Most of us don’t even dare consider the possibility of getting sick when we travel, but unfortunately, we are human and our bodies don’t always behave how we want them to. I always say before I leave for trip to plan for the worst but hope for the best. What comes with that thinking is a large bag of pills for common ailments.
Every time I go on a trip – especially to a country that is considered more third-world – I see a travel doctor and make sure I have all the vaccines and medication that I will need. I have gotten almost every vaccine you can imagine from yellow fever, typhoid, and even a rabies series and Japanese swine flu vaccine. I figure it’s better to get these ahead of time rather than end up in a situation where you are far away from medical aid and unable to get care quick enough.
While planning vaccines and medications is important it is key to have traveler’s insurance just in case anything serious happens to you while traveling. I usually go with World Nomads, which is a great way to get peace of mind that you will have protection and aid no matter where you are in the world.
What I typically bring from over-the-counter drug stores is:
Zinc and magnesium vitamins
Despite adequate planning, there are certain situations that you definitely can’t prepare for. Read some of my unfortunate first hand account of some of these situations:
One of the scariest experiences I had was when I was backpacking through Africa. I was on safari and we were driving for hours to get to our campsite. Before I had gone on this journey, I had been warned about sleeper flies. A sleeper fly looks like a horse fly but when they bite humans they carry something that can put unsuspecting people into a coma. When I heard this it of course freaked me out, but I was excited for this trip and was convinced that it wasn’t a common occurrence. When I got to Africa, I learned that over the years people have come up with tools to prevent the flies from being as potent. In many of these places, people are covering the trees with a certain type of sap that makes the flies not as dangerous to humans. We were a few days into the journey and our tour guide gave us a warning about these flies. A few hours later while driving with the windows open due to the heat, I started to see these flies I had heard so much about. At that time I was able to pay attention and dodge them as we drove by. Unfortunately, I did not go unbitten for the rest of the trip and they got me several times when I least expected it. I got bitten in the back when I was showering, on my forehead while I was taking a nap, and on my arm as I was reading a book. After the bites, I experienced heavy fatigue and constant need for sleep but luckily I did not fall into a coma. However, that was still a risk so it was a very scary experience.
Another time I got sick was when I was staying in Ecuador. I still don’t know to this day whether I had gotten altitude sickness or water poisoning, as the two have similar symptoms and either could have easily happened to me. I was lucky enough to stay in an extremely comfortable hostel with a big, private bathroom and a large, cozy bunk bed. I got sick the day before I was supposed to leave Ecuador and head home. Luckily it ended up only being a 24-hour bug and got out of my system as quickly as it entered. However, it was one of the first times I was completely alone and feeling that under the weather. As miserable as I was I was still able to take it as a learning experience. In that situation I was totally dependent on myself, even when I was unable to take care of myself. I really had no one around to help me and had to figure out how to be self reliant while sick as a dog. Coming out of that I felt a weird sense of accomplishment for going through that all alone. Of course I would have preferred to have someone there to take care of me, as everyone wants when they are sick, but it was certainly an affirmation of my ability for self-reliance.
When I was in Thailand I became severely sick likely as a result of eating something that came in contact with the local water. I was stuck in a mediocre hotel on the party island of Ko Phi Phi. There were not a lot of food options on the island and, of the options available, only a small handful looked trustworthy. The place that I ended up getting sick from was one of the last places I would have expected; the exterior looked well kept and the food prices were expensive. I knew right in the middle of my meal that I had eaten something that just was not sitting well. To save you the gory details, forty-eight hours of hell later, whatever it was had cleared my system along with draining what seemed like everything from my body. This experience was proof that no matter how conscientious or prepared you are, sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid getting sick on vacation; you just have to ride it out and hopefully avoid a similar fate next time.
I know first-hand how tough it is to go through something like this while traveling, especially when you are on your own, but you live and you learn. Sometimes you learn that things are unavoidable and sometimes you learn that pushing yourself for trying new things is not really the best option. My biggest advice is to take my cautionary tales as learning lessons; do not be deterred by fears of what may happen while traveling but instead know what to prepare for so you can have the best experience possible (even if there are some hiccups along the way)!