Top tips from our expert holiday accident team
Thompsons Solicitors’ Travel Safe campaign is designed to offer simple advice on how to stay safe when travelling abroad, and to ensure that – so far as is possible – sun, sea and sand don’t become slips, trips, sickness or falls. Here, travel law expert Laura Morris – who represents families who have become unwell or been injured while travelling - offers her tips on how to avoid holiday sickness in the first place.
Catching the right, and wrong, type of travel bug
With air travel becoming more accessible, and major airlines adding new far-flung routes to their offering every year, it’s no surprise that Brits have caught the “travel bug”. But as the trend for exotic destinations continues to rise, so too is the rising trend in people becoming unwell or getting injured while travelling abroad, in particular falling foul of the wrong type of travel bug.
What to do if sun, sea and sand becomes sickness
These are some destinations – such as India – that have a reputation of causing travellers to fall ill. Whether due to drinking water which has not been properly sanitised (in some countries, even cleaning your teeth with tap water can be enough to make you unwell) or because their bodies aren’t used to certain types of cuisine, it’s fair to say there are some commonly-accepted stomach upset “hotspots”.
Equally, there are hundreds of destinations where holidaymakers would hope – and expect – to go about their travels free from the fear that they need to be within 200 yards of a restroom. More often than not, the risk of food poisoning or other forms of holiday illness are not top of the average traveller’s priorities list; more like they’re worried about finding their passport, or making sure they’ll have time to tick off the must-see attractions during their trip.
However, food hygiene and sanitisation should be as – if not more – important while travelling abroad as they are at home. Staying travel safe and avoiding holiday sickness needn’t mean missing out on any fun, or new experiences.
Simple steps to help reduce your risk of becoming unwell while travelling
Tempting as it is on holiday to totally “switch off”, it’s still important to stay vigilant to keep you, your family and any fellow travellers safe and well. Holiday providers, whether tour operators or those running hotels and campsites, have a duty to keep you safe and uphold certain standards. There are also things travellers can do to reduce the risk of falling ill and increase the chance of having a relaxing break.
Watch what you eat
Food that has been stored for long periods of time, in warm areas or which has been exposed to bugs and flies, is a potential hotbed of sickness-inducing bugs and bacteria.
Tempting as the hotel buffet may appear, if you’re unsure of how long the food has been on display you should practice caution. Another tip is to avoid fruit or vegetables which may have been washed in tap water (fruit with peel or skins you peel yourself is an easy alternative) and to ensure any hot food is just that – piping hot when it arrives at your table.
“It can be difficult to know what is going on behind closed doors, but you can help protect your health by checking staff handling food are wearing gloves and hair nets, using utensils, serving fresh food
rather than something that has been left out in the sun, and are covering dishes to avoid flies landing on them. If your food arrives and isn’t piping hot – tread carefully, in particular with high-risk foods such as seafood,” advises Laura.
Watch what you drink
In many countries, the tap water is perfectly fine and drinkable. There are instances, however, where it’s safer to drink bottled water, or use water purification tablets. Do some research into the quality of the tap water in the country you’re travelling to beforehand, and be prepared to purchase bottled water to keep you hydrated. If drinking local tap water isn’t recommended, it’s also a good idea to make sure you don’t consume drinks with ice in – as that too, may have come straight from the tap.
Wash your hands
As in the UK, bugs and bacteria transferred from the hands to the mouth can be a cause of potential sickness. Make sure you’re cleaning your hands thoroughly, and regularly, in particular before you eat and after using the bathroom.
“Few people will admit to not washing their hands after using the toilet, but research has suggested that many people don’t,” said Laura.
“Play safe and always wash your hands. If access to clean running water is an issue, there are many
cheap anti-bacterial hand gels available which act as a good alternative.”
Look before you leap
Many people assume that holiday sickness and diarrhoea are caused by contaminated tap water or poorly-prepared food. While both things can and do cause people to become unwell, there’s also a risk that a refreshing dip in a pool could expose you to sickness-inducing bugs.
“The key here is to use common sense,” explains Laura.
“If a pool is murky, contains debris which is not being removed or has not been closed for cleaning, or visibly cleaned during your trip, we’d advise you not to take a dip. However, in the vast majority of cases, hotel and apartment pools are maintained to a high standard and are safe to swim in.
“Our advice is to speak to your holiday rep or hotel manager if you’re concerned about the water quality of the pool. While bacteria is not visible to the naked eye, a visibly well-maintained swimming pool which smells of chlorine is – in the majority of cases – going to be fine to swim in.”
Report suspected food poisoning when in the UK, and when on holiday
Holiday illnesses can ruin trips and, if not treated properly, can prove dangerous. If the worst should happen and you do become unwell - suffering sickness, vomiting, diarrhoea or stomach cramps - seek medical advice from a doctor or pharmacy. In addition, we’d advise you to contact the restaurant or hotel involved to alert them to your concerns. The importance of public health is recognised in most countries and they should take your concerns seriously. It may be that yours is an isolated incident caused by a bug rather than food poisoning, but it’s important to establish how many people may have been affected, in order to trace the source and take action to prevent it from happening again.
“We’ve recently been instructed recently by a British family who suffered suspected food poisoning abroad,” explains Laura.
“My clients were hoping for the family trip of a lifetime, but instead were left with holiday-ruining illnesses. Part of our work on their case involves establishing if other holidaymakers became unwell around the same time, and at the same resort, so it’s really important that people come forward to share concerns.
“We know that people will be worried when travelling abroad and so thought it would be helpful to use our experience and explain in this article how holidaymakers can feel safer on their trip.”
If you don’t think you’re being taken seriously by the restaurant or hotel where you ate or stayed, you can alert the relevant food standards or health and safety agency for the country you’re staying or instruct an independent solicitor to explore whether you have a case to answer.
Keep safety front of mind, but don’t forget to have fun
The vast majority of holidays pass without incident, illness or sickness. Thompsons travel law specialists act for people every year who have been injured or become unwell while on holiday, but by comparison to the number of people living in the UK who travel abroad every year - it’s a drop in the ocean.
There is a whole world to enjoy and holidaymakers can take advantage of more far-flung or off-the-beaten-track destinations than ever before – we hope they contain to get out there and are #TravelSafe when they do. For more tips, advice and information visit our campaign page.
Checklist: What to do if you’ve become unwell while on holiday
1. Record the date your symptoms started, and what they were
2. Seek immediate medical advice from a doctor or a pharmacist whilst away, and let your GP know if your symptoms continue when you get home
3. Speak to other guests to see if they’ve experienced similar symptoms
4. Report your symptoms and concerns to your travel tour operator, hotel manager or hotel rep
5. Take photos of any dirty or unhygienic conditions as evidence
6. If conditions do not improve, speak to your holiday rep about moving properties.
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