I’ve been sick while traveling more times than I care to remember. There was the time I had a tonsil infection and full-blown head cold on my first trip to Europe. Then there was the time I contracted food poisoning during my semester abroad in Spain. And of course, I’ll never forget the months that I dealt with a cold that never seemed to go away which turned into the flu while living in Mexico. Yes, I’ve been sick and although there were times during those bouts of sickness where I would have liked to have just died (yes, a gross exaggeration here but when you’re feeling so feverish the Sahara seems cool in comparison or you’re puking your “heart” out, dying does seem like a worthy alternative). I will say this-on all my travels and months that I spent living abroad, I never once had to go to the hospital and for this I am beyond thankful; seen local doctors yes, but never the local emergency room. I’ve read too many horror stories of visiting a hospital in a foreign country to ever wish that experience upon anyone. But for now, should you ever find yourself sick while traveling, be sure to remember these pearls of travel wisdom.
–If you get sick while traveling, don’t panic or think all is lost.
Yes, getting sick while on vacation is just about the worst thing that can happen. On my first full day in Paris on my first ever visit there, I woke up feeling absolutely abysmal. My throat hurt beyond words and I alternated between feeling overheated and having cold sweats. While everyone was rushing around gay Paris, I wanted nothing more than to crawl into my bed at the hotel. As I was on a tour, the day was “regimentally” structured, as in you leave early in the morning and don’t return until late into the evening. I was only 18 at the time and as I neither spoke French nor was the totally confident traveler I would later become, I didn’t feel comfortable taking the Metro back to the hotel (it was way up in Montmatre) nor taking a taxi alone. So what did I do while I felt like I was dying? I semi-slept in the Louvre cafeteria until I forced myself to trek to see the Mona Lisa. As the trip went on, so did my cold which turned into congestion, runny nose, the whole nine yards. I of course survived and while four days of the tour were pretty miserable for me, I dealt with it. No one ever wants to be sick while traveling, but sometimes stuff happens and you have to deal with it or your travel plans will end up being ruined.
-Recognize your physical limits if you’re sick
The fastest way to stay sick or become worse is not giving your body enough rest. If it means spending a day at the hotel while others are off touring, then do it. It’s better to miss one day of travel fun than multiple days. Sometimes when a person gets sick, the one thing that works miracles more than anything else is simple rest.
-Pack a little of “home” with you
Here’s the thing about the rest of the world, their tissues are pitiful! Imagine already having a very chapped and sore area between your nose and upper lip. Then imagine needing to blow your nose every few minutes and further irritating that already sore area because the tissues you have to use are rough and abrasive (yes, France I’m looking at you). Although backpackers will scoff, whenever I travel I always make sure to bring some essential goods on the off chance I end up getting sick. By essential goods I mean tissues, travel size Vaseline (this works wonders for soothing irritated skin), lotion, cough drops and cold pills. Most of the time I never need these things but if I were to get sick, it’s comforting knowing that I can immediately start to self-remedy with products I am familiar with versus struggling to find the appropriate substitute in a foreign country where you probably don’t speak the language. I’ve visited many a pharmacy abroad and came away with products that have been less than helpful (darkening sun lotion in Portugal-on my pale skin this looked ridiculous, and some type of feminine cream in France when all I wanted was body lotion).
-Visit a local doctor if need be
Although this will apply more to individuals that are abroad for longer periods of time, don’t be afraid to see a local physician if you’re really sick and in need of some medicine. After I got food poisoning, I thought for sure it was something that would go away on its own. But then weeks went by and I was still experiencing issues and knew this wasn’t normal. I went to a doctor recommended by the center where I was studying. I’ve long since forgotten everything he said and know that I most likely wasn’t able to understand everything either, since this was a medical discussion in Andalusian Spanish, but I got the gist of it as well as a prescription. And while filling prescriptions in Spain was somewhat “unique” (i.e. nothing like going to the Target or CVS pharmacy) I got my medicine and eventually did start feeling better. And in case you’re incredibly scared about visiting a doctor in a country where you don’t speak the local language, this is where the local Yellow Pages (or the wonder that is Google) comes into play. English is the most common second language in the world so if you’re in a relatively large area, there is bound to be an English speaking doctor. While living in Mexico, I went to an ENT doctor (ear, nose, and throat) after seeing his ad in which he listed English speaking as one of his skills (granted, his English was abysmal but you’ll never know till you go).
-Eat accordingly and prudently
Even if you’re in a country known for its food (France, China, Mexico), don’t take unnecessary risks by eating anything you know may cause issues if you’ve already been experiencing stomach problems. I know it’s tough when you’re in a new country and want to try out new things (provided you’re a foodie that is), but there’s nothing worse than making your stomach woes worse by your own doing. After having food poisoning, all I ate for days was plain yogurt, boiled potatoes, and plain white rice. Yes, all of that sounds slightly gross and definitely uninspiring in the land of tapas but knowing the bad shape my stomach was in, anything else would have made the situation far worse indeed.
These are just my personal tips I’ve had the unfortunate “privilege” of acquiring over the years. There are certainly more and maybe there are things you do differently. What are some of your tips?