Most of us travel during vacations. It’s a chance to refresh, recharge, and recover from the workday grind. Unfortunately, many of us also come back from vacation feeling ill or run down, defeating the purpose of going in the first place.
Where you choose to travel can make a big difference in your experience during and after your vacation. Choose destinations that are good for your health, and optimize your experience with some best practices to avoid coming back with short-term or lasting damage.
Healthy destinations are places with clean air and water, few or no venomous animals or poisonous plants, no significant disease outbreaks, a climate that is generally supportive of human life, healthy eating and activity choices, and little crime or risk of accidents (good public safety policy). While these factors vary significantly within countries, it’s often possible to identify countries that are mostly healthy, or mostly unhealthy, to visit. Here’s our list of the top five countries to visit for a healthy vacation.
Canada benefits from a lower population and cooler climate than the US. Its largest cities suffer from only occasional, minor air quality concerns – mostly in the summertime, in conjunction with wildfire season. The milder weather and healthy living culture of the west coast, in particular, makes it an ideal vacation destination. World-class health care, little in the way of widespread illnesses, and top-notch water in urban areas contribute to its popularity.
The Nordic region in general is one of the cleanest and healthiest in the world. While the most northern reaches of these countries can be unhealthy in the wintertime due to extreme cold and light conditions, they offer many outdoor activities, low incidence of disease, and optimal public safety and security.
Among the smog-ridden big cities and risky remote areas of Asia, Singapore stands out as a renowned healthy city. Public policy is responsible for a large part of this; strict regulations around acceptable practices and behavior help keep the city safe and pleasant, and the health care is considered the best in the region. Heat can be an issue, but air-conditioned facilities are widespread.
The Maldives are considered to offer some of the safest resort vacations available. While most tropical climates host unpleasant or dangerous diseases and venomous wildlife, there are relatively few to be concerned about here. Since the location is small and remote, there is limited local health care but also no risk of pollution. Heatstroke and damage from coral or sea creatures are the most common concerns, but can be readily avoided with a little care.
New Zealand has an incredible outdoor adventure culture, excellent air and water quality, and high-quality health care. It is free from significant disease outbreaks and venomous animals. Visiting wild areas comes with minor risks, such as road safety, but in general, it’s an excellent choice for a healthy vacation, with a diverse landscape, temperate climate, and generally safe community.
While this is far from an exhaustive list of healthy countries, there’s just as long a list of unhealthy potential vacation destinations. Many of the world’s biggest cities, such as Beijing, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and New Delhi, suffer from extreme air pollution. Beautiful remote locations often come with significant water and disease concerns. In some places, it’s less environmental or safety concerns that you need to worry about, and more simply unhealthy lifestyle practices that go along with the typical vacation. Look for a destination with activities that will keep you moving and active without too much overeating, sedentary entertainment, or dangerous thrill-seeking pastimes.
You’ll also want to consider not just the type but also the level or severity of risk. Do local illnesses offer only a potential minor inconvenience or life-impacting danger? If there are local animals that might do some damage to your health but you can easily avoid them, that’s a minimal risk. If there are water quality issues but you are aware of them and have a plan for accessing clean water, then it’s not a true, significant risk. However, other issues such as air pollution may have further-reaching effects, contributing to the development of cancer or respiratory disease that could impact not just your immediate vacation experience but also your long-term health.
Assess the risk before booking vacations with a little research. Oncotarget offers medical journalism on oncology that could help you understand the potential risks. National travel advisories can point out regular or emerging concerns of note, so you can weigh the pros and cons of any destination.
In general, countries in cool climates, remote (island) countries, and countries with very strong public policy and health care systems tend to offer the healthiest, safest vacation opportunities. Measure the risks and consider all environmental and social factors against your ability to minimize those risks to find the right fit for you.