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Tips for Dealing with Getting Sick while Traveling

getting sick when travelin copy

getting sick when traveling

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I’ve done food videos taste testing mysterious Turkish foods and recently, a six-course meal of deep fried bugs in Thailand (post coming soon)! I’ll admit, I’m having fun with these travel taste tests when I do them.If you’ve followed my latest vlogs, you’ll know that I got sick in Thailand from bad food.  So I thought I’d try yet another type of taste test challenge and to share some tips on dealing with getting sick while traveling!

Travel Taste Tests with Food when you’re Sick

As travelers, we all experience the good (and bad) of mysterious and foreign food. It’s part of the reality, adventure and discovery of travel.

Watch my ‘I GOT SICK in Thailand’ Taste Test Challenge  (Not seeing the video, click here)

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Getting sick while traveling and trying to find things I can eat is a reality, albeit not always a fun one. This is my second time getting sick abroad with a stomach bug (bacteria or parasite), where I’m on antibiotics designed to eradicate everything.The antibiotics (commonly, Cipro or Azithromycyn )  are strong. It’s working to kill bad bacteria; and to do this, it kills all bacteria, even the good ones that your stomach needs to help digest foods. It’s made me realize my stomach is a delicate instrument and one of the foundational roots of my bodily and mental well-being.

Being sick forces me to slow down my eating habits. Talk about screeching halts!  My sense of food adventure and discovery turns away from experiencing new and exotic things and towards finding things that  my taste buds and stomach will give the green light to. Usually, they’re basic, bland.. familiar.

The traveler’s basic problem however, is that being in a foreign country, we don’t always know the ingredients of dