10 Great Tips for Optimum Health Whilst Travelling
Hi, my name is Oonagh. I am a Nutritional Therapist based in West Cork, Ireland. Over the past 5 years, I have lived between 4-6 months a year in Nepal studying Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. I study traditional Buddhist scriptures about topics ranging from meditation techniques, compassion loving kindness to the origin of the universe. I have found this experience incredibly enriching and I have learned valuable life lessons and met great friends along the way. Today, I wanted to share with you my top health tips for staying well while traveling in Nepal. So, just a little disclaimer here. Of course, there are people who travel all over India and Nepal and eat and drink everything and don’t wash their hands and never get sick. I am not saying you have to do this otherwise you will definitely get sick and die. Let’s just say, if you do this, you are probably less likely to get sick.
1. Water: So, this may be obvious but I will mention it anyways just in case it’s not. Do not drink the tap water in Nepal. It is not sterilised and filtered like in other countries. It can contain nasty parasites and bacteria which can make you really ill. Also, do not brush your teeth with the water or open your mouth in the shower. When you are hiking in the mountains, the water is very clean and pure. However, I still would not recommend drinking it as it has a very high mineral content which might upset your stomach. So, what can you drink? There are small shops on almost every street corner and in most small villages that sell bottled water. If you are staying in one place for a couple of days, I would recommend buying a large refillable bottle of water (see picture). It is much cheaper than buying smaller bottles and not a single use plastic (they can reuse the containers). The cost for one of these ranges from about 50 to 100 rupees (which is between 40 and 80 cent).
Another thing you can do if you are staying in one place for a while is to buy a kettle (costs about 800 rupees) and boil your own water and then drink it hot or allow it to cool down and store in a refillable container. This is what I do since I rent an apartment with electricity. Alternatively, you can use water purifying tablets or a Steripen to purify your water. When you go out to eat, you can order a cup of hot water (tato pani in Nepali) for free with your meal.
2. Cooking for yourself: Again, if you are staying in one place for a while and have access to a kitchen, you may choose to cook for yourself. This is great if you want to save money and at least in my experience, you might not want to eat out for 3 meals a day for 6 months! I lived in a town called Pharping which about 20km outside Kathmandu. In the town, there is a small supermarket and several fruit and vegetable stands. I typically spend about 1000 rupees (about 8 euro) on food each week. This includes at least one meal out. I only cook vegetarian food. Generally speaking, the meat in Nepal is not that safe as you will see for yourself. In most parts of Nepal, there are still regular electricity cuts so the meat is often not refrigerated and left sitting on dirty wooden planks where flies can land on them. There are some fancy restaurants and butchers in Kathmandu where everything is much more sanitary. However, as I live outside the city, this is not an option for me. Also, I personally only occasionally eat meat anyways. I buy all my fruit and veg from the street stalls and everything else like eggs, flour, rice, beans, etc from the shop.
Cleaning fruit and vegetables: It is important to thoroughly wash your fruit and vegetables before eating them. It is not like in Europe where having dirt on your veggies when you buy them can be classified as organic and healthy. I am super strict about the fruit and veg I cook because I have had travellers diarrhea and it is really not fun. What I personally do, is I soak all my fruit and veggies in a potassium permanganate or iodine solution. (according to the guidelines on the packet). There are different guidelines about this but I personally soak my fruit and veggies for about 20 minutes after having washed them under the tap to remove any residual dirt. It is generally recommended to do this only with food that you plan to eat raw but since I like to eat my veggies a little al dente, I also do it with the things I cook as well.
3. Eating out: I’m a big fan of salads and raw food in general. I crave salad all the time when I am in Nepal. However, I am really strict about where I eat my salad as I do not want to get sick (again, really not fun guys). There are a few restaurants in Kathmandu that serve organic salad washed in iodized water. Some examples are Roadhouse pizzeria, Pho 99, Himalayan Java and Fire and Ice. There are probably loads more. These places are like 10 times the price of regular Nepali restaurants so I usually only go to them on special occasions.
4. Dairy products: I sometimes consume dairy products when I am in Nepal and I have never had a problem with it. My local shop sells yak cheese and I sometimes eat yoghurt. It’s a good idea to make sure that the dairy products you consume are pasteurised and are stored in a sealed container. I know that the dairy in Pharping comes from a safe reliable source so I am comfortable buying it. About ice cream. I love ice cream and sorbet especially when it’s hot out. It is probably my favourite dessert. Generally speaking, ice cream can be a bit iffy. Because of the unstable electricity situation in Nepal, the icecream can partially be thawed and refrozen a couple of times by the time you have bought it. leaving loads of time for sneaky bacteria to thrive.
