Last week, two of my female colleagues returned from their trips with really high fever. On going to the doctor, both of them were diagnosed with severe UTIs and ended up getting hospitalised.
The incident sparked a discussion in office about the problem of urinary tract infections and how, thanks to the supremely sanitary toilets in our country, women have to go through the ordeal frequently and unnecessarily.
Prompted by the experiences of these girls and also my own from a few years back, I wanted to pen down the measures I take to prevent contracting UTIs while I'm travelling or generally in life. These tips and tricks have helped me keep the infection at bay for the past five years. It is a little extra effort, but definitely much better than spending days in the hospital, consuming antibiotics.
1. Using the Indian-style toilet wherever possible
Indian-style commodes are way more hygienic than western commodes because they don't include contact of skin with the toilet bowl. A lot of remote places in India still use these, making it easier to find one for yourself.
2. Make it a rule to never let your skin touch public toilets
I thought this was a no-brainer but apparently a lot of women don't know how to pee without sitting. I found out after talking to my best friend who ends up getting UTIs very frequently. The easiest way to do this is to do a half-squat (chair pose) without touching the toilet bowl and peeing. It takes a little bit of practice, but is a really useful skill.
3. If you can't hover-and-pee, carry a pee-buddy
The pee-buddy device is probably the single most revolutionary device created for women. It allows you to urinate while standing without the fear of contracting infections. The original device is made of cardboard and is for a single-time use, making it all the more hygienic. However, a number of other brands have now come out with silicone versions as well, which are more sturdy and don't leak from the sides.
The pee-buddy is a life saver and should be a must-carry item on your travel essentials' list.
4. Form a hygiene routine to use public bathrooms and stick to it
This might sound a little extreme, but it is essential for bathrooms that either get a lot of footfall (trains, airports) or are not cleaned as frequently (dhabas, roadside loos).
I usually carry a tissue or paper towel, which I use to hold anything in the loo that requires me to touch with bare hands(door handle, latch, flush, etc.). These are usually the least frequently cleaned areas of the loo and if you expect everyone to touch outside surfaces with clean hands, you are so mistaken. Once I am done with my business, I flush and open the door using the same tissue and wash my hands at a sink outside the loo or sanitise using dettol if a sink is not available.
5. Avoid using water jets/hand showers in public loos
Unless you can't do without it, avoid using the water dispensers in public bathrooms. In fact, if the water is stored in buckets, avoid using that too. Such containers are usually a breeding ground for bacteria. My mom once got a UTI from using bucket water in a dhaba bathroom.
Carry fragrance-free wet wipes instead. These also come in extremely handy if you're menstruating.
6. Always use breathable, cotton underwear
Cotton underwear is the best choice when travelling. The natural fabric is breathable and therefore keeps the skin dry. For most people it is not allergy-causing. Synthetic fabrics or even silk can trap moisture and become a breeding ground for bacteria very easily. Apart from UTIs, this can also lead to fungal or yeast infections that are not a very pleasant experience.
7. Use panty liners
I don't recommend using these on a daily basis as they're not the best for the environment. But they're a life saver when travelling. I use organic ones to avoid my nether regions being exposed to harmful chemicals, but you can use the regular ones too. One liner usually lasts a good 5-6 hours and prevents any sort of moisture from soaking your undergarments, keeping the area dry and therefore free of germs. A lot of times, a dirty underwear is also responsible for causing UTIs. Changing the pantyliner twice a day usually keeps me sorted for the entire day.
8. Don't let your guard down in hotel bathrooms either
Despite how clean and shiny they look, hotel bathrooms can be extremely unsanitary. Usually housekeepers use one single washcloth or brush to clean the bathrooms in several rooms, leading to transfer of germs.
Always, always sanitise your hotel toilet bowl and sink before using. I carry a small bottle of Dettol for this and usually drizzle it all over the pot and sink before using.
9. Always carry your own towel
A friend of mine ended up contracting herpes from using an unclean hotel towel. Now I am not saying this is a frequent occurrence, but it's always ideal to keep yourself safe. Usually hotel laundry takes place in large batches and might not end up being the best or cleanest experience.
10. Take Vitamin C supplements regularly
While this is a great lifestyle choice, it becomes really important while travelling. The bacteria that cause UTIs don't do well in acidic environments and taking vitamin C supplements makes urine more acidic, thereby preventing UTIs from the inside.
Ready to get, set, go girls? Do you have any other UTI-preventing tips that I don't know of? Please share in the comments or write a whole new article about your knowledge and experience.