India is a beautiful country. It is incredibly diverse with a total area of 3,287,263 sq. km. That’s a little over ⅓ of the US. There are roughly 1, 281, 935, 911 people living in India, according to the CIA World Factbook, and the population is still growing. India is filled with rich cultures, spirituality and religion and ancient history going back hundreds of years. If you have never been I would highly recommend visiting it at least once in your lifetime, but not without some precautions.
For solo travelers, especially female solo travelers, India can be an exhausting experience. If you’ve never traveled before I would start somewhere else. If you have traveled solo before then great! Maybe India can be your next destination.
For any foreigner, health in India can be a challenge. But as someone who is recovered from an eating disorder, staying on top of your health before and during your trip is vital.
Here is my take on Health in India as a Westerner and What I Did to Maintain My Recovery while faced with extreme health challenges.
#1: Prepare your body before you go.
If you do your research you will learn very quickly that most blogs and travelers recommend taking probiotics before leaving for India; I couldn’t agree more. THIS IS A MUST! Probiotics are a great way to strengthen your stomach and prepare it for the diversity of food you will encounter in India. Spice in India is always present, for better or worse. As a foreigner, the spices and flavors of the food will have an impact on your stomach and digestion. For some it may be easier to handle but for others, like myself, the food, while delicious, will do a number on your stomach. Taking probiotics before and during your trip will help give your stomach a fighting chance.
#2: Take it slow.
As soon as you arrive you will be flooded with hundreds of different smells, sounds and feelings. The food in India is incredible, and you should try it all, but not all at once. Take your time. As tempting as it may be to go straight for the street food: DON’T! Let your body adjust to the spice levels in clean and safe food first and then experiment with street food. The number one rule for street food is making sure the food is HOT (Temperature hot). You never want to eat cold street food.
#3: Pay attention to your body while you are there.
I am going to be honest. Depending on how long you are in India, you will most likely spend some time of your trip in the bathroom. That’s normal. What’s not normal is spending weeks and weeks with diarrhea or being unable to keep food down for long periods of time (more than 24hrs). If you are experiencing these two things for more than a couple of days go to the hospital and tell them to check for a parasite. Last time I was India, I had a parasite for three months. The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. When I went home and got treatment from my home doctor she let me know that the parasite I had was fairly common and if I had caught it the first week I had symptoms it would’ve been a lot easier to kill.
#4: Bring the right supplies.
This brings me to my next piece of advice. Bring antibiotics! You can get generic antibiotics for parasites from your doctor in the US. Let them know that you are traveling overseas to India and want to be prepared in case you start experiencing parasite symptoms. In addition to the antibiotics make sure to bring/have:
- A toothbrush and case. This goes for soap too.
- Hand sanitizer and some tissues for bathroom breaks on the road.
- Ibuprofen (or any other over the counter pain medication)
- Travelers Diarrhea medication
- Anti-itch cream for mosquitos + mosquito spray/cream
- Get your vaccinations (Recommended vaccinations per country)
- Also here is a packing list specifically for India designed by the CDC. You won’t need all of the things on the list so prioritize what you think is the most important and do your research.
You can learn more about India by visiting: bolddestinations.com.
#5: Stay mindful of the impact the above health challenges have on your recovery
Traveling in India is hard. It is fulfilling and empowering but extremely challenging; there’s just no easy way to say it. As someone who is recovered from an eating disorder, it is extremely important that you stay connected to what your recovery is and how the health challenges of India are impacting it. When I was there, due to my parasite, I felt extremely triggered, mostly because I physically couldn’t keep food down at one point. I still remember going to a restaurant one day and having a simple soup and throwing it up all over the table I was dining at. At that moment, reaching out and asking for help from the people I had met while traveling and living there and to my support systems at home were vital to me maintaining my recovery.
5 Things I did to Maintain My Recovery After Contracting a Parasite in India:
#1: I reached out to family, my therapist and friends to talk about the challenges of India and how they were affecting me.
#2: I wrote in my journal about how I was feeling and what I had experienced each day.
#3: If I found something that didn’t make me sick I bought it in bulk and kept it on me at all times. I had A LOT of rice and curd (plain yogurt).
#4: I drank as much water as I could. Because I got so sick I was constantly dehydrated. Drinking water gave me energy and strength to stay true to my recovery.
#5: I decided to come home early. At a certain point, you have to put your recovery first. No matter how hard it is to come home early REMEMBER it is not a failure! By coming home early I put my recovery and myself first and I got the care that I needed.
Overall, I don’t want my experiences to scare you from traveling to India. I had a great time! I met wonderful people, had life changing experiences and saw some places and ate some incredible food. Believe it or not, I am actually going back to India in January of 2019; so really, India is a wonderful place to explore. Just know that traveling in India is challenging in many ways but if you do your research, practice preventative strategies and have a plan to put yourself first if your health goes south you will be fine. Trust me I’ve been there.
Citation: “Health Information for Travelers to India.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/.