5. Wash your hands: I grew up in the countryside in Ireland where the air and everything else is really clean and you don’t need to wash your hands all the time. Nepal is a different story. It is super important to wash your hands regularly not just when you go to the bathroom but also after going shopping, after taking the bus, before you eat literally anything. Especially after handling money as it is one of the main carriers of parasites! And try not to put your hands on or in your mouth if you can avoid it. I also carry around hand sanitizer to clean my hands if washing them is not an option. Also, if you are in Kathmandu (nicknamed Dustmandu you will see why for yourself), it is a good idea to be even more aware of this. Also, If you order a soft drink in a restaurant or buy juice in a carton or canned drinks in a shop it is a good idea to clean the top of the container. My experience is that the food in most of the shops is covered in dust. And sometimes, there can be rats and mice living in the shop (at least that’s the case in Pharping). Usually if you are eating out (in a more iffy place) and order a soft drink, it is a good idea to drink it with a straw. I am trying to reduce my use of plastics so I recently got a bamboo straw which I love. You can also easily buy glass or metal straws online.
6. Antimicrobials: I take antimicrobials daily. There are a few great options out there such as wormwood, oregano and berberine. My personal favourite is grapefruit seed extract. I just add a few drops (mine is really potent) to a glass of water and drink it down every day. It is important to drink it with water and not take it neat as this can damage your mucus membranes in your gastro-intestinal tract. Also, it is important not to take it at the same time as probiotics as it is an antimicrobial, it can kill the probiotics. So good to leave 3-4 hours in between taking the anti-microbial and probiotics. I personally take the grapefruit seed extract in the morning and the probiotic in the evening.
7. Eat antimicrobial foods: Another way to protect your body from infection is to eat lots of antimicrobial foods. Examples of antimicrobial foods that you can find in Nepal:
- Raw honey – It needs to be good quality to have the antimicrobial qualities. You can buy this in health shops in Kathmandu, supermarkets and in the weekly farmer’s market in Boudhanath at Lavee hotel or in Lazimpat.
- Cinnamon – Add it to your porridge, put in into smoothies, tea, coffee, on top of a fruit salad etc
- Garlic – Add it to all your savory dishes. The garlic needs to be chopped and left to stand for more than 5 minutes for the allicin to be released and bioavailable to us.
- Pumpkin seeds (You can find them in the big supermarkets in Kathmandu). Eat them on their own or sprinkle on top of sweet and savory dishes such as soups, salads, porridge etc. It’s best if you can toast your pumpkin seeds until they pop because it makes them more digestible and it gives a yummy toasty flavor to your dishes.
8. Probiotics: I am obsessed with probiotics. I think they are fantastic. Studies have shown that they can have a wide variety of health benefits from improving digestive symptoms to anxiety. What is important to be aware of here is there is a huge variety of different probiotics out there. Many boast lofty health claims. Some strains have been thoroughly researched and have health benefits while others can be totally useless. So, to save yourself some money, I would recommend that you buy a probiotic from a respected brand with specific bacterial strains that are backed up by scientific research. I personally use BioKult Advanced Multi-strain probiotic. Which I find helps me. It has a combination of different strains of lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. But there are so many great brands out there such as Optibac, BioGaya and many more. Certain strains have specific health benefits so it is a good idea to seek advice about which probiotics can be the most beneficial for you personally.
9. Get a stool test when you get home: I would recommend that you get a stool test upon your return home. Even if you don’t have any symptoms. There first year I was in Nepal in 2015, there was a big earthquake. Which meant that it was very difficult to stay clean as there was no running water and we were sleeping outside. When I got home, I had no visible symptoms except that I felt a little tired and my digestion was a little off. I got a stool test and it turned out that I had cyclosporiasis. This is one of the lesser parasites in terms of symptoms but left untreated it can lead to chronic gastrointestinal problems such as leaky gut, loose stools, general inability to extract nutrients from food effectively. Actually, my mum discovered last year that she had a super nasty parasite that was making her really ill. It had affected a number of her internal organs leaving scar tissue on her lungs. She is still going through the treatment process for this and her symptoms have much improved. I won’t give too much information as I will try to get her to write a post about this herself. Hint hint.
10. Keep a heath diary whilst travelling: This one is really simple but super useful. Especially if you end up needing to see a doctor when you return home. If you notice anything strange, for example you have a headache, diarrhoea, or you feel tired and down. Write it in your health diary. Try to be as specific as possible. For example: what was the date? what time? how often did it happen? You will be able to provide useful information to a health professional when you return home. Being specific when you talk to a professional will help them to narrow down the possibilities and save time during diagnosis.
I hope you found this list helpful. If you have any questions about the content in this post or generally about travelling in Nepal, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a wonderful day :)