Should I Eat This? Top Tips for Staying Healthy Abroad

*You can view the original article on GivingWay’s website.

We often see amazing photos of unusual foods from other countries and read other travelers’ and volunteers’ stories regaling us with tales of the delicacies they tried. However, we also have heard of some really awful nights spent in the hostel bathroom after an unfortunate turn at the table. No one wants to miss out on an incredible experience, but where do we draw the line? And how to we avoid being out of commission due to food poisoning or other unfortunate related illnesses?

Check out the top travel tips for staying healthy abroad:

  • Ask your host family, hostel, or other travellers about the water. In some countries such as Switzerland, you can drink straight out of the public fountains! But other countries’ water supplies may generally upset sensitive stomachs, even for brushing one’s teeth. Instead of purchasing inordinate quantities of bottled water, however, try for a straw or water bottle filter. You can find these online for under 20 USD$. You’ll save money, keep the tummy happy, and be environmentally conscious at the same time!
  • Talk to your doctor or local pharmacist for some really helpful medications for typical upset stomach and digestion issues. Also, a daily probiotic and multivitamin will go a long way. It’s worth the space in your bag to bring these along.
  • Meat and dairy are some of the biggest culprits for food poisoning. Yogurt or ice cream in one place will not be the same as in another. They are different in every country and can really upset your stomach, even if you’re used to eating the product at home. I would make a big exception in Italy, ALWAYS have gelato in Italy.Tips for eating when traveling abroad
  •  Fresh fruits and veggie salads get a bad reputation as well, so remember that foods with “skin” on them such as oranges, bananas, and melons are much safer since the skin protects from any water. Cooked veggies are always safer than their raw counterpart.
  • Make friends! The people that you meet may have some great food recommendations. And invite them to eat with you because you never know when you’ll meet a lifelong friend and make some amazing memories across the table.Tips for eating when traveling abroad
  • Know your limits, because the foods and drinks that are fine for locals may not sit as well with you. If you’re unused to type of beverages and other foods, just try a little at a time and see what happens. If whatever you’re trying is really, really good, come back the next day for the full experience!

But keep an open mind and take some risks! Don’t let worrying about what’s on your plate take away from your volunteer or travel experience. Getting sick can happen and that’s okay. Sometimes those times may actually make for some of the best stories!

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The Magic of Sharing Food

This week I’m writing about food. A general passion of mine. I will forego gifts, clothes, even museum tickets if yummy food is at stake. Some people enjoy the activities or the shopping while the travel, I, on the other hand, prioritize les repas. But very rarely have the expensive meals (few and far between) or even the delicious solo dessert enjoyed in front of a monument or park, those have not been the great food moments. Nope, the ones I remember most are the brief moments of a shared package of store bought cookies, the extra apple purchased for a stranger, me, on a train, the simple dinners of pasta shared at a large, filled table.

Food has always held an important place in each culture. It’s where we meet, where we break bread, share the day, develop our own culture, introduce and make war or peace, it can connect in ways that few other shared experiences can. Nothing proves this more than in the little, poor moments. There’s the quotation from the New Testament Christian text, echoed before and after by many other similar sentiments, “It is better to eat a crust of bread in peace, than a grand feast with enemies.” And what a powerful statement that is. Below I share just a few of these moments. These are excerpted from my travel journals.

Mfangano Island, Kenya

For dinner, I had meat for the first time in 3+ years. Well, fish, actually. Not sure I could stomach red meat or chicken, but the fish was served w/ugali and stewed cabbage, all of it was delicious. Yunis, the mother,  asked me what I did and didn’t eat, and started talking about other volunteers who only ate “greens” and how she didn’t understand that. So I felt really and I said I didn’t eat meat.

“But fish, yes?”

“Uh, I haven’t for awhile, but I try it.” Slight regret already.

I attempted to explain that the meat in the States and elsewhere isn’t like here, it’s full of hormones and antibiotics, but all this was irrelevant to her it seemed. We prayed before dinner, a genuine giving of thanks, and I prayed with them. I added a silent prayer to the fish, thanking it for it’s sacrifice. Eating with them felt like the right thing to do. It was full of respect and in fact, had I refused, would have been the opposite. So I ate.

 

Kathmandu, Nepal

We’ve been eating breakfast in the guesthouse kitchen every morning. The cute Nepali hostess makes amazing vegan breads, crepes, and potato-heavy curries. We sit and sip tea on the floor pillows and read The Himalayan newspaper, smudgey ink and all. Chatting with whomever happens to be taking their breakfast at the same time. Two college Aussie’s trekking to Everest Base Camp (EBC). A Holland jazz teacher.

The owner told us about the earthquakes, how their house stood through the shaking, but they spent many nights under the rain and stars on the street outside “Stars, no rain and very happy. But rain made very hard.”

St. Julien de Genevois, just outside Geneva, on the French side

Tuesdays the maid comes, and we had a nice chat over her lunch and my tea. She’s a slight lady, who at first glance appears much younger than she really is. Up close you can see the wear and tear of life on her. She has a calm, but kind aura about her. Invited me to share her sandwich, a simple repas of cheese and yoghurt, wrapped in cellophane. It reminds me me of a school lunch I would have packed up and brought myself.

We sat there talking about how it’s hard to learn French (but complementing each other on our skills), my textured, multi-colored wool pullover and her maids uniform stark contrasts to the black marble and stainless steel appliances of the modern kitchen. Our laughter and her warmth filling the large, empty apartment where we both work. She laments about how hard it is here in France, but how money is much better here than in Portugal, where she’s immigrated from with her family.

“Very lucky to have nice family, they are good,” she tells me. “Not all are good.”

I’ve been very fortunate to meet many people, to extend and be extended a veritable encyclopedia of foods from around the world. These are the moments when my emotions have turned from loneliness and uncertainty, to feeling welcomed and accepted. The gift of offering food transcends language barriers and shows, even if only a brief moment, a connection from one human being to another.