When traveling, the first thing you should consider is that you are getting away from your comfort zone in many ways, eating habits and hygiene style included. And when planning a trip to India, this is one of the very first things to consider. How to avoid getting sick in India? How to minimize the risks of eating street food in Indian cities? What are the things to avoid in India?
After many trips, staying a whole month in Delhi and getting sick way more than once, we feel prepared enough and compelled to share our tips to stay safe while traveling to and across India and the Sub-Continent.
How to avoid getting sick in India: tips from my first-hand experience
I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from going to India. It’s a beautiful country with a rich culture and getting sick will stop you from fully enjoying it.
And that’s a pity. Trust me, you don’t want to miss the buzzing Indian markets, the stunning temples, the royal palaces and the natural landscapes. Here are some things to consider to stay healthy in India and have an incredible trip.
On my first trip, I was very well instructed to avoid street food in India due to the poor hygienic standards and the high level of pollution and dust. So I stuck to reputable restaurants. Despite all my safety zeal, on the second day, I got sick like never before in my life.
I literally puked my guts all night, starting at midnight through the morning, when I finally fainted. The day after I didn’t touch a bit of food until late evening when a little spoon of boiled rice kicked my dodgy stomach again and I vomited for one last time. Green, probably the poison. After that last time, I started feeling better. I’m not sure what provoked such sickness, maybe a mushroom soup I had at the restaurant that contained milk.
Top safety measures on how to avoid food poisoning in India and actually enjoy your trip
Many people, especially from Western countries, before traveling wonder, ‘will I get sick in India?’ No need to panic or be paranoid about it, but it’s important to consider different countries, different rules, different geography, different ingredients, and different immune systems!
I don’t wish anyone to spend hours shaking from food poisoning, and with this post, I’m hoping to prevent other travelers from going through it by giving tips on how to avoid getting sick from Indian food.
Water problems in India and how to solve it
Last August I spent the whole month in Delhi, and while it was my fourth time in India, I had another incident that led to a whole night of vomiting. While the heaviest outburst was only one night, also the following days (and weeks!) I wasn’t feeling great. I started eliminating different ingredients at every meal to try to spot the culprit. Sometimes I would feel less sick but still not at my best.
Finally, researching, reading and exchanging information with other travellers, I reached the conclusion that what was making me feel always nauseous was the tap water. Obviously, I knew I couldn’t drink tap water in India, but I was still using it to brush my teeth three times a day!
Plus, since we rented a flat and did much of grocery shopping for meals at home, I used tap water also to wash fruits and veggies: another big mistake.
Pretty irresponsible of me, but I didn’t think such a small amount would have affected me so much. This is why, if you ask me how to avoid getting sick in India, my first thought goes straight to the water, and here are some tips I learned to my cost.
1. Is it safe to drink tap water in India? The answer is NO as the water is not treated, hence contaminated. Locals drink it but for Westerners, this can cause troubles.
2. In the long-term, it can be a pain, but among the tips on how to avoid getting sick in India, I suggest you brush your teeth with bottled water.
3. If you are cooking, you can use tap water to boil, but to wash fruits and veggies, I suggest you wash off the first dirt with tap water and baking soda and then rinse it off with mineral water.
4. Is it safe to wash with tap water? Obviously, you can’t take a full shower or bath with bottled water, but I would suggest using mineral water for intimate washing to avoid infections.
5. Is it safe to drink boiled tap water in India? If you have no other option, then it’s your best bet, otherwise, go for the sealed mineral water, one of our best tips on how to avoid getting sick in India.
Now, I know you are thinking it can be costly, especially if you are traveling on a shoestring, but alongside being worth it for your own well-being, you can remarkably cut the costs by buying one of the 20-liter water sealed containers that are sold in most shops (at least in Delhi but I’m sure also in other cities) for very affordable prices.
This is easier if you are renting a flat rather than staying at a hotel. Usually, it’s around 1 USD as long as you pay a 5 USD deposit for the container itself that you will give back every time you finish it and they give you a new one for another dollar. At the end of your stay, you take it back and you will get a refund of your deposit.
To wrap this up, my first recommendation on how not to get sick in India is that you use the water of the big container to wash, cook, and even boil it to make tea, but for drinking. I also recommend big brands of bottled water such as Bisleri and Kinley available pretty much everywhere in India.
Items and strategies that will help you stay healthy in India
Use a SteriPEN. A major help is to carry a water purifier with you, such as SteriPEN Ultra USB Rechargeable Portable, Handheld UV Water Purifier. This is a small device that uses UV light to make viruses harmless and clean the water in as little as 48 seconds. It would also save you from carrying many bottles if you go hiking in the wild.
Hand sanitizers. This can be wet wipes as well as bottled gel sanitizers. They will help you keep your hands clean when toilets are not available.
Always drink bottled water. I know I’m repeating myself, but I just can’t stress enough the importance of this.
Stay hydrated. With the right water, that is. Getting sick will cause you dehydration, which won’t help make you feel better. Make sure you drink enough water for a speedy recovery.
Avoid ice. This is directly linked to the point above. You don’t know what water they used to make the ice, so better to avoid it. Besides, drinking too cold and causing too much temperature contrast is not a good thing for your intestine.
