Getting sick at any time isn’t fun. Getting sick while traveling is horrible. Getting sick while traveling solo is a challenge. You don’t have anyone to help you out, no one to mother you, and no one who can take charge of the situation while you’re immobile.
So, whenever I’ve gotten sick, what did I do?
- Take it easy and understand my limits.
- Drink lots of clean water (bottled and sealed water)
- Try to sleep
- Figure out if I’m better here or at my next destination
- Try to eat something (keep it basic)
- If needed, call a doctor
This may sound basic and simple but when you’re feeling like everything inside of you is desperate to find a way out, it isn’t very easy.
Take it easy
This sounds simple but for me, the excitement of being on vacation is often reason enough for me to push myself to the limit. I feel like any time spent in the hotel is time wasted not exploring the city so I try to get out of the hotel as much as I can. However, when I’m sick, I have to remind myself that a day or two of rest is worth it to get myself healthy or the rest of my trip could be compromised.
Taking it easy is also the stage where I feel like I do a little prep work for the “just in case” scenario. I know I don’t feel 100% but I feel good enough to move around a little. This is when I’ll try to go out and stock up on food and water while I have the energy. It isn’t always doable since you never know when the worst of it will hit. But if you can, try to prepare a little while you can. This usually means going to the store and getting some water, bread, crackers, and possibly some fruit. I try to get things that will hopefully not do damage so no hot drinks like coffee or cold drinks like iced tea. I try to go for the more exciting option of tepid water.
Also, depending on the hotel, I may have to get a few rolls of toilet paper as well. Look, hotels have that but if you get so sick you might be calling the bathroom floor your hotel room for a few hours, you may not want to be disturbed when housekeeping rolls by the next morning. It just might be easier to stock up on toilet paper at the store.
Drink lots of water
Obviously you’re going to be dehydrated and you’re going to have to replenish your body while you fight through vomit and diarrhea. That said, you have to be weary of the water you drink as well. Depending on where you’re from, you might be used to drinking water straight from the tap or a well. That’s great when you’re at home but don’t expect the same standards to apply when you’re overseas.
When you’re drinking water, make sure you stick with the bottled stuff and make sure you check the seal that the bottled water is actually bottled and not replaced. There’s no point in drinking unclean water if that’s what got you sick in the beginning.
I will try to drink water but also try to get a soda as well in case I can’t keep any food down. Look, it’s not the healthiest thing but if I need to get calories and a soda is the only way I can get it, I’ll take it. Also, if you can find Gatorade or anything with electrolytes, get it. It’s better to have it and not need than need it and not have it. If you’re immobil on the bathroom floor, you don’t want to be wishing you bought the extra Gatorade or soda.
Try to sleep
This is easier said than done, especially if you’re constantly getting up to use the restroom. But try to get some sleep if you can. Usually when I’m sick, I’ll get to the point where I’m so tired that I’ll fall asleep from exhaustion. That’s definitely a good sign but usually short lived. Unfortunately there isn’t much that can be done to force yourself to sleep so this is tough. But I usually just try to lie down and make the best of it.
If it’s hot and humid, you may even want to call the front desk ask them to bring up a bucket of ice. I’ll usually wrap that in a wet towel and wrap it around my neck to try and cool off. It isn’t much but at this point, every bit helps.
Figure out if you’re better off staying or leaving
Sometimes, you know that your next destination is going to be better. Maybe you’re going from a rural setting to a city. Maybe you’re in a crappy hotel and going to a nicer one. Maybe you’re in some awful weather and going to more temperate climate. You should figure out whether or not you’re better off staying put or moving forward.
Look, the cost of changing flights or the extra night in the hotel isn’t the issue. It’s about where you think you’ll be able to recover the quickest. Sometimes that decision will be made for you since you just won’t have the energy to move. But if you’re feeling up for it, you should really think about it.
When I was in Myanmar, I got some type of food poisoning during dinner. To be honest, I felt fine all the way back to the hotel and even fell asleep pretty easily since I was exhausted from a long travel day. That all ended around 1am when whatever was inside me decided it was coming out at all costs. Unfortunately at 1am, there was nothing I could do but grit through it and ride it out. However, I also had an early flight the next day and needed to be up in a few hours. I had to decide if I was better off staying put in Yangon or moving forward to Bagan.
At around 5am, I decided it would be better to go suck it up and fly to Bagan because it would be cooler and nicer than Yangon. Look, let’s be honest, those few hours were about as uncomfortable as I’ve been since the body didn’t know that I was in a public airport and only cared about expelling whatever demon was inside me. But once I got to Bagan, I was able to relax and get some sleep. I was even able to order a few bananas and by about 8pm that night, I was able to order some real food and actually eat something.
I’m glad I decided to move out of Yangon just because I was able to get myself to a cooler, quieter place. Although it was a tough morning, I’d do it again if I had to.
Try to eat something
Try to eat something when you feel hungry and don’t force it down. I usually try to keep it really simple and basic like bread, crackers, and fruit you peel but nothing acidic. Bread and crackers are usually cheap and plentiful so I try to get that first. Sometimes I might try to add some cheese or jelly but only if I have a minifridge to store it.
