How not to get sick while traveling in India

How not to get sick while traveling in India

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! One of the biggest fears a lot of people have about traveling in a so-called ‘developing’ nation or region like India (or Thailand, Africa, and Southeast Asia) is getting sick. There are many things you can do to avoid getting sick while traveling in India.

Over many years of experience, I’ve learned how to help prevent travel sickness, how to help prevent and cure travelers diarrhea aka Delhi Belly, what foods to eat and what foods to avoid, what medicines to take, and generally how to stay healthy in India and while traveling in Asia — and I’ve rounded up all my best tips in this post including My top 10 tips on how to avoid getting sick in India (see below).

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 preventing and coping with the most common issues travelers face in India such as travelers diarrhea.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not a substitute for qualified, professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider. Never disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read on this website. Visitors who use this site and rely on any information do so at their own risk.

Top 10 tips to prevent getting sick in India and to stay healthy on the road

  1. Visit a travel medical clinic and get the appropriate vaccinations and recommendations.
  2. Drink only safe water such as RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water or bottled water.
  3. Eat only freshly cooked foods. Avoid raw foods and fruit that can’t be peeled. Watch for water in ice and sauces. Don’t eat food that’s been sitting around, especially outdoors.
  4. Avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitoes in India can carry malaria and dengue and other infections. Use DEET.
  5. Take Travelan 48 hours before you start traveling, and before each meal during your trip.
  6. Take shelf-stable probiotics every day, or eat home-made yogurt.
  7. Stay hydrated and wear a hat or scarf to prevent sunstroke, which is all too common in India.
  8. Dress appropriately for both the culture and the weather. Loose, flowing, cotton clothing is ideal for the heat and the need for modesty. Read more about What to wear in India here.
  9. Wear comfortable shoes
  10. Bring your own medications.
India sweet snack Jalebi

Street snacks and sweets, like jalebi, are popular all over India. Just be cautious to avoid getting sick in India.

How can I avoid getting sick in India?

The main health related issues you could face in India are:

  • travelers diarrhea (locally known as Delhi Belly)
  • dengue and other vector borne diseases
  • rabies from dog bites, monkey scratches, or other animals
  • typhoid, hepatitis, and tetanus

Most of this post is about preventing and managing travelers diarrhea and Delhi Belly, which is by far the most common illness travelers face in India. However, I also want to underline the importance of preventing dengue and other vector borne diseases such as malaria by wearing long sleeves and pants, and using a mosquito repellent that contains DEET. Most hotel rooms also have plug-in devices to prevent mosquitoes, so I highly recommend using them. There are no vaccines for dengue, which is common in India, so preventing mosquito bites is the best strategy.

Rabies is a very serious disease that can result in death if not treated, so if you are bitten or scratched by an animal in India, you must seek treatment immediately, within 24 hours. You will need to get a course of shots over several days. There is a rabies vaccine, but you still need to get treated with shots if you are bitten or scratched, so most people don’t bother with the vaccine.

Other potential diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis, and tetanus can be prevented by vaccine. I recommend visiting a travel medical clinic to find out what you need for India at the time you are going.

If you are getting travel vaccinations for the first time, you really have to start early. Visit a travel medical clinic to find out what’s recommended. Start getting your vaccines three months before you depart. The first time I went to India, I needed several vaccinations, including Twinrix (for hepatitis A and B). Thank goodness I started getting my vaccinations early because I ended up needing four shots of Twinrix before it “took!”

Kerala, South India, food thali

A thali of delicious South Indian specialties served on a banana leaf.

How can I prevent travelers diarrhea and stay healthy in India?

When I first went to India, I had never been on a long-term trip, and never to anywhere like India. Unfortunately, a visit to the travel medical clinic scared me into worrying about all kinds of potential disasters, and I arrived in Delhi with half-a-suitcase of medical supplies. My hosts, an Indian family, laughed. It was as if I was going into the deepest darkest jungle — instead of a sophisticated city with state-of-the-art modern medical clinics.

