What To Do When You Get Sick While Traveling…

It’s every traveller’s worst nightmare: after spending months on prepping, saving and packing you’re finally on the road, fully immersed in a far off land. Suddenly, on the fifth day you feel a foreign rumble in your tummy and you’ve got a fever that’ll launch you to the moon. Or perhaps you’ve come down with a simple holiday flu, which, thanks to Murphy’s Law, often tends to happen on much-needed vacations. Whatever the symptoms, the outcome is still the same. You’re sick. You’re travelling. And it sucks. If you want to chat travel-sick stories I’m your go-to-gal… I’ve had food poisoning in Mexico…twice, a malaria-scare in Cambodia, spread tonsillitis all over Europe and on my latest jaunt to Lombok I caught a live stomach-sucking parasite from god knows where which kept me glued to the toilet for an entire week.  Fun times. Not so coincidentally, this latest bout is what inspired this post. So count yourselves lucky my friends; you can learn from my bad luck!

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are about the food and water in foreign countries, you still get sick. I’ve been sick abroad so many times I’ve written a fail-safe plan on how NOT to get food-poisoning while you travel. You can read it here. Pity I hardly ever take my own advice… there’s just something about grabbing a new country by the horns – steak tartare and all – that makes me feel alive. I’ll eat seafood, raw salads and drink fresh juices, but I stop at downing water from the tap in most places. Evidently I have paid for this type of holiday style on several occasions. But only sometimes, it’s a numbers game.

Whether you’re sick from the food, the water or the fact you were just so run down from daily life at home that you needed a holiday but you ended up actually getting sick on your holiday – there are ways to promote a speedy recovery and still have a decent(ish) time abroad.  Pick and choose the ones which apply to you…

What To Do If You’re Really Really Sick…

Numero uno – don’t stress! Stressing out about getting sick and searching “Dr Google” like an OCD hypochondriac will not make things any better. In fact, numerous studies show that by focusing on the negatives in a situation you are twice as likely for your condition to get worse. Wait 12 hours, if your condition worsens, or you seriously feel like something’s not right, then start making plans to hightail it to emergency.

Whatever you do, don’t take Immodium (or any other anti-diarrhea tablet) unless you have to catch transport without easy access to a bathroom. These types of tablets provide relief from embarrassing public appearances by effectively trapping the bacteria inside your body and as such, you’ll only be prolonging the inevitable. Err better out than in, as they say…

If you’ve been sick with a severe fever for 24 hours then you’ll need to haul-ass to a Doctor. No matter how remote your location, or how extreme the language barrier, just remember that you’re not the first person within a 10km radius that’s had to make a trip to emergency. This is when solo-travel can really be a drain and travelling with a partner is heaven. If you’re on your lonesome though don’t worry, take three deep breaths and either:

a) contact your nearest local Embassy or Consulate for a list of local doctors and medical facilities, or
b) ask your hotel (or a large hotel near where you are staying) to contact one for you. They will have a list of recommended and respected doctors. Or
c) find a taxi that will take you to the nearest hospital (ambulance systems are usually sluggish in third-world countries). If the nearest hospital is hours away, keep your receipt and claim it on insurance later on.
This is also why going to hospital in the first 24 hours you feel ill is a good idea, just incase your condition gets worse and you literally don’t have the energy to do the above!

Know what your travel insurance covers before you go to a hospital so you can avoid any nasty surprises. In most instances, foreigners are expected to pay for all their hospital bills when overseas so ensure you’re well-versed on what your insurance does and doesn’t cover before you say yes to anything. Also, it’s a good idea to keep your insurance provider in the loop from the get go- so give them a ring before, during and after seeking medical treatment so they have sufficient documented conversational evidence of your troubles.  And it goes without saying that you should keep all diagnoses, hospital admittance and receipts and send them off to your insurer as soon as possible.

Most hospitals have English-speaking Doctors, but are you willing to bet your life on it? Use the Google Translator app to learn and pronounce some basic medical vocabulary. The same goes for when you know what you have is just some common flu-like symptoms and you want to purchase some over-the-counter medicine from a pharmacy.  It works a treat if you know the name of the medication you want or you can list your symptoms in their language. As a safety precaution, I always Google the name of any prescriptions I’m given, just so I know what I’m getting myself into.

Make sure you carry a copy of your basic medical information (allergies, medications), especially if you have any chronic conditions. For a person that can’t remember her blood type, carrying this type of stuff in my wallet has saved me on a number of occasions.

sick while traveling

What To Do If You’ve Got A Cold, or Simply Not Functioning At 100%…

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Try and buy some electrolytes from a pharmacy, and continue to sip on water every hour to help flush out your system. If you’ve got a queasy stomach and the pharmacy is too far away (for the time being anyway), then grab a coke and live on that for a few hours. The sugar in the coke will keep you sustained and the chemicals will help fight the stomach bug!

Put your hotel’s (hopefully) abundant hotel water through its paces and take as many hot baths as you can. If there’s no bath just sit in the shower and let the water run over you, I guarantee the humidity will help clear your sinuses, soothe a fever and ease sore muscles.

Take a guided tour. If you’re too sick to explore a city on foot, hop on a bus or boat tour – you’ll be able to lie back and enjoy the scenery, hopefully without expending too much energy. Just be sure to cover your mouth when you cough.

AMW xx

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