Traveling Sick

Well, the flu got me. Like REALLY got me this year. Think: 102 fever for 4 days. Miserable. Thankfully, I was able to curl up on my couch and move very little for the past 6 days.  I did, however, drag my butt to the convenient Walgreens clinic less than a mile from my house where I got a quick check up, confirmation of Influenza and my insurance paid for my Tamiflu.

But it got me thinking about traveling when you’re sick. Cause it happens.  I’ve been there. And not having any clue what to do or where to go when you’re traveling sucks. I’ve actually laid, quietly crying, on my top bunk in a dorm room of a hostel wishing someone could just go get me some soup and cough medicine, trying so hard not to disturb the rest of the travelers in my room.  It’s not fun.  So I’ve learned to prepare myself. It’s still not easy- but a little preparedness goes a long way.  So here are some tips for you.

Tip 1: Pack a good first aid kit.  Here’s what I include: DayQuil & NyQuil pills, cough drops, Vicks Vapo Rub,  Aleve, Advil, Immodium, Benadryl, mosquito repellent- the strong stuff depending on where I’m headed, I used to carry Cipro (a very strong antibiotic) but i don’t anymore as it has been associated with severe and horrible side effects. That said, I do ask my doctor for a short course of antibiotics to bring with me.  It’s a good idea- I’ve had an infected blister, severe food poisoning, and an eye infection abroad and if it wasn’t for the antibiotics, it would have been miserable.  As a woman I also bring a couple doses of Diflucan (yeast infection medicine) Trust me- there is no dignified way to try and explain this ailment in another language so I just bring it now.  I am also one of the very lucky humans who have gotten coldsores since I was a little girl- nothing ruins a good travel photo like a nasty coldsore so, I’ve started carrying Valocyclovir and a small thing of Abreva.  I am lucky and don’t take any prescription medication, but if I did its a good idea to keep the prescription paperwork and the original packaging (yes, I know annoying for space- but did you know some medications are actually illegal in some countries without all the packaging?? You never know if they’ll check)

Tip  2: Know yourself– what happens when you get sick? Is it usually sinus infections? Is it allergies? Do you throw up?  Make sure you have what you usually need when you’re sick at home.  Can you buy  the exact stuff on the road? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Do you really want to be googling “pharmacy” and trying to figure out the closest one to your hotel/hostel while you’re feeling miserable?

Tip 3: Know where you’re going– do you need vaccinations? Some have to be done several weeks out to be effective. Some countries REQUIRE (and will check at the border)  Yellow Fever vaccinations.  Talk about a rough border crossing- in Africa we all were screened for Ebola at every border crossing. Terrifying. Even though I knew I didn’t have it, we heard horror stories of anyone with a fever being detained until it passed.  Also- will you be in an area where malaria is prevalent? If so, you’ll need to take anti-malarial medication. Get that before you go. Sometimes your doctor can prescribe this stuff, but sometimes going to a Travel Doctor is helpful.   Be aware of symptoms of things like Dengue Fever and other common illnesses in the areas you’re going.

Tip 4: Get travel insurance– Just get it. Seriously.  You’re taking a trip likely worth thousands of dollars- what’s another 100 bucks?  Unless you’re staying for a week at a resort and not doing much- I definitely recommend travel insurance.  I’ve fortunately never had to use it- but a girl on our trip in Africa dislocated her knee and ended up in the hospital, with a brace and crutches after an accident on the 4wheelers.  Ever see the movie “The Impossible?”  The family had travel insurance and was able to be evacuated when that freak tsunami enveloped Thailand.  I use World Nomads and it’s very reasonable. I’ve heard people have had good luck with filing claims too as it’s insurance through Nationwide.

Tip 5: Foreign Medicine can be amazing.  When in Italy, I got sick and was just looking for some cold medicine- apparently you have to ask the pharmacist for any kind of medicine, which I didn’t know at the time- so I kept looking in the aisles at this store that had a cross outside of it (pharmacy) until this nice man came up to me and asked (in Italian) if I needed help. I proceeded to mime out “I have a cough, fever, lethargy, and stuffy nose” and he went behind the counter and produced some of the best medicine I’ve ever taken for a cold in my life. I couldn’t read the label, but what the heck! Ha! I felt better within a couple hours and continued with my sight seeing.

Tip 6: Take a break…. I twisted my ankle caving in Budapest, Hungary. That sucked. So now I travel with an ace bandage. But instead of seeing a lot of the city- we ended up just taking a break (forced because I couldn’t walk) and planned out the rest of our trip. Sometimes you don’t get to see all you want to see because you get laid up with an illness, but make sure you take a break otherwise the rest of the trip will be miserable.

Tip 7: Let other people help you!  Ugh, this one is hard for me. In the middle of the Andes, in the middle of my trek on the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu, I got extremely ill. I had 103.5 fever and collapsed in my tent after a particularly grueling stretch of the hike (Dead Woman’s Pass). Our guide came and took care of me. Apparently she was going to get me airlifted down- and stubborn me said “No way”. I got a high dose of antibiotics and my fever was better by morning.  I asked people to get me water, they brought me some food- and even though I’m very independent it was nice to be taken care of.  Ask your hostel for help if you need it. Hell, ask random travelers for help if you need to. Trust me- these are the nicest groups of people you’ll ever meet.

Tip 8: All Hospitals are NOT created equal:  Be mindful of hospitalized in non-westernized countries. Your perceived standards of care are NOT going to be met. Just get over it. That said, it’s absolutely ok to make sure you’re getting a clean needle stick before anyone sticks you with anything.  Often, however, you’ll find great care abroad and you’ll be in good hands. Try and take someone who speaks the language with you. Be prepared to pay in cash. Insurance is an American thing.

Tip 9: Save your Receipts: Since you’re smart and got travel insurance…. right? RIGHT??… keep your receipts from hospital visits. They might be covered, they might not… but I do know you’ll need all the documentation, so don’t leave without it.  Most often you’ll have to pay and get reimbursed- it’s not like the USA where you do a co-pay and they bill you. That said, often the cost of care is SIGNIFICANTLY less than you’ve come to expect from that terrifying EOB you get in the mail at home.

Tip 10: Get up. Just go.  Unless you’re severely injured or connected to an IV in the hospital, grab some tissues, your Advil, and just get out and see the sites. Sure you’ll be coughing and not as great as you’d normally be- but it’s like when it rains when you’re traveling.  You’re not going to sit inside and wait for the rain to pass- you throw on your rain jacket, expect to get wet, and still stare in wonder at the sites you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

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