The thought of getting sick in India and squatting over the toilet for days was something I was extremely nervous about before our first trip to India. Especially since we only had less than two months until the wedding and I couldn’t imagine coming back home with the stomach flu that was going to take ages to heal.
But guess what? We went and nothing happened.
The 4 of us came back home just as healthy, only exhausted to our core. This was all thanks to me freaking out over the internet and reading every single guide on how not to get sick in India, and my friends asking the same question from any former traveller they could reach.
Turns out you can travel to India and not get sick, but from what I’ve read and heard, you’d also need the odds to be in your favour!
Now it’s no secret that we were fully conscious about what we did and what we ate, but that doesn’t mean that the risk of getting sick in India will ever come down to zero. No matter what you do!
You can be wise and avoid anything that’s going to get you stuck to the toilet and feeling miserable, but there’s always a chance it might happen. So should you avoid India altogether? Hell, No!
On the other hand, I’ve also met people who did everything they weren’t supposed to do without experiencing any sort of sickness. So like I said, it’s pretty much a matter of luck and a little bit of wisdom.
Getting sick in India
India is not the cleanest country in the world. In fact, most streets in the city center are just filthy and the hygiene standards are pretty low. Despite that, hundreds of people live on those streets, eat on those streets and do their shit on those streets! They just happen to have some incredible immune system that makes them survive everything. Something unlikely to happen for the rest of us travelling as tourists.
17 Tips to avoid getting sick in India
#1 Always drink bottled water!
Tap water in India is contaminated and a great source for food poisoning. There’s no way you want to put yourself at risk with that. You can always boil water and use water purifiers to clean it, but bottled water is nothing to set you back on the budget. Just make sure there’s a proper label on the bottle and the cap is sealed.
#2 Peel it or wash it!
Fruit carts are everywhere to be seen on the Indian streets. Anything from coconuts, delicious tiny bananas, pineapples, apples and more. But here’s the rule for eating fruits on the streets of India: You either peel it like bananas or wash it bottled water. If you find already sliced pineapples or any other fruit, there’s a big chance the knife used to cut them was not clean. SO you’d either want to wash the whole thing or just avoid it.
We would always buy a bunch of fruits in the evening to take back to our hotel where we would wash them all and keep them for the next day. This way we were never tempted to buy fruits on the street.
#3 Bring sanitizers
Sanitizers are your best friend in India. You should be constantly using them before eating anything. I wouldn’t say we did it every single time, but it was definitely for every proper meal. If you truly want to avoid getting sick in India, make sure you use them for every single bite!
#4 Boil water for tea or cooking
If you’ve rented a house or you’re cooking at your accommodation, make sure you always boil tap water before using it for any cooking. You can always use bottled water without having to boil it, but it’s just not very convenient or environmentally friendly.
#5 Stay clear of street food
India is a heaven of street food. There are stalls everywhere on the street with flatbread, samosas, pakora, vegetables and more. Let me also tell you that the smell of curry is mind-blowing and watching locals eating with their fingers with such an appetite can be torturous if you’re avoiding street food in India.
On our trip around India, we didn’t have a single bite of street food. I know it’s harsh, but it’s also what introduces many tourists to Delhi belly. I’ve met people who ate and got away with it, but many who didn’t.
#6 Take your probiotics
Probiotics are the good bacteria you need in your body. There’s mostly found in cultured milk and fermented products. They help with digestion, prevent gut-related diseases and boost immunity. Here’s a good list of probiotic drinks available in India which you can purchase in supermarkets, but if it’s easier, you can just have the capsules with you.
Please make sure you contact your doctor before taking any medication.
#7 Avoid too much curry and chilly
There’s one thing in India that we experienced quite regularly that no one seems to talk about, and that’s the effect of too much curry and chilly on your digestion. Excuse me but we were all feeling irritation and stinging down there and it definitely got worse in the toilet doing our business. We could just feel that our bodies were unable to digest all that pepper and curry which filled every single meal.
There are not so many ways to get away from this in India. We asked for non-spicy food in every restaurant we sat, but apparently, our perception of non-spicy is very different from the Indian one. I could hardly tell the difference between spicy and non-spicy food at all and by the end of the trip, I was truly craving something that didn’t involve any curry or any spice for that matter.
Drinking lots of water does help this case and it was really comforting to find water in the toilets to wash up regularly.
#8 Have charcoal tablets in case of diarrhea
If you happen to get sick in India, there’s really no option but to stay at your hotel and close to the toilet. But sometimes you have prebooked train tickets or flights that cannot be missed. In this case, activated charcoal tablets are something many travellers suggest. I have never used them myself but a well-traveled friend of mine was pretty confident about them.
#9 Don’t brush your teeth with tap water
If you’ve been sticking to bottled and boiled water at all times, don’t ruin the hard work by brushing your teeth with tap water. It’s not the most pleasant experience, but we managed and so will you.
#10 Forget juices on the street
If you’re buying juice on the street, make sure it’s blended right in front of your eyes and don’t buy the ones left under the sun.
#11 No ice for the Lassi
Absolutely avoid getting ice with your drinks during the summer. There’s a big chance the ice was made from contaminated water.
#12 Eat at fancy restaurants
During our trip we sometimes cooked our own meal and went to fast food chains, but all our Indian food was eaten in proper restaurants. I’m not talking super luxurious expensive ones, but any restaurant that looked decent, clean and had great online reviews.
#13 Always have tissue and antibacterial wipes
You won’t be finding any toilet paper in public toilets in India, so make sure you have plenty of tissues in your bag. We also had quite a few incidents where we had to wipe utensils or certain things we were touching that were not clean. Antibacterial wipes were great for that!
#14 Drink lots of mint tea and ziziphora
This was a tip taken from some of our Iranians friends who had previously been to India and we stuck to it during the whole trip. We basically took a whole bag of dried mint and ziziphora with us and made tea with it every single night. I don’t know if ziziphora is easily found everywhere but it’s great for digestion, clearing out your stomach and diarrhea. We felt so much better clearing out our body with it every evening.
#15 Deep fried or grilled food is fine
Getting sick from the E. Coli bacteria and Salmonella is pretty common in India and they are both found in food that’s not cooked properly. If you’re ever eating on the street or even in fancy restaurants, try to go for something that you know it will be cooked or fried well.
#16 Taking a shower with tap water is fine
We took plenty of cold showers in India with tap water and nothing happened. Some people advice washing your private parts with bottled water but we couldn’t be bothered with that, especially with the whole irritation issue, we were having all the time. ugh!
#17 Become a vegetarian
You won’t be finding much of red meat in India anyway as most Indians are vegetarians. Also with the whole water pollution and cooking process is a great excuse to avoid meat altogether. You can find chicken easily but this is a great opportunity to enjoy the variety of Indian vegetarian dishes and lower the risk of getting sick in India.