Bread and crackers typically don’t do any damage so as long as I can keep that down, I know I’m off to a good start. If I’m at the store, I’ll try to get some fruit as well but only fruit that needs to be peeled to be eaten. Bananas are typically cheap and plentiful so I’ll usually get a bunch of those. I try to stay away from food that’s acidic but if you’re not a fan of bananas, you might want to try oranges, grapefruit, or possibly melons if you have a way of cutting them open. The purpose here is to not eat fruits you’ll have to wash because if you’re not supposed to drink the tap water, you won’t be able to clean the fruit before eating it.
If you’re asia, you might find it easier to find rice or some noodles. Rice is certainly a staple in Asia and available everywhere so you may find it easier to find a rice dish or something similar. Rice is just as good as bread in filling you up while not disturbing your stomach that I’ll get some steamed rice if that’s all I can get.
Finally, if I can get some scrambled eggs that isn’t cooked in too much oil, I’ll order that as well. It not only helps with the monotony of eating bread but is also fairly easy on the stomach. Again, I ask for it to be cooked in little to no oil though because otherwise it just won’t be too appetizing.
I’m not a doctor so you’ll want to ask your doctor to see if any of these foods are really helpful but speaking from experience, this is what’s worked for me. Bland food is usually the ticket to get something to stay down and not aggravate the stomach even more.
If needed, call a doctor
Look calling a doctor in a foreign country can be daunting especially if there is a language barrier. However, if you absolutely feel it necessary to call a doctor, don’t hesitate to call one. You can have the hotel call a doctor to make a house call at the hotel if needed. If it’s really serious, they’ll be able to call an ambulance and get you to a hospital as well. The thing is don’t wait until it’s a real emergency. You don’t know if what you think you have is really something more serious. The problem could be more serious than you realize and if you don’t get it checked out, it could lead to serious health problems.
How to avoid getting sick
Don’t drink the water
First, don’t drink the water. This is a rule I live by wherever I go. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to a developed industrialized nation or a third world country. I never drink the water. Now I’m sure there are plenty of people who will say this is overkill and completely unnecessary. And I’m sure, for the most part, that the water is perfectly safe to drink in many parts of the world. However, it’s so easy to just be safe and buy bottled water when you’re traveling that I think it’s an unnecessary risk to drink the tap.
I will say that I’ve been to some places where getting a soda is much easier than getting bottled water. I know a lot of people don’t drink soda very often and I don’t really drink it too much either. But I’ll still get it if it means having something safe to drink vs. nothing having anything at all.
Be weary of the food in relation to where you are
I remember being in Siem Reap and seeing fish on the menu. Now if you’ve been to Angkor Wat, you know that it isn’t located near the ocean. Now that’s fine since fish live all over. But if you’ve stayed in Siem Reap, you know that the town itself isn’t a modernized neighborhood and you can’t necessarily expect the water to be clean. So, if the fish were caught in the river, well let’s just say I was concerned with the cleanliness.
I just think it’s important to be aware of where you are and logically, where the local food comes from. I’m not saying it’s always true but you can certainly use common sense to figure out where the food is from. If you’re not aware, you may end up getting really sick. Sometimes you just won’t know any better but you should certainly take whatever precautions you can to avoid any unclean food sources.
Along the same lines of where the food comes from, make sure you’re aware of how the food is stored (especially in countries where refrigeration may not be readily available). This is especially important of meat storage (obviously).
I remember going to a restaurant in SE Asia where it was hot and humid. I stepped in the restaurant and although they cooked meat over an open flame, they didn’t have proper food storage. They just had raw meat sitting on a plate over some ice instead of having it refrigerated. Now I have no idea how long that meat had been sitting out but from the looks of it, it didn’t seem like they had refrigeration.
When you’re about to order, you may want to take note of how meats are stored and if it doesn’t look safe, maybe stick to cooked vegetables and some grains.
Things to have when you get sick
I usually have pill case full of these chewable tablets in my toiletries bag. Obviously the chewable tablets aren’t a liquid so they can be taken anywhere but you also don’t have to worry about spillage or running out as quickly as the tablets. These tablets can be manna from heaven as far as I’m concerned. They may not cure everything but it certainly eases the symptoms.
Any sort of medication you have from home
If you have medication you have at home, you should definitely bring it as well. Also, if you have any home remedies, you might as well try it. I’m not a doctor but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying a home remedy that you would try at home if you’re on the road. If it works for you at home, it should work when you’re overseas right?
Hopefully these tips will help you if you get sick while traveling. Getting sick while traveling solo is just about the worst feeling in the world because you really have no one to lean on. You have to deal with it and no one is going to help. Luckily, if you’re prepared, you’ll be better suited to tackle the sickness head on. Remember the point is to get better as quickly as possible so oftentimes the best remedy is the simplest. Like so many doctors prescribe, plenty of liquids and bedrest if often the best cure. You just have to be willing and able to take that advice and follow through with it. Otherwise the rest of your trip could be ruined at which point, you might as well just go home and be sick where you might have friends and family who can help you get better.