As a pre-med major, this topic is really important to me. Also, as I have gotten sick SEVERAL times on this trip already (and I’ve only been here for 3 weeks), this topic is really important to me. 

The Top 2 DOs:

DO purchase travel insurance!!!

Some universities require it. Some programs require it and provide it at a discounted price. Whatever the case may be, it could be a lifesaver (both for your life, and your wallet’s). While you may never need travel insurance, it is still a great idea to have it on file just in case something happens while you’re abroad. Have any pre-existing conditions? (asthma, food allergies, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc) Get travel insurance. GET. IT. Travel insurance is a must for you.

DO get enough sleep!!!

Nothing can wear you out more than travelling. You want to see all the sights, do all the fun things, and you still have to balance schoolwork and time with friends. It’s hard to find time to sleep with all that. But getting enough sleep is crucial to having an enjoyable experience in Costa Rica. Otherwise you’ll feel like a zombie for the whole trip.  (I’m personally a fan of midday naps)

Besides being prepared for any emergency doctor/hospital visits and making sure you’re rested, there are several little things you can do to stay healthy.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE:

DO:

  • DO see a doctor or travel clinic before you leave, and let them know where you’ll be going and for how long. You never know what vaccines/other travel medications you may need for your trip. Some doctors also take a precautionary approach and give you prescriptions for antibiotics/antidiarrheal medication just in case you need it while you are abroad
  • DO stock up on over-the-counter things you may need. They may be harder to find here. Tylenol, Advil, motion sickness pills (such as Dramamine), TUMS, and Imodium are all good items to have on hand in a pinch. Also, if you normally take vitamins or other supplements, get enough for your trip.
  • DO know your health risks, and prepare accordingly. Do you get motion sickness easily? Stock up on motion sickness pills. Migraines? Bring the medications from home you may need. Have fair skin? Stock up on sunscreen.

DON’T:

  • DON’T take everything but the kitchen sink, medication wise. Chances are, you aren’t going to get the Ebola virus in Costa Rica. You probably won’t get a cold, or strep throat, or pink eye, or a fungal infection. Preparing for these things before you leave is unnecessary. And in the event that you do get something you didn’t come prepared for, you can always see a doctor here (see above post about Travel Insurance)
  • DON’T forget about any prescription medicines you take. If you call your health insurance company, they can do refill overrides so that you can get multiple refills at once for your trip. Also, please take your medicines as normally prescribed. When in a foreign country is not the time to experiment with any prescription meds you may be on. If you’re forgetful, you may want to leave them in the open so you remember to take them every day.

FOOD:

DO:

  • DO know your limits. If your stomach can’t handle super spicy food, don’t eat a lot of super spicy food. Same goes with alcohol. And greasy food. And sweets.
  • DO make sure others know about any special dietary needs you have. At restaurants, make sure to ask how the food is prepared. When someone else is cooking for you, make sure they know your dietary restrictions. You my sound picky, but it’s better than being very, very miserable.
  • DO be careful drinking tap water outside of San Jose and other larger cities. This is mainly a problem on excursions. If you’re not sure if the water is good or not, ask around, or just play it safe and buy bottled water.
  • DO come prepared. It is perfectly normal for people to get sick to their stomachs when they are immersed in a different culture with different food. Bring some TUMS or Imodium in your suitcase. Also, let your host family know that you’ve been feeling badly. Usually they will make less irritating foods or offer some remedies that you didn’t know about. (Like hot apple tea; it’s delicious.)
  • DO try new things. That is why you’re in Costa Rica, after all!

DON’T:

  • DON’T avoid all unfamiliar food because you’re afraid of getting sick. Costa Rican food is delicious, and even familiar foods can make you sick to your stomach.
  • DON’T worry. Even if you do get sick, it won’t be for very long.

EXCURSIONS:

DO:

  • DO pack accordingly to your activities. Going hiking? Take bug spray. Going to the beach? Take sunscreen.
  • DO reapply your sunscreen. This is coming from a pale skinned girl who got very close to sun poisoning her second weekend here. The Costa Rican sun is stronger than the sunlight in the US, since we’re closer to the Equator.  Be prepared for that. Even if you don’t normally get sunburnt, you might get burnt here. And if you do normally get sunburnt, reapply often. Also, they do have aloe vera in stores and it is worth it to buy the big bottle, even if it is $7.
  • DO take some motion sickness pills with you, even if you don’t get carsick very often. A four-hour bus ride on curvy gravel roads can really test your ability to tolerate motion sickness.

DON’T:

  • DON’T assume all tap water is safe to drink. Sometimes it isn’t, especially in areas around Limon and Puerto Viejo. Ask around about the water quality, or just buy bottled water to be on the safe side.
  • DON’T forget to pack your daily medications when you go on an excursion. I can’t stress this enough.

GOING OUT:

DO:

  • DO have a good time. You’ve just met a bunch of new people. It’s really cool to get to know them, and a lot of the time that involves going out. Have fun!
  • DO be careful with your drinks. Watch the bartender prepare your drinks, and if you set down a drink for a while, don’t come back to it again and drink it. The same rules that apply in the US as far as drugging drinks goes, apply here as well.
  • DO think ahead. Will that 8 am class tomorrow (or long bus ride, if you’re on an excursion) be AWFUL if you’re hung over? Maybe drink a bit less than what you normally would.

DON’T:

  • DON’T ignore that gut feeling. If you feel suspicious of a situation, avoid it. In a foreign country, it’s safer to follow those gut feelings, since you don’t fit in here like you would in the US. 

If you follow these tips, your stay in Costa Rica should be as healthy and happy as possible!

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