© Eneas de Troya

I Think I’m Dying! 9 Ways to Handle Being Sick on the Road

You know when you embark upon a long-term travel plan that you’re going to be leaping far out of your comfort zone. In your mind, you see yourself daringly nibbling on weird and sometimes icky foods, trekking mysterious paths toward unknown destinations and chatting comfortably with locals in pidgin versions of their own language. It seems so bold and glamorous to step away from the routine.

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But then … wham! You’ve picked up the flu, your body aches and your spine feels like its melting into the mattress. That’s when all you’ll want is to be safely ensconced in your comfort zone, in your old apartment with your ratty blanket, a fridge full of familiar food and a friend or family member to fuss over you. It’s horrible being sick on the road, and even worse when you’re travelling alone and on a budget.

Which is why it’s imperative to arm yourself first! Here’s how to take care of yourself as well as possible.

Hospital Bed
Remixed from original © Rodrigo Basaure

Seek Professional Advice

Evaluate the seriousness of the episode: If you think you’ve got a simple flu, fever or bad stomach, you should be good to travel in a day or two. If it’s possibly food poisoning or malaria or something more serious, make the right moves (while you can) to get yourself the treatment you need.

Make sure someone at home knows where to find you. Leave the phone numbers of your hotel with your family, and tell the concierge at the hotel whom to call in case of emergency.

Find a good doctor and get yourself checked into a hospital if necessary. You don’t want to be lying on your hotel room floor trying to explain to the cleaning lady that you need to be taken to hospital.

Park Yourself for A While

You might be on a super tight schedule and maybe you need to keep moving to stay within a budget. But this isn’t a time for considerations like this. When you’re ill, you’re going to need all your energy for healing and not for hefting backpacks onto your aching back. This is that emergency situation, that rainy day that you accounted for.

Tell your friends and loved ones that you’re going to stay in one place for a while, and then nestle in as deep as you can. This would be a good time to splurge on a hotel or motel room instead of camping. This is when you need heated (or cooled) rooms, a clean, easily accessible toilet, and a bed with a real pillow and mattress. You don’t want to be trying to light a fire from damp wood on a cold night when your head is splitting and your hands trembling from weakness.

Woman with Migraine in Bed
© makelessnoise

Arm Yourself

This is a proactive tip, which means: do it before you fall ill. Make sure you have a fully-equipped medical kit, with not just Band-Aids and heat spray, but lozenges, rehydration salts, energy bars and menthol balms or rubs.

If you can, opt to stay in a place with room service, or at least a microwave, so you can heat up soups and tea for yourself.

Take the Essentials

When I have the flu at home, I’m usually perfumed with Vicks, dosed with my favorite cold meds, and hopped up on lemon tea, with a flurry of tissue trailing behind me.

If I’m travelling, I’ll make sure I carry the medicines I’m used to, the supplements and the ‘props’ I like to have that I’m not likely to find easily.

Go Local As Much As Possible

You might miss the chicken soup from your local deli and the mint-chocolate chip ice cream from the grocer next door to your house, but when you’re ill on the road, open your mind to other healing foods. (Yes, I count mint-chocolate chip ice cream as a healing food!).

A tasty chicken soup with lemongrass oil will open your breathing up just as well, and an exotic coconut ice cream will heal you just as fast.

A good trick is to find a wise old man or motherly old lady from amongst the locals, make your most pitiful puppy face and ask for their tips. Home remedies from back home may not work in the new climate and country you’re in, but a local remedy can usually be counted upon.

Just don’t go overboard with the spicy curries and fried cockroaches – you want to heal your stomach, not shock it into submission.

Eat Your Spinach, Popeye

Get your friendly doctor back at home to recommend a good, strong multivitamin to make you invincible. If your immunity is boosted all the way up, you’re less likely to fall prey to viruses picked up from the cute baby you sat next to on a train.

And ladies, they say that a woman’s immunity drops just before menstruation. It’s probably best to be extra careful at that point, whether you believe it or not.

Sick Girl, Japan
© Sean McGrath

Guard Yourself

Don’t be a hero. If you see someone sniffling or coughing, or you think that wobbling green mystery meat is going to upset your stomach, get yourself out of harm’s way.

I’ve found that by cracking a joke about my own weak immune system, I avoid hurting feelings and get most people to laugh and understand when I tell them that I can’t share cutlery or accept a local delicacy.

Be a Good Patient

If you’re the kind of person to forget taking a dose of medicine after lunch, or if you think you might sleep past the time for your morning round of tablets, set an alarm on your phone. Make sure you finish a course of prescribed antibiotics, even if you feel better half-way through. Take the vitamin supplements that give you strength, even when you’re feeling as strong as usual.

Don’t tell yourself that you know better than the doctor – listen to him and you’ll be back on the road soon.

… But Don’t Trust Blindly

If your instinct tells you the medicines are not working right, if you think the language barrier got in the way of the doctor understanding what your ailment is – it’s okay to question it. Do a little research locally and find another doctor for a second opinion.

I would recommend reading up a little on the internet, but only if you can be practical and tell yourself you aren’t dying of all the diseases with the same symptoms you just typed in. I can’t, and usually spend my sick hours composing a tragic goodbye mail to my loved ones, until I feel better.

The rest of it is up to you. Change into your most comfy clothes, use your softest tee to blow your tender nose, pile the pillows up behind your head, order room service and watch a silly movie on TV. Whatever makes you better.

What do you like to do when you’re ill on the road? Share your tips with us below!

  1. I also consider ice cream to be a healing food, I’m currently medicating with chocolate vanilla swirl in Slovakia….Great article, thanks for the tips!

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