Sometimes you just can't get the good without getting the bad, and when traveling for extended periods of time, no one can claim total immunity to the wide variety of illnesses that we're exposed to while abroad. Even Superman himself was brought to his knees when exposed to Kryptonite. Better to head into battle with a sword in hand, so let's go over some useful things you can do to ready yourself for the perils ahead.
I've had "the pleasure" of experiencing all kinds of turmoil during my travels, including;
- Excessive Dehydration
- Broken Tooth/Exposed Nerve/Oral Surgery
- Eye Infection/Corneal Abrasion
- Bacterial Infection
- Panic Attacks/Anxiety
- Sun Poisoning
- Food Poisoning
- Altitude Sickness
- Motion Sickness
Several of those things have happened more than once, and I'm sure I've left out (or repressed) some other experiences as well. I seem to get food poisoning in particular on almost every journey abroad, even when I'm extremely careful about the things I eat or drink. That being said, I'm usually the first one to get sick when I'm traveling with others, so my gut is probably weaker than most everyone else's. But more often than not, even those with the "iron gut" do eventually fall.
I've seen tall muscular giants who claim to have never been seasick in their life, heaving over the rails of boats. On more than one occasion I've been bed-stricken, only getting up to run to the toilette from the street food we all ate, while others laughed or pitied me, only to find themselves in the same situation a day later. I've seen what hospitals are like in the poorest of countries, and several times I've feared for my life.
Despite the Grim Reaper's best efforts, however, I'm still here to write about it, and it hasn't stopped me from traveling. So if you're freaked out now about the idea of traveling, well, don't be- obviously I wouldn't still be doing it if the rewards didn't heavily outweigh the downside. Besides, you could get just as sick or sicker in the comfort of your own home. The trick is learning how to handle it while you're abroad and in an unfamiliar environment.
So, what can you do to be more prepared for your adventure? While there are countless things that could happen on your journey that I don't have experience with, I can provide you with some useful tips on prevention and how to put yourself in a situation for a quick recovery.
This is very important. You'll probably be doing a lot of walking and/or spending time in the sun. A dehydrated body is inefficient when it comes to fighting off or preventing illness. So if you're planning on a long night of drinking, make sure to drink plenty of water before bed and after waking up.
Another good option to get yourself hydrated again are medical electrolyte drinks that you can find at many pharmacies or convenience stores. A couple major brands are "Pedialyte" and "Electrolit." It doesn't taste that great, but get through the bottle and you'll definitely start feeling better.
Get Plenty of Rest
Another big one. I know it sounds obvious but I just can't stress it enough. I've had to learn the hard way here several times. You want quality hours on your journey- you don't want to be dragging. If you're seriously lacking sleep, you're practically asking to get sick. And you'll end up wasting even more time. I'm not saying spend all day in bed (unless you're sick, and you need to), but get your 7-8 hours.
This is one of those beating a dead horse categories. If tanning is your only concern, you're probably too stubborn to even be reading this section of the article. If by some miracle you're still reading, I implore you to wear it- I promise you'll still get a tan. Is one or two shades worth the potential damages you can do to your skin or future health? Have you ever had sun stroke? Not fun. How about extra large blisters full of nastiness or peeling skin as thick as a quarter? Sorry to be graphic but I can assure you that you won't want to know what I'm talking about.
When the shade of your face matches that red dress you brought, you look silly. What? But you're part Italian and you never burn? Interesting. I didn't realize Italy was so close to the Equator. You must be immune to skin cancer too!
Eat Native Fresh Fruit
I'm a firm believer that nature provides each environment with the appropriate nutrients the body needs and craves. Think about it for a second- have you ever noticed how that cold, fresh grapefruit tasted so much more refreshing in the hot and humid environment of Florida? Ever had cherries on a summer day in New England? How about pineapples or coconuts while in the tropics? Why are lemons a big part of so many Mediterranean dishes? Getting the picture? Natures answer to the things we need are right under our noses. Figure out what is local, and nourish yourself with it!
Make Note of Pharmacies & Hospitals in the Area
It's a good idea to research where the pharmacies and hospitals are if you're traveling to a particular area. Many countries- even very poor ones- will have more than one hospital. That's not to say you're options are going to be fancy, but it's good to know what's available to you. It also helps to go someplace where they'll understand you when you describe your symptoms. If this isn't an option, hopefully you've purchased a sim card so you can use your smartphone to pull up Google Translate.
If you're going to be on the move for most of your journey, it would be kind of a nuisance to research every place you may or may not end up. Just try to be resourceful and aware of your surroundings so that you know where to go should things turn south.