Wisely choose your food. If you are not used to very spicy food, ask for mild dishes. Or mild versions of them. You can always increase the spice intake as you get more used to it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask what ingredients make a dish. In some soups they use milk, and while the paneer cheese never gave me problems (I often had the typical Indian dish palak paneer), their milk did. Big time.
Prefer packaged food. I know street food sounds cool and exotic. And I know Indian street food looks delicious. But if you are not sure, try to avoid it and prefer packaged food.
Fast. If you are starting to feel sick, don’t be afraid to fast. Even for a whole day. You won’t starve. This, actually, will allow your digestive system to take a break and focus on healing instead. But don’t forget to drink to stay hydrated.
Prefer cooked foods. As a big fan of raw food, this is pretty hard for me. But in India, especially if you got sick already, you should prefer cooked food. Avoid raw fruits from outside as they are washed with tap water.
What to do if you get sick in India? The remedies I use
Whether you have a sensitive stomach or not, chances are you will get sick in India. I always do and I’m hardly the only one. So when my stomach and intestine react, I have my natural remedies ready. What do I carry with me in India?
1. Probiotics. Friends of the intestine, if you are lactose-intolerant like me, you will prefer the lactose-free probiotics that will help you restore your guts. You can even start taking it before travelling and feeling sick, it will just make your guts stronger.
2. Zeolite. Its nickname is “intestine sweeper” because it absorbs the toxins. You can find the zeolite in powder or tablets, I took the powder and mixed less than half a teaspoon half an hour before lunch in a glass of water. You just follow the instructions for the product of your choice, probably travelling the tablets are better. Either way, make sure you drink a lot of water (clean water!).
3. Grapefruit Seeds Extract. It helps fight inflammation and infections of fungus and parasites in the intestine and stomach. If needed, it’s also astringent. I take one capsule of grapefruit seeds extract after lunch and one after dinner also after I healed. You can find them in drops and tablets. Drops are super bitter so I prefer tablets.
4. Vaccinium Vitis Idaea – Gemmo Therapy. It helps restore the good bacteria of your intestine and fight inflammation when your colon is irritated. I use it in drops like this one.
If you would rather go with the traditional medicine, make sure you visit your doctor before embarking on your trip to India.
To stay healthy in India you can make your own smoothies with the fresh fruits and veggies you find at the local market and one of the best mini travel blenders we recommend. Don’t forget to wash the fruits and veggies with mineral water!
How to avoid getting sick in India by eating street food
Street food in India is always tempting, so it’s totally understandable that travellers can hardly resist. However, if I’m giving tips on how to avoid food poisoning in India, I can’t possibly neglect the delicacies you find along the local streets.
For as captivating as samosa, pakora, puri or boiled corns are, think twice before jumping on all the food stalls indiscriminately. There are indeed different types of foods to avoid in India, or better types of places and cooking ways.
So, what to eat in India to avoid getting sick? Or better, what not to eat in India? As I mentioned, prefer cooked food to raw one, as this is the best way to get rid of microbes. However, even for the fried bites, do consider where they are. If too exposed to the city’s pollution, avoid. And especially try to understand how long they have been sitting there. Usually, busy stalls are more likely to have fresher products.
When it comes to fresh fruits, juices or even roasted and boiled corns, you need to pay extra attention to the water they use to wash it or to make the juices. Just a piece of advice for some of the fruits you will find in the streets and what is safe to eat in India.
1. Pineapple. They are cheap and delicious but you need to be cautious because the knives used for cutting them might be dirty, so if you can just ask them to rinse them with mineral water.
2. Corn on the cob. Boiled corn is boiled in tap water, so it’s up to you if you think you can risk it or not. When it comes to roasted corn, on the other hand, they usually rub lemon and salt on top. While it’s delicious, you still need to be careful about how it’s done. What I suggest is to buy a lemon and rub it yourself on your corn, it will be delicious and will avoid a dodgy stomach.
3. Coconut water. I love it. Among the best things you could possibly have in India, to hydrate and also soothe a dodgy stomach, is coconut water. Thankfully, you will find coconut stalls around every corner. You can drink the water inside and, when you are done, get it open so you can eat the delicious (and very healthy) coconut meat. The knife they use to cut it, though, can be dirty, so what you can do is once they removed the top, you can take the coconut home and make the hole for the straw with your own knife. Or just ask the vendor to clean it with mineral water.
4. Fruit juices. In this case, too, I would recommend you choose proper shops instead of street stalls, but also here, if you want to make sure you know how to avoid getting sick in India, you really need to be careful about the cleanness of the place and the water they use.
The weather in India and the dengue fever: what to do
Often people ask: why do tourists get sick in India?
India is very humid and especially during the rainy season (last August we got caught up in the middle of pretty heavy rain storms more than once), there is the risk of dengue fever, a debilitating disease transmitted by a mosquito. Here follow your common sense such as avoiding puddles where mosquitoes thrive, using mosquito repellent when you go out, and also some for the house.
Tourism in India keeps thriving so they are well equipped to treat this type of disease or to provide proper medicine for food poisoning, but keeping in mind some of the precautions, from eating safely in India to the things to avoid in India, will help you better enjoy your trip.
The best way to avoid dengue fever is to chase the mosquito away:
Always apply an insect repellent, be it spray or cream, and be especially careful if it’s rainy season.
If it’s not already on the bed of your hotel, set it wherever you can use a mosquito net, especially if you booked a cheap hotel in India.
READ MORE: Essential guide to what to pack for India