10 Tips for Healthy Travel in India

If the thought of squatting over a hole for days on end is holding you back on one of the most incredible journeys of your life, I urge you to read this. For it is possible to travel extensively in India and not get a case of Delhi (or Rishikesh, or Anjuna, or anywhere) Belly. What’s more, you’ll be able to eat some of the best food on the planet. I know this because I spent a month in the country, and while travellers around me seemed to drop like flies, I remained healthy. This is not because I have a superhero gut of steel. It’s because I took some basic precautions, and stuck to them. Our digestive system just isn’t ready for the onslaught of foreign microbes you’ll find on the sub-continent. Over time, it will adjust, but for travellers, here’s Robin’s 10-step plan to prevent a messy disaster:

1. Don’t drink tap water: Obviously, enough said. Don’t freak out too much about that scene in Slumdog Millionaire where tourists buy bottled water straight out of the tap. Most packaged water is fine, just check the cap to make sure it’s sealed. Keep a bottle of drinking water handy for brushing your teeth. And importantly, watch out for ice in drinks.

2. Don’t eat meat: India is a country of vegetarians, where cooking vegetables has been elevated to an art. You’re not going to miss beef, pork or chicken, even though it is widely available. Relish the veggie curries, and stay clear of potentially contaminated meats.

3. Don’t eat uncooked cheese:  Cheese is heaven for nasty microbes. A friend of mine was doing great until she sprinkled some Parmesan on a pasta dish and spent the next 72 hours expelling fluids from every orifice. Paneer is fine – it’s an Indian cheese cooked in many amazing curries. And pizza should be OK, so long as the cheese has boiled at some point.

4. Don’t eat eggs:  Leave the sunny-side-up for treats back home. An undercooked egg will probably tie your intestine into a sailor knot.

5. Don’t drink milk:  For some reason, most travellers deal well with lassi, the delicious yoghurt-based drink. It has been known to be mixed with tap water and ice, so use your judgement. Since dairy farming refrigeration is sometimes not up the standards you’re used to, milk is a risky business. Do your gut a favour, take your coffee black.

6. Don’t eat fish unless you see it caught and cooked: On the coast, fish doesn’t come fresher, although you may want to make sure that’s the case first. Uncooked or fish left standing in the heat too long is going to mount an all out attack on your immune system.

7. Don’t eat uncooked vegetables, peel your fruit: Fortunately, most vegetables are cooked in curries so delicious your taste buds will dance a Bollywood musical. Peeling fruit is a wise choice. If you’re washing stuff, make sure you do it with packaged water.

8. Eat in restaurants that cater to tourists/wealthier Indians: A place with a good reputation and steady clientele usually knows the value of good hygiene, and the importance of keeping itself recommended in the guidebooks. When it comes to dining out, it pays to follow the advice of those who have come before you. The only time I ate meat was at a famous international hotel and it was fine. I know you’re dying to eat street food like the locals, just be aware that locals can handle things in their tummies you probably can’t.

9. Wash/sanitize your hands regularly, and especially before eating: Just like your momma taught you.

10. Trust Your Gut: You could follow all of this religiously and still get sick. Or you can meet travellers who don’t follow any of this and do just fine. Everyone’s system is different. However, being paranoid about what you’re eating will definitely rob you of having an awesome experience. India is no place for Nervous Nellies. The best way to deal with the sensory overload of color, smell, noise and people is to relax, be patient, keep a sense of humour, and listen to what your gut is telling you.

Bucket List Backpacking on a Budget

I’m often asked how I managed to travel to 24 countries in 12 months on a $35-a-day budget.  It was actually easier than you’d think.  For starters, I backpacked exclusively, staying in cheap hostels and hotels.  I budgeted carefully, but most importantly, I went to countries where I knew my dollar could streeeeeeeeeeetch.   In India, it’s possible to live well for as little as $10 – $15 a day (of course, well being entirely subjective!).  Below are five countries where value, exchange rates and inspiring travel plays in your favour. Here are some choice destinations for bucket list backpacking on a budget.


Besides the colour, the food, the characters, the temples and the sheer exhilaration of India, the fact that you can eat and sleep for well under 70 AED a day makes it an obvious destination for backpackers on a tight budget.   There are plenty of established routes around the country for backpackers to follow, making it easy to make friends and find transport.     My own route took me from Mumbai to Goa to Delhi to Rishikesh to Dharamsala.   It was just a fraction of the country, but given the savings in costs, I could spend longer in India than in most countries on the planet.  Consider that a lunch plate (thali) of delicious curry will cost as little as $2, and you get a sense of just how far your dollars can take you.


It’s the poorest country in South America, and yet it has some of the continent’s most breath-taking landscapes. Hop on the Gringo Trail to the world’s highest navigable lake, Titicaca. Or explore the winding markets of dusty La Paz, the world’s highest capital.   There’s rich history in the silver mines of Potosi, or head south to the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt desert. In this otherworldly landscape, you’ll find bright red and green mineral lakes, flamingos, llamas, rock formations and steaming volcanoes. Everywhere you look is a photograph. Landlocked Bolivia might be the poor man of the continent, but it is a treasure for the traveller.


Central America has stabilized since the 1980’s, both economically and politically.   Today, the region offers great value for the budget conscious traveller. Guatemala is very cheap, but I love returning to Nicaragua.   The country has beautiful beaches, some unusual activities (volcano boarding, anyone?) and all the cobblestone colonial charm you’ll find in other, pricier Latin American countries.   Managua does not have a fierce reputation of other capital cities in the region, and backpackers will relish swimming under the stars in the warm fresh water of the Laguna De Apoyo.


Southeast Asia offers plenty of bang for the backpacker buck. Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have tremendous value, but landlocked Laos is a true jewel.   Poor yet friendly, unassuming yet beautiful, the country has its challenges – roads, funny money, infrastructure – but offers wonderful rewards too.   The Buddhist temples and monks of Luang Prabang sparkle, the capital of Vientiane is a modern city evolving, the Plain of Jars has history and mystery, and Vang Vieng has become nothing short than a backpacker Cancun.   Floating down the Mekong River on a rubber tube for hours is a lazy way to pass the day, and with its rock bottom prices, there’s no rush to move anywhere else in a hurry.


Western Europe is expensive.   Head north to the Baltics however, and you’ll find the charm of Europe – the cobblestone, the cafes, the medieval churches, high cheek boned locals and beautiful rolling countryside – all for a fraction of the price. Lithuania, cheaper than Estonia or Latvia, seems like a country waiting to be discovered. The food is excellent, its history rich, its people friendly, yet attractions and accommodation are at a discount price.   While it has joined the European Union and adopted the euro, prices remain low, even in the bustling capital of Vilnius.   Once you head into the countryside, which remains almost completely undiscovered by Western tourists, you can find fantastic hiking, biking, and historical trails.   With a proud yet tragic tradition of standing up to the Nazis and the Soviets, history buffs will be in their element too.