6 Causes of Dehydration for International Travelers

6 Causes of Dehydration for International Travelers

Pay attention to early signs

You are probably all too familiar with the feeling — the pounding head, mid-afternoon fatigue and a slight dizzy feeling when you stand up too fast. These signs are little reminders that we’ve been too caught up in our day and haven’t had enough water. It’s common enough at home, but the excitement and fast pace of a trip abroad often causes travelers to ignore the early signs of dehydration before it’s too late. Ignoring these things can get you sick or hospitalized. These are a few of the most common reasons for dehydration while traveling abroad and what you can do to prevent it!

1. Dry airplane conditions

An airplane’s circulation system recycles air from outside the plane to provide clean air inside the cabin. The air at 35,000 feet has a 10-20% level of humidity in comparison with the 30-60% we are typically accustomed to. This is less than the Sahara Desert, which has an annual average of 25% humidity! These desert-like conditions, coupled with the typical stress of travel, cause us to lose water much faster than we normally would. Make sure to drink at least 8 oz of water for every hour you are flying.

2. Travelers’ diarrhea

According to the CDC, cases of traveler’s’ diarrhea range from 30-70%, depending on the season and destination. This is typically due to poor standards of food preparation and storage. Travelers’ diarrhea can cause severe dehydration if it is not carefully monitored. You can take steps to prevent TD by following the old travelers’ rule: “boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it”. Avoid dairy products, undercooked meats and seafoods, and any beverage that does not come from a sealed bottle. Destinations with the highest risk include Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, and Central and South America.

3. Limited water supply

We’ve all been warned not to drink tap water in a foreign country. Since bottled water can be expensive and hard to find, this may cause some travelers to opt for sodas or juices over water. Please… buy that overpriced water bottle! Saving a few bucks here and there simply isn’t worth a trip to the hospital! Invest in a quality filtering water bottle or chemical disinfectant tablets as an alternative.

4. Increased activity

You probably don’t realize how much of your life at home is spent sedentary. The lifestyle in many countries abroad is typically a bit more active by nature. You may find yourself walking or biking to destinations, or on your feet more simply due to your sightseeing schedule. If you are volunteering, you may even be doing intense physical labor in warm conditions. Take into consideration your increased physical activity as you watch your fluids!

5. Warmer climates

Traveling puts you in an environment that your body may not be accustomed to. Heat, a closer proximity to the equator, higher altitudes and dry climates may all factor into your need for an increased fluid intake. In addition to drinking water, keep cool by wearing proper clothing and staying in the shade when you can.

6. Diet changes

It can be hard to opt for healthy, hydrating foods when on the go. Chips and pretzels are an easy snack for the plane and your suitcase. The smell of some deep-fried, local treat might be hard to pass up. Don’t forget to get some of your hydration through your food. Choose produce with thick peels such mangoes, pineapple, and papayas. Check out the CDC website for more tips on safe eating while abroad.

What to watch for

Early signs of dehydration might be increased thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness, decreased urination, or headaches. As it worsens, dehydration may result in symptoms such as sunken eyes, muscle cramps, nausea, increased heart rate or breathing. It is absolutely critical to see if a doctor immediately if your symptoms worsen.

By watching for early warning signs and carefully monitoring your fluid intake, you can enjoy a safer, healthier trip abroad!

Traveling to the Philippines at just 8 months old, Shawna grew up loving all things related to travel and serving abroad. She is passionate about helping others travel safely and make the most of their time abroad.