Health Tips To Keep in Mind While Volunteering Abroad


The preparation for a trip abroad involves a lot of planning and designing. And when the trip is to volunteer abroad, it becomes all the more important to make sure nothing is missed out on. Believe it or not, but amidst flight bookings and online research about the volunteer destination, people often miss out planning one very crucial thing; how to stay healthy while volunteering abroad.   

The prospect of a volunteer abroad trip probably brings about a wealth of emotions: excitement, delight, nervousness and anxiety. While traveling to a foreign country isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, it will be an adventure of a lifetime that’s designed to help others for a specific cause.

Before you hop on a plane, be sure to do your homework and make a ‘to-do’ list. Part of the planning process will involve how to care for your health – before you leave and during your trip abroad.

Here are some important health-related items to consider:


1. Consult Your Doctor


Can you imagine having a root canal or something equally horrible while in a country that may or may not use anesthesia? This does happen, believe it or not. A trip to your dentist for a toothache before leaving home is a wise move. Same deal with other aches and pains you are having; see your physician and consider it preventive healthcare.

Sometimes you can’t prevent accidents or unplanned visits to the doc, but you might as well be proactive.

Vaccines may also be required. While planning for international travel, be sure to visit the World Health Organization (WHO) website. Alternatively you can always do a thorough research to find the recommended vaccinations for different countries.

Many countries won’t allow admittance without that yellow card that shows you’ve had your shots. No one likes to get poked with needles, but it kind of goes with the territory. Volunteer organizations will help you with your requirements, as well.

If you’re traveling in a malarial zone, you should ask your doctor or travel nurse about specific medications to take. They will recommend meds based on your health history. Once you’re there, don’t forget to take the pills! Stay on top of the Zika virus statistics, too. It’s a disease that’s transmitted through mosquito bites and sexual intercourse – expected to infect 4 million people by the end of 2016.


2. Travel Health Kit


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a great place to start. You’ll find a comprehensive list of items to pack. If you don’t think you’ll have access to certain health supplies where you’re going, don’t forget to bring them.

All prescription medications should be in your carry-on luggage. Pack copies of all prescriptions and bring a note from the prescribing doctor for controlled substances and injectables. Check with the American Embassy or Consulate to make sure your meds are allowed into the country.

Other packables include insect repellent containing DEET, antibacterial wipes, lubricating eye drops, diarrhea medicine, antacids, among many other supplies. See the website for a thorough list.


3. Exercise & Sleep

Young woman practicing yoga on the beach at sunset.

While volunteering abroad, you probably won’t be able to keep your exact workout routine that you do at home. However, staying active will help you mentally and physically, and even allow you to sleep better at night.  

Turn your housing into a little gym and stretching room. Remember the days of push-ups, planks, lunges, jumping jacks and downward dogs? You don’t need fancy equipment to do those things.

If you do go on hikes, or for a run, or even on walks through the streets, I would always use the buddy system. Always. And don’t get lost.

You need to bring your A-game to your volunteer experience, so be sure to get adequate sleep at night. You probably know your minimum sleep requirement by now. Good sleep and exercise habits helps for a successful volunteering abroad.


4. Keep A Check On Your Diet


It may be safe to drink the water, but be sure to ask your volunteer organization first. Buy bottled water if it’s an option. Staying hydrated is crucial, so it’s best to stay on top of your water intake. Using a water filter or boiling the water first are also some nice healthy alternatives while volunteering abroad.

The basic rules for eating local food are: Peel it, cook it, wash it or forget it. If a piece of meat or fish has been sitting in an open market for too long, your stomach might balk if you eat it. Look for vendors who are serving up freshly prepared food. Generally, heat kills the bacteria that causes diarrhea.

Keep in mind that condiments and sauces served in open containers could be a contaminated. Bushmeat – or local wild game that’s not typically eaten in the US – should probably be avoided. Rodents, monkeys and bats, and other bushmeats, can be a source of diseases, such as SARS or Ebola. This doesn’t mean you should avoid food you have never tried before.


I wonder if Anthony Bourdain would say these consumption tips take all the fun out of traveling? Better safe than sorry. We could all probably agree that eating culturally doesn’t mean consuming foods that could harm the body.

Be safe, have fun, do good work, and take good care of your health. Let us know your best tips for healthy travel abroad!

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