Now, I have pared that bag down considerably. I have come to realize that not only can I get almost everything I need in India, but it will be cheaper and more suited to the conditions there.

Ultimately traveling will always have risks involved that usually include being ill or sick.  If you are careful, mindful and sensible about the food, and do some research, you can still be adventurous.

As I mentioned above, travelers diarrhea or Delhi Belly is the most common sickness a traveler might face in India. Statistics show that travellers’ diarrhea is the leading health problem in international travel affecting up to 70% of travellers. It is hard to avoid completely but there are many steps you can take to help prevent getting sick in India.

The first step is to prepare your immune system with a positive attitude and lifestyle, to make yourself healthy for travel. There is no substitute for a strong immune system, plus using common sense when you travel. You also need to learn what medications and supplements to take and also what foods and drinks to avoid in India.

Through many years of trial-and-error, here is what I have learned and what I carry with me to prevent getting sick in India.


Travelan box with backpack

Taking Travelan daily can help you avoid getting sick in India.

Travelan is an over the counter medication available in pharmacies across Canada. Travelan helps to stop travelers diarrhea before it starts, whereas anti-diarrheal products simply relieve symptoms once you are ill. The Travelan antibodies lay in wait in the gastrointestinal tract, neutralizing any incoming bacteria and inhibiting them from their attachment to the intestinal tract, essentially reducing the risk of becoming infected with bacteria that can cause travelers diarhhea.

Clinical studies have proven Travelan can reduce the risk of infection and provide up to 90% protection from travelers diarrhea. In Australia, Travelan is also indicated to reduce the symptoms of minor gastrointestinal disorders. Take one or two caplets before each meal, three times per day, starting 48 hours before travel and during the period of travel.

Travelan is available at Canadian pharmacies including Shoppers Drug Mart, Jean Coutu and selected independent pharmacies. You can buy Travelan online on Amazon Australia and Amazon Canada.

Travel Probiotics

Shelf-stable travel probiotics are one of the best things you can take while traveling. I especially like to start about a week before leaving, and then I take one every day for the first few weeks. I also supplement by eating home-made yogurt (known as curd in India), which is full of healthy probiotics.

Spotting a tiger in the Sunderbans National Park, West Bengal, India

Spotting a tiger in its natural habitat in India is notoriously hard. And no wonder as there are only 1,400 of these big cats in the country and these are spread over more than 40 national parks. Nevertheless, I was in the area so I took a trip to the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve in West Bengal and stayed hopeful.

Oddly, just before setting off from Calcutta to the Sunderbans Tiger Camp our naturalist, Avijit Dutta, reported that: “Some years ago, a 21-year-old woman was dispatched as part of a team to the Sunderbans to catch crabs to sell. On her way back, she was spotted by a hungry tiger who killed and ate her.”

By the time I had driven the 90km from Calcutta, picked up one of the many ferries on the Gadkhali jetty that sits in the mouth of the Ganges and sailed two hours to Waxpol Jungle Lodge on Dayapur island, this disconcerting story had been well and truly banished to the dark echelons of my mind.

In any case the mangroves and forests of the Sunderbans are shrouded in mist, mostly uninhabitable and much of it is out of bounds to most humans. So for the likes of me and other tourists, the only way to spot a tiger is on a ferry cruise.

About Sunderbans

From any perspective the view over the Sunderbans seems to stretch forever. “Forever” in numbers is actually 10,000 km2 (3,900 sq mi) making it the biggest area of coastal mangrove forest in the world. It spans two countries: Bengal in India and neighbouring Bangladesh. The Indian part (where I was) covers around 4,262 sq km, with 2,585 sq km given over to a national park and tiger reserve.

So it was amid this watery network of tidal waterways, mud flats, small islands and mangrove forests, that I took my chances. There were other hopefuls too, including a honeymooning couple also staying at Waxpol Jungle Lodge, who hired an entire romantically-dressed boat for themselves.

