5 Things You Need to Do When Sick on the Road

When I arrived in Cairo for three weeks in September, my view for the first five days was the toilet bowel. A particularly evil bout of flu had descended upon my immune system, and the very first thing I ate in the country – vegetarian pizza, if you’re interested – invoked an unpleasant case of food poisoning that manifested from both ends. For five days, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, and a whole lot of snot were my introduction to Egypt. Charming, I know.

When you travel, sickness is an inevitability. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling to Iceland or India; exposure to foreign viruses and bacteria that you body may not have developed resistance to are enough to bring even the healthiest to their knees. Furthermore, it is all but impossible to travel without navigating dreaded public transport systems, and those environments are an orgy for bugs.

The prospect of falling ill can be especially frightening if you are embarking on a holiday with a very time-dependent itinerary. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t the case in Egypt. However, I have been in that situation before (shout out to bronchitis in Cambodia), and understand that it is very stressful and calls for some quick decision-making with financial consequences. That stress is only amplified if it is your first time solo traveling without ‘adult’ authority. Trust me, we’ve all been there.

Although I like to think I am a reasonably healthy person, I fail to remember a single trip where I have not suffered from illness at some point or another. So – for all you panicking sick folk out there – here is my advice for what you should do if you fall sick on the road…

Should I say it a little louder for those in the back? Buy. Travel. Insurance.

Okay, so this tidbit is more preventative that reactive. But nevertheless – invest in a decent travel insurance plan! When I left New Zealand, I spent over NZ$800 on a one year comprehensive travel insurance plan. This covered medical expenses, baggage, personal liability – you name it. At the time, I was kicking myself. Why on earth did I pay nearly one thousand dollars for something that I wasn’t guaranteed to need?! But lo and behold, I had claimed for more than what I originally paid in those first three months.

As long as what you are suffering from is not a pre-existing condition, you will be able to be compensated. That means that you should never be in a position where you are unwilling to see a doctor or buy medication overseas because you hadn’t factored the extra expense into your budget. Furthermore, the worse case scenario is no longer fraught by such financial consequences. To conclude, travel insurance is never a bad idea.

When I was in Cambodia, I woke up one morning to find that my throat had fallen victim to acute bronchitis. It was during the last two days of a month-long tour of Southeast Asia, on the home run returning to New Zealand. I couldn’t eat for the pain, and every few minutes, I would stumble towards the bathroom and hack up snotballs. Unlike my Egyptian anecdote, I had a whole two days of full itineraries ahead of me, and the prospect of soldiering on in such misery made me want to curl up in bed and cry.

As it happens, that’s just what I did.

Well, I didn’t cry, but I curled up in bed and didn’t leave the hotel room for 48 hours. Whilst it certainly wasn’t easy having to ring up our tour guides and cancel everything last minute, my body thanked me for the sacrifice when I managed to make the flight home under slightly more bearable circumstances.

Sleep is one of your leading weapons when facing illness, as it helps rebuild your immune system and fight infections. It is really important that you listen to your body during times like these, and catch the sleep you need when you need it. Even if it means having to cancel day trips and outings like I did in Cambodia, you will enjoy the rest of your trip to a much greater degree.

Another reason you should stay in bed is that it reduces the likelihood of other people getting sick. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people who are clearly ill insist on going about their day like nothing is at stake. I get it – there are situations where you simply cannot afford to miss something. But there are also plenty of others where you are doing yourself and everyone else a favour by staying in bed. Rampart bugs relating to travel can be particularly contagious, and if one person in the group falls ill, there’s a good chance others will too.

This doesn’t really apply to countries like England or the United States, but if your travels take you to slightly less developed places (for lack of a better term), then listen up.

Drinking tap water is a big no no in less developed corners of the world as microorganisms in the water can make you very sick. It may do no harm to the locals, but that is because their systems are familiar with the bacteria, and you should not follow suit. Bottled water isn’t a huge expense, and you’ll find crates of the stuff at corner shops on every street. Bear in mind that this rule also applies to things such as brushing your teeth and rinsed foods; this blog post is a really neat resource for everything you need to know about safe and unsafe drinking water when traveling.

On the health front, drinking plenty of water when you’re feeling under the weather is a must. Symptoms – such as vomiting and diarrhoea – dehydrate the body, and make you feel much, much worse. It’s also important to drink lots of water to ward off high temperatures.

The last thing you will want to eat after an intense pukefest is some extravagant, spicy, cultural dish. To be honest, you probably won’t want to eat anything; but alas, your body needs nutrients and energy to do it’s thing.

The key here is to try and find a balance of bland, ‘easy’ foods that you can stomach, whilst still being relatively healthy. My personal go to’s are apples and dry toast, but I have also heard that papaya, yoghurt and chicken soup are also good alternatives (but hey, as a vegetarian, I’m not exactly preaching the latter).

Last but not least, do not shy away from contacting a doctor. Sometimes when you’re on the road, and away from the comfort and familiarity of home routine, paying a visit to a doctor can seem downright out of place.  But the good news is that wherever you venture, there will always be a medical professional there to help you. Sure, there might be an extra cost – but you’ve got travel insurance, right? 😉

If you are staying in a hotel, most will have a service where a doctor will pay a house call. If you are worried or in a lot of pain, don’t be afraid to use this service. Even if you’re in a foreign country, there are almost always medical services catering to English-speaking tourists; and if you’re reading this blog, the chances are, you speak English.

The major advantage to consulting a doctor abroad is that you can find out exactly what is wrong with you, and how to deal with it. You will likely receive a prescription for medicine that you cannot access over the counter, and your recovery time will be shortened. When I fell ill in Cambodia, a doctor visited my hotel room, quickly conducted a series of blood tests, and then returned an hour later with a full sheet of results and recommended treatments. It was convenient, to say the least.

Travel is challenging enough when you’re feeling fit. Becoming sick when you’re outside of your comfort zone can push you to the limit, but it doesn’t have to be such a nuisance to sort out. The main thing you need to remember is to buy travel insurance before you depart; that way, regardless of what happens, there should be no barriers to treatment and recovery. Once that’s taken care of, the rest is downhill, no matter what the world throws at you.

For more travel advice, check out the following blog posts on the Ginger Passports…

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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