7 Nasty Travel Illnesses That Can Ruin Your Trip — And How to Avoid Them

You don’t want illness to ruin your dream vacation, so be prepared for possible issues before you leave.
Last updated April 3, 2023 | By Jenny Cohen Edited By Ellen Cannon
Woman sneezing on an airplane

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You may be anticipating a great vacation to have some fun or get away from the daily grind. It’s exciting to research all the places you want to visit and then pack your bags. But getting sick away from home can ruin a trip. How can you prevent common illnesses so your next trip isn’t spoiled by a nasty bug wreaking havoc on your system?

As you prepare for your next vacation, be aware of some of the illnesses you could encounter on your travels and find ways to possibly avoid them.

1. Norovirus

jarun011/Adobe blood sample positive with Norovirus

Cruise ships are a great way to vacation and see different ports. But they also can be a breeding ground for norovirus, due to close contact with other passengers. Contact an onboard doctor if you experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever. And if you’re traveling on a cruise ship in the future, consider travel-size hand sanitizer that you can carry with you throughout the ship to help prevent possible illness.

2. COVID-19

Valerii/Adobe a sick man for coronavirus disease covid-19

The past two years have been difficult as the world dealt with a global pandemic. Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 could include fever, cough, breathing difficulty, fatigue, and loss of taste or smell.

If you’re traveling, be aware of testing sites available at your destination or take at-home tests with you to use as needed. You also may want to know your destination’s regulations concerning vaccination requirements or COVID-19 test results before arrival.

Pro tip: Consider adding travel insurance to your trip if you plan to go to a country that may be seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases. Travel insurance may cover trip cancellations or disruptions as well as medical evacuation, if necessary, though it’s always wise to read the fine print. Some of the best travel credit cards may also include trip cancellations or disruption insurance if you book your trip with them.

3. Malaria

_KUBE_/Adobe dissatisfied woman is sitting on a kayak and scratching her pimpled leg from mosquito bites

This disease is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes and can cause issues such as chills, fever, and nausea. It is more prevalent around Central and South America, Africa, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe.

Before you leave, check with your doctor about getting antimalarial pills to take during your trip to help you avoid getting sick. You should also consider asking your destination lodging if they provide mosquito nets as a barrier between you and mosquitoes.

4. Dengue fever

nechaevkon/Adobe virus infected culex mosquito parasite insect on skin

Dengue fever is another illness that can be transmitted by mosquitoes and is usually found in African and Asian countries, particularly in India and southern China. Symptoms may include nose bleeds, fever, and general weakness.

Like malaria, check with your accommodations to see if they include mosquito nets, if necessary, and consider using insect repellent.

5. Travelers’ diarrhea

Alex Hubenov/Adobe Oriental food - Indian takeaway at a London's market

This common ailment may be caused by contaminated food due to poor hygiene practices, most often in countries outside the United States.

Be cautious when choosing where to eat when you’re visiting somewhere unfamiliar. You may also want to avoid raw foods and salads, and stick to dishes that have been cooked as thoroughly as possible.

6. Tetanus

Peakstock/Adobe routine vaccinations for a child

Tetanus can cause painful muscle contractions, particularly in the neck and jaw, which is why it’s sometimes known as “lockjaw.” The bacteria that causes tetanus can be found mainly in developing countries and could be fatal, especially if a person is infected with the bacteria through an open wound or burn. Most Americans get vaccinated against tetanus as children, and a booster shot is recommended every 10 years.

Pro tip: One international travel tip to remember is check on vaccines that may be suggested or required if traveling to certain countries. Also try to get a copy of your complete vaccine record if you don’t already have one. Most Americans get vaccinated against tetanus as children, and a booster shot is recommended every 10 years.

7. Tuberculosis

utah51/Adobe doctor examining lung x-ray film

This respiratory illness is highly contagious and spread through sneezing, coughing, or speaking. It can be found in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. It may be a good idea to check your medical records to see if you’ve received a vaccine for tuberculosis before traveling to one of these destinations.

There are a few key things you can do to help keep you and your loved ones safe.

1. Drink bottled water to avoid illnesses

Quality Stock Arts/Adobe girl teen drinking cool water at swimming pool

If you’re in a country without proper water sanitization, bottled water may be a good alternative to avoid water-borne illnesses. You may want to consider using it for drinking as well as washing your mouth out after brushing your teeth or washing your hands if you don’t have clean water or hand sanitizer available. And consider keeping extra water on hand to stay hydrated if you do get sick during your travels.

2. Wash hands and wear masks

Creativa Images/Adobe little daughter and mother washing hands with soap

One way to prevent illness that has become familiar to many people in the past few years is masks. A face mask can reduce the risk of contracting airborne illnesses as well as spreading them to others. Passengers on airplanes are currently required to wear them in the U.S., and different countries have different policies regarding mask-wearing. Before you leave, check the policies for your particular destinations.

You also should consider increasing your handwashing. Use warm soap and water if you can to prevent illnesses such as norovirus. And consider packing some extra hand sanitizer to carry with you if you’re somewhere without access to clean water.

3. Check on travel advisories

NDABCREATIVITY/Adobe beautiful couple working on laptop

The United States Department of State issues travel advisories for countries based on a number of factors. These could include war and terrorism, political issues, and illness. An advisory may help you gauge how safe you may be in a country, including from illnesses. The advisories are issued by country and tell you if you should consider taking any precautions during your visit or potentially canceling your travel.

Bottom line

shintartanya/Adobe gen z wearing mask travels alone

A little prevention before you leave could save you from being sick on vacation. So before you head out on your next trip, check on potential illnesses that you may be exposed to, depending on the type of transportation you’re using or where you’re going. You also may want to invest in travel insurance or get a credit card with travel insurance perks to cover additional costs or issues while you’re traveling.

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Jenny Cohen Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.