Getting Sick Overseas

After a three-day migraine which I was sure would kill me, I remembered back to the last time I was that ill and thanked God I wasn’t back there again.

Getting ill is never nice, we’ve all suffered with mal de têtes and tummybugs, but it’s even nastier when it’s miles away from home, when nobody speaks your language and you don’t have any of your home comforts (or sometimes even your own bed to retreat to!)

What this boils down to is a bit of advice before you go away. I am not a doctor in any sense of the world but I’ve had some awful experiences which make me an expert in how much feeling poorly can ruin a whole trip.

1. Have a one-stop-shop bag for any possible (minor) disaster. If everythings in a handy little bag/pouch you can transfer easily without having to tick boxes all over again.
Mine includes savlon, plasters (heat=blisters), eye drops, anti-diorrhea tabs, aloe vera laxatives, anti-inflammatories, aprin, painkillers and special triple-mega-double-whammy-strength migraine tablets. I ran out of the latter on my latest trip and paid the price. Which leads me onto my next tip…

2. Be prepared for the worst. Those Boy Scouts had it right, preparation is key to surviving an icky tummy or thumping headache. If you imagine the worst case scenario – mine is being in the middle of a desert when a migraine sets in; I really cannot handle the slightest bit of light once that mega-headache comes a’knockin – then you are, by proxy, prepared for everything that runs up to it. If you arrive in a country and you’ve run out of those double-whammy tablets, find out what the foreign alternative is at the nearest pharmacist and where you can find it. It’s best to have too many than not enough.

3. Street food. Street food is one of my favourite things about travelling and you shouldn’t miss out for fear of falling ill. Memories of Bangkok markets selling steaming chilli noodles with sticky pork still make my mouth water now. These do come with a risk as food hygiene standards are not the same as you’ll find in Western countries and many people aren’t used to spice and the effect is can have on your…erm…bowels. Veteran travellers have usually built up a tolerance to these exotic foods – or just learned to deal with the consequences – but the food is so good it’s nearly almost worth the risk. A lot of the time you’ll see them making fresh batches so ask for one of these. That way you know it hasn’t been sitting there for a while and that it’s pretty thoroughly cooked.
NOTE: I recently learned that rice has a bacteria that grows in it once it’s been sitting for a while. This bacteria cannot be re-cooked off so anything over a day old can make you really really poorly. Simple old rice! Who knew?

5. Plan.  Basically this boils down to being sensible. If you have a 15 hour bus ride from Chumporn to Bangkok the next day, don’t eat a bomb-load of spicy street food because I can tell you, those toilet stop offs are few and far between. And not particularly nice when they do happen. Best to be safe. Similarly, if you know you’re going to be out in the sun all day, take a big bottle of water. The best way is to boil water at the hostel/hotel/house and let it cool the night before or invest in water-purifying tablets. Buying bottled water is expensive and bad for the environment but still better than being dehydrated. Plans often go awry and you can be stuck somewhere unforseen for far too long. In these worst case scenarios (see point 2) you’ll be glad you prepared.

I believe that prevention is the best form of medication. It makes sense! If you start to feel ill, do something about it straight away instead of seeing whether it goes away. Being far away from home and in a strange place, especially with an added language barrier, only adds to the forlorn feeling of absolute exasperation and down-troddeness. Sit down, make a stop off, buy a drink, sit in the shade if you need to. You travelling companions can wait! Ignore their moans of ‘But we need to get going!’ because they’ll be much more unhappy sitting next to a vommitting, sweaty, feverish friend on the next leg of the journey.

I guess most of my points are about planning really. My mother would be proud that her organisational OCD finally rubbed off.

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