Avoiding Urinary Tract Infections When Traveling Abroad

You are in Disneyland like you always wanted to be, and you are standing in line for the roller coaster ride. When it’s finally your turn, you suddenly need to urinate. You miss your ride and visit the restroom in frustration. As you go, it burns painfully. And only 20 minutes after you come out, you have to go again. You may have contracted a urinary tract infection (UTI).

A UTI is unfortunate wherever you are, but is especially inconvenient on vacation. It can make you feel truly helpless when you don’t have access to the usual healthcare you have at home.

To avoid situations like these, you should know what causes UTIs, and what you can do to prevent them. Travel healthcare knowledge is also useful in case you do get a UTI. We will uncover all of this today.

Reasons UTIs Occur, and Ways to Prevent Them

The biggest cause of UTIs is ignorance regarding causes and prevention. You need to think about the infection before you get it, not after it. When you are armed with this knowledge, it will lessen your chances of contracting UTIs when abroad. Let us take a look at everything you need to know to protect yourself.

1. Sexual Behavior

People are most vulnerable to UTIs during sexual intercourse, since it is easy for bacteria to transmit during sex. These harmful bacteria and microbes then enter the urinary tract and cause infections. UTIs are recurrent in people who have sex frequently with multiple partners. Women are more likely to be affected, since they have shorter urethras compared to men. However, practicing good sexual hygiene can save a person a lot of pain, no matter your gender.

Below are some examples of healthy sexual hygiene behavior you should follow if you have sex while traveling:

  • Use barrier contraception, like a condom.
  • Change condoms when switching from anal sex to vaginal sex. Do not cross-contaminate.
  • Take a shower both before and after sex, and clean your body thoroughly (especially your genitalia). Ask your partner to do the same.
  • Always urinate right after sex, as it washes away any bacteria that might be present.
  • Clean your sex toys before and after sex (if applicable).
  • Avoid using birth control methods like diaphragms and spermicides.

2. Poor Personal Hygiene

Many of us do not practice proper personal hygiene. Some of it is due to laziness, and the rest is due to ignorance. While prioritizing your health is entirely up to you, we can help with the ignorance part of the equation. This is especially relevant if you are traveling, since you are more likely to move around and encounter germs.

  • Women should wipe from front to back after using the bathroom (never the other way around).
  • Always wear clean and fresh underwear (no thongs).
  • Don’t wear extremely tight clothes around your crotch. Especially on long days out and about.
  • Change wet bathing suits, dirty undergarments, and sweaty gym clothes as soon as possible.
  • Avoid holding in urine. Urinate immediately when you have to, and don’t try to rush yourself. You should drain your bladder fully.
  • Choose sanitary pads and menstrual caps over tampons.
  • Avoid using perfumed and potentially irritating feminine products.
  • Wash your body with soap when you return to your hotel room after a long day outside.

3. Preexisting Health Conditions

Certain health conditions make you predisposed to UTIs. When you travel abroad with any of these health conditions, you should exercise extra caution to avoid bothersome infections. Here is a brief list of the most common preexisting conditions that make you more susceptible to UTIs. If you have any of these, consult with your physician before you travel.

  • Suppressed immune system or chronic health condition
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Genital prolapse
  • Neurogenic bladder or urinary retention
  • Kidney or bladder stones
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Cancer
  • Surgery on any part of the urinary tract resulting in any abnormality
  • Post-menopausal women
  • Asymptomatic bacteriuria (ABM) in pregnant women
  • Catheter use

4. Weak Immune System

Some general habits and health practices can prepare your immune system to better deal with germs. If you have enough antibodies, most harmful bacteria will be killed off before it has the chance to cause an infection. These are simple tips that you should follow:

  • Drink plenty of water (two liters per day) to flush bacteria out of your bladder.
  • Regularly take cranberry supplements or tablets with a high concentration (at least 36mg) of cranberry proanthocyanins (PAC). Simply drinking cranberry juice won’t help, since it contains high amounts of water and sugar and very little PAC.
  • Consume foods with probiotic properties (good bacteria) – yogurt, kefir sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, pickles, buttermilk, natto, cheese (gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, and cottage), etc.
  • Take probiotic supplements or tablets, like D-Mannose. Consult your physician for personalized recommendations.
  • Include vitamin-C-rich foods in your diet as they contain antioxidants.
  • Decrease intake of artificial sugars. Choose foods with naturally-occurring sugar instead, such as fruits. 

What Should You Do After Contracting a UTI While Traveling?

Despite all the precautionary measures, you might still contract a UTI. But this doesn’t need to turn into a travel nightmare. All you need to know is what to do if you come down with a urinary tract infection in a foreign country:

  • Research the healthcare system of the country you are visiting. Can you go to a pharmacy and get medicines based on symptoms, or do you need a doctor’s prescription?
  • Find out about the healthcare centers in the vicinity of the area you will be staying in. You can rely on online research and guidebooks, or you can simply ask a local.
  • Carry an extra prescription from your doctor beforehand, if you have recurrent UTIs
  • Take your existing painkillers and antibiotics for UTIs, if you have any, but check with your doctor first.
  • Buy travel medical insurance to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses for treatment or medication.
  • Immediately visit the hospital if you have serious symptoms such as high fever (above 100° F), convulsions, chills, nausea, vomiting, and inability to eat or drink anything.

Travel Freely

While it is true that a UTI is uncomfortable, you should not let it scare you out of your next planned vacation. Simply staying cautious and adapting a few travel-healthy habits can bring about a marked change.

While traveling, dangers are everywhere; so are they in life. If you follow all of the preventive measures we have recommended and stay aware of your options in the event of an infection while abroad, it can save you a lot of trouble. In all likelihood, you will have a blissful, UTI-free trip.

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