I don't care if you've never gotten motion sickness in your life- pack your toiletries bag with Dramamine tablets. As I mentioned above, I've seen even the bravest and most boastful go down. You won't want it to be you.
Taxi cab drivers often think they are race car drivers and apparently were never properly taught how to use the braking system. I've been on overnight buses where I didn't get an ounce of sleep because I feared for my life while the driver was evidently trying to set a world record for fastest time. Again, speeding, slamming on breaks, passing people on one-lane roads behind the crests of hills on unlit roads are all circumstances that shouldn't surprise you.
It looks like a pretty nice day to be on the water- it shouldn't be that rough out there. Fast-forward 30 minutes and the friendly deckhand is frantically handing out barf bags. Whether it's a sailboat or a speedboat, I've seen the same consequences. If you enjoy vertigo, by all means- leave the dramamine behind. If you're smart though, you'll bring some anyway in case the cutie sitting next to you needs some.
Options to Combat Food Poisoning
I have way too much experience in this department. I always joke that I must have really beat the shit out Montezuma in a past life because his "Revenge" on me has been unrelenting. I need at least two hands to count all my run-ins with the jerk.
A note on prevention: do some information gathering before you start drinking water from the tap or get in line for that tempting street food. I'm not saying to avoid these things. The street food in Thailand for example was some of the most delicious, high-quality food I've ever eaten in my life. In the Philippines, street food put me in the hospital and I was unable to eat a morsel for five days. Tap water in Bogotá, Colombia is some of the purest and tastiest water in the world, whereas tap water in Cartagena, Colombia is likely to put an abrupt end to your fun.
The best thing you can do to put yourself at lower risk for food poisoning or bacterial infection is to research the area you are traveling to. There's a lot of good information on the 'net, and you'll get a lot of good information from the locals and savvy travelers as well- just be sure to ask more than one person before you make a decision on something. If you make it through your trip unscathed, congratulations- you dodged a bullet. If you suffer the same fate I experience time and time again, consider the options below.
I'm not a fan of antibiotics- they kill off good bacteria as well as bad, and the more we take them, the weaker our immune system becomes in the future. That being said, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, and there's nothing worse than being stuck in bed, in immense pain, while traveling. If you are going to take antibiotics, be sure to eat plenty of probiotic-containing foods once your stomach can handle them again. You also don't need a prescription in other countries to get antibiotics- just walk into the nearest pharmacy (depending on what country you're in, you may want to Google the translation and write it down first).
If you're more of a naturalist like myself, there's a lot of evidence out there pointing to foods that have antibacterial qualities- raw garlic in particular. I always try this first, and, believe it or not, I've had success many times with it in the past. There have been times where it hasn't worked, but you should always give yourself every opportunity to avoid antibiotics.
A Word on Anxiety
Anxiety or panic attacks can be a really troublesome experience whether you are traveling or not, which I've also had the displeasure of experiencing. While it can be a tough psychological disposition to conquer, I can offer you some tips that have helped me a lot in the past.
Firstly, make sure you are well-rested and well-hydrated. I've noticed a direct correlation with lack of sleep, a night of drinking, and subsequent anxiety. If you're prone to experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, be sure not put yourself in situations that make them more likely.
More importantly, though, you need to understand that feeling anxious is the result of your fears. It's up to you to conquer them. Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but remember that fears are based on worries generated by past experiences or future concerns. If you focus on being in the present moment and experiencing the world around you, you'll have better results silencing your mind.
Practice breathing techniques. The best way to help you to calm down is to practice diaphragmatic breathing. This taking slow, deep breaths into your belly. Instead of focusing on your lungs expanding, focus on your belly expanding. This is used often in meditation, yoga, etc.
Aromatherapy and Acupuncture are other great methods to help put you in a relaxed state of mind. My good friend and acupuncturist provided me with an essential oil combination of Sweet Tangerine, Lavender, and Rose. This isn't hocus pocus talk folks- it's effectual. If you're a loyal to science, be my guest to research what's been known to help by the Chinese for thousands of years.
If you have a prescription for "benzos," sometimes it helps prevent anxiety just to know you have a fail-safe handy. Be wary though- they should be taken in an emergency only, after you've exhausted all other calming techniques. Way too many people abuse this stuff by taking it recreationally or by resorting to it too quickly. It's just a bandaid- and won't fix the root of your problems.
What are some sickly experiences you've had while traveling? Any tips you'd like to share? Make sure to post below!