Two days meandering through the mangroves

The day started at 6.30am on the Jungle Tiger boat. We boarded as the sun rose and watched as the crew brought on breakfast and lunch parcels that they carried on their heads.

We finally set off a little after the colourful boat carrying the honeymooners but in the opposite direction. The sun was high and releasing orange-hued rays that made their way through a misty sky drawing a shimmering line of tapered light onto the water. It was a slow quiet glide passing Sajnekhali watchtower complex and through Pirkhali River – khali means canal – and the only noise was the hum of light chatter of Hindi banter from the crew.

When we turned right towards Sudhanyakhali, the scene was of swampy mangrove on both sides. And eventually a boat carrying hay.

Hay transportation in Boat
Hay transportation

By 8am we were deep in the creek and the egrets could be seen elegantly pottering about the coast, sandpipers flew overhead and black capped and brown winged kingfishers endemic to the mangrove popped up on tree tops and branches.

At 8.45 am there was some excitement. Freshly made tiger foot prints could be clearly seen in the silt. We followed the trail along the mud flats but these trailed off into the mangrove and away from sight.

Happily, a traditional South Indian breakfast of rice bread, udden dahl and rice – sambar powder sauce, lentils, tamarind and tomato and some peanut chutney on the side – was served and did much to dampen the disappointment.

Eventually we reached Five River Junction. It was pretty sedate and we were treated to sightings of spotted dear, the odd boar, plenty of birds and a huge dollop of intensely beautiful scenery. And a small boat carrying a handful of fishermen.

Caged Walkway
Canopy Walk

By 1pm we arrived at the Do Banki camp where there is a Canopy Walk and so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs. This canopy walk is about half a kilometre long and at a height of about 20 ft from the ground. If you are lucky you will see Chital deers or Brahmini Kites and if you are extremely lucky you will see a tiger. We weren’t.

The second morning we were up with the sun and on the water by 6.30am. Today, there was (comparatively) a rush hour on the wild life highway. A troop of 30 or so monkeys lined the coast for a mile or so.

It was magnificent to watch them and also the egrets that mingled nonchalantly among them punctuating the cuppocino hued monkeys, and smudges of dark beige of the mud flats with the bright white of their long white necks and feathers.

Further along we spotted Spotted dear loitering and nuzzling each other. After a local style breakfast it was silent again with a smidgen of excitement at the sight of another wavy and highly tantalising line of fresh tiger tracks.

We followed them but yet again they trailed off into the forest. “The difficulty,” said Avijit “is that you can only spot a tiger if it come out onto the open mud flats and these are only exposed at low tide”.

Crocodile Sighting in Sunderbans
Crocodile Sighting in Sunderbans

But we did see a small jungle cat, a couple of otters and a wild boar. Later on the Bidia River we almost missed the sighting of a lazy crock whose skin was camouflaged with the ground beneath. It was laying on the mud flat soaking in the rays only giving itself away with a slight movement of the tail before it flitted off.

We were told stories of dolphins around Bidia River but we couldn’t find any. So we headed towards a flock of lesser whistling ducks by following their distinctive rasping call. These duck-like birds are only found in this part of the world and come with chestnut chests, long necks, eat only at night and can perch on trees.

Back at Waxpol I found myself reflecting on two long days exploring the rivers with no tiger sightings to show for it. I consoled myself with the thought that spotting a tiger was always going to be unlikely and it even took Avijit (the naturalist) eight years to bag a picture.

But then I bumped into the honeymooning couple. They were delighted to be showing off pictures of a tiger they had spotted within ten minutes of leaving Waxpol that morning. I had no words (that can be printed here)!


There is no doubt that the Sunderbans has a beautiful soothing landscape with its crisscrossing rivulets, creeks and verdant forests. But spotting a tiger is as unlikely as winning a tenner on the lottery; but as the honeymooners proved, it does happens.