What are some of the worst travel sicknesses you can pick up, and how can you avoid them entirely? Let’s have a look.

One of the most interesting emails I’ve ever received was while interning at Peace Corps headquarters. The writer relayed in excruciating detail his experiences with breaking his leg while on tour in one West African country, and then contracting a parasite after he had been relocated to continue his service in a different, nearby country. His conclusion went something like this:

I’d love to join the Peace Corps again! But if possible, could you send me anywhere other than Africa?

I’m not sure if he made it to another placement, and unfortunately, there are plenty of terrifying diseases you can pick up anywhere you go. Let’s look at a few of these awful travel sicknesses—with some tips on how to prevent them!

5 Awful Travel Sicknesses (And How to Avoid Them) - Frayed Passport

Don’t get sick while traveling in Latin America – photo by Jeison Higuita on Unsplash

1. Chagas Disease

This disease usually occurs in Central and South America, particularly in poverty-stricken areas. This tropical, parasitic illness can result from insect bites, blood transfusion, organ transplantation, and contaminated food.

During the acute phase, which lasts for the first couple of weeks to months after the infection, travelers may notice fever, body aches, rash, loss of appetite, and other flu-like symptoms. Symptoms often resolve on their own, though the infection may still be there—be sure to visit a doctor for an antiparasitic medication.

What makes chagas disease really awful?

The chronic stage! This can last over a lifetime and may include heart disease and intestinal issues. So let’s say you’re back from your awesome, month-long hike around Guatemala, and a couple weeks later you’re bedridden with the flu. Or at least you think it’s the flu…

How to prevent it

Staying indoors in a well-constructed hotel or house can certainly help avoid travel sicknesses like Chagas disease, as the insects that carry it often infest buildings with poor sanitation and construction. We’d recommend bringing along a mosquito net and wearing insect repellant—and watch what you eat!

5 Awful Travel Sicknesses (And How to Avoid Them) - Frayed Passport

Here’s an adorable sleeping doggo – photo by Irina on Unsplash

2. Sleeping Sickness

Sleeping sickness is caused by a parasite carried by the tsetse fly in rural areas of Africa. Symptoms include extreme headaches and fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, skin rash, and muscle and joint aches.

What makes sleeping sickness really awful?

Sleeping sickness can be deadly if untreated. As the disease progresses, infected individuals may experience confusion, personality changes, and neurological issues until eventual death within months of infection.

How to prevent it

If you’re traveling through rural parts of the African continent, be sure to wear medium-weight, long shirts and trousers with neutral coloring. While the number of tsetse flies carrying the parasite to the number without it is quite low, be sure to check for them in any room or vehicle you enter.

5 Awful Travel Sicknesses (And How to Avoid Them) - Frayed Passport

Street cats – photo by Kristin Wilson on Unsplash

3. Creeping Eruption or Larva Migrans

Unlike the other awful travel illnesses on this list, creeping eruption fortunately is not deadly—but it is annoying. Most commonly found in the Americas, this skin irritation is caused by hookworms found in dog and cat droppings. Symptoms include an itchy, “creeping” rash on the skin, and the infection is totally curable with oral and topical medications.

What makes creeping eruption really awful?

You can get it on your face. Also, if you scratch enough, you can get a secondary infection from open sores.

How to prevent it

Wash your hands and wear shoes wherever you’re walking.

5 Awful Travel Sicknesses (And How to Avoid Them) - Frayed Passport

Wear sunscreen and drink lots of water – image via Pixabay

4. Sun Poisoning

The good news: you’re not actually poisoned when you get sun poisoning. The bad news: symptoms include a severe sunburn, swelling, headache, dizziness, nausea, and dehydration. Travelers often neglect sun protection while on jaunts to the beach, so at best sun poisoning can ruin your day and at worst, well…read on.

What makes sun poisoning really awful?

Repeatedly going without some kind of protection from harmful UV rays can lead to skin cancer. While one case of sun poisoning can make for a miserable weekend, having it repeatedly can cause blisters, scarring, and much worse.

How to prevent it

The top three ways to prevent sun poisoning are to stay out of direct sunlight, cover up, and wear sunscreen. Of course if you’re hitting the beach, you probably don’t want to stay in the shade and wear long sleeves the whole time—but play it safe! Find a waterproof sunscreen and reapply it as often as directed. And of course if you start to burn or feel a headache coming on, make your way to shade and drink some water.

5 Awful Travel Sicknesses (And How to Avoid Them) - Frayed Passport

The least terrible mosquito photo I could find – via Pixabay

5. Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever is another tropical illness contracted through bites—specifically, mosquito bites. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and skin rash.

What makes dengue fever really awful?

In some cases, this disease can develop into what’s called Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, which is as terrifying as it sounds. Travelers also can develop Dengue Shock Syndrome, characterized by low blood pressure. For mild versions, rehydration may be the only necessary treatment, while more severe cases may call for IVs and blood transfusion.

How to prevent it

Many areas at risk of Dengue Fever’s spread have begun attempts to curb mosquito populations by employing insecticides and biological control agents. As a traveler, we’d recommend you wear long sleeves and insect repellant, and covering your bed with a mosquito net at night.

So, fellow travelers—remember that anywhere you go, you’re at risk of some kind of illness. Taking preventative steps and being aware of your surroundings—and proactive on your treatment—can do a world of good while you explore the globe.

About the Author

As the managing director of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I've been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at!

Featured image via Unsplash.

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