite no-no in India as tap water is untreated. Bottled mineral water is reasonably priced due to government regulations and is easy to come by. You can get a 1 liter bottle for Rs 20. Most bottled water is fine — just make sure the cap is sealed while buying. In rare cases where bottled water isn’t available, you could carry a pocket water filter or even boil it.
  6. Stay hydrated – India is a hot and dry country. Regularly drink water to keep your body hydrated and healthy. Coconut water is extremely good at hydrating and for upset stomach. If you see a vendor selling it, immediately grab one. Do make sure the knife he uses to cut the coconut is clean.
  7. Drink Chai – India is a land of chai lovers, and due to their popularity, a chai-wala (tea vendor) is not far. Tea with ginger and cardamom assists in digestion. You can have one in the morning and evening to stay fit. Most chai-walas would be boiling tea right in front of the customers, so it would be safe to drink. Also be certain that the cup is clean.
  8. Indian chai

    Indian chai. Credit: Susanna Wang

  9. Clean your hands – Always carry a pack of disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer gel to keep your hands clean of any germs you may have picked up over the day. Always keep your hands clean, not just while having breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  10. Apply an insect repellent – Some states and cities, such as Kerala, Mumbai, Goa, can be extremely humid. It’s recommended to apply an insect repellent while traveling, be it spray or cream, and be especially careful if it’s raining. Moreover, avoid puddles as there might be mosquitoes thriving there.

Don’ts

  1. Don’t be stingy with food – Food can be pretty cheap in India, especially at small stalls, but you could be exposing yourself a little extra to the risk of getting food poisoning.
  2. Reduce meat consumption – Eating meat from small and street side vendors is a big no-no. Vendors frequently lure customers by displaying kebabs and biryanis in the open. You would very often see flies buzzing around them. If you are planning to cook chicken on your own, try to get fresh straight from the market. Strictly do not accept pre-cut meat.
  3. Indian street food

    Indian street food. Credit: Kartik Kumar S

  4. Avoid eating fish in cities – Fishes are often transported from far off coastal regions to the cities. Refrigeration is sometimes not up to the standards you’re used to back home, so it’s recommended to have those yummy fish and prawn curries in coastal areas such as Goa and Kerala.
  5. Do not eat too much spicy food – India is known for its spices. Having too much spicy food, especially if it’s your first time, could make you sick.
  6. Do not add ice in drinks – Restaurant owners and vendors purchase ice from outside sellers. Most likely this ice is created from a poor quality water source, so it’s advisable not to have any drinks with ice in it.
  7. Do not brush teeth with tap water – Bacteria from water can directly pass through your gums to the bloodstream. It can be a pain in the long-term, but it’s recommended to keep a bottle of drinking water handy for brushing your teeth.
  8. Do not eat raw – This is especially true for road side fruit vendors who keep cut fruits and juices out in the open.
  9. Fruit vendor

    Fruit vendor. Credit: Sean White

  10. Try avoiding street food – Street food in India is tempting, so it’s totally understandable travelers can hardly resist. However, again the above reason is applicable to street food. These are cooked and kept in the open exposed to the city’s pollution.

Advices

  1. Rinse fruits and veggies with bottled water – If you cook your own food, you can use tap water to boil, but to clean fruits and veggies, it’s recommended to clean off the dirt first with tap water and then rinse it off with bottled water.
  2. Vegetable vendor

    Vegetable vendor. Credit: Don-Pixel

  3. Don’t overeat – Overeating can often weaken your digestion and immunity. This is something to remember when you visit an all-you-can-eat restaurant or when you get invited to someone’s house for dining. Due to their love for visitors, the host will keep piling food on your plate and expect you to eat it.
  4. Bath in rivers and lakes at own risk – You’ll find people washing clothes, vehicles, cattle, and industries letting out waste water into the water bodies. So it’s advisable to maintain precautions when bathing in such rivers or lakes.
  5. Order a thali – When you get confused with the menu at a restaurant, ask for a thali. Often they would be serving at least one type of thali. Thali is a bit of everything – you’ll get rice, dal, curry, chapati or naan, pickle, and some sweet dish.
  6. Indian thali

    Indian thali. Credit: Sarah O’Donnell

  7. Consider being a vegetarian – Depending on where you eat, it can be pretty difficult to know if meat/fish is cooked properly or not, and therefore might be best to consider being a vegetarian. A huge population of India is vegetarian, so you might as well try some vegetarian delicacies.
  8. I have shared many points regarding water usage here, and you might be thinking it could be a costly trip buying water for everything, especially when on a shoestring budget. If you are staying at a rented place, you could buy a 20-liter water container for an affordable price from grocery stores. These water containers would normally cost you around Rs 60-70(~1 USD) and a deposit of Rs 150-250 (2.5-5 USD). The deposit is refunded when you return the container at the end of your stay.

And the final tip is – 30. Don’t be paranoid about getting sick. Even if you rigorously follow all of the above tips, and some more, there’s still a chance you will get sick. Everyone’s system is unique, being paranoid about what you’re eating or drinking will definitely deprive you of an awesome experience. Use your judgment and have what you believe is safe.

Keep traveling! 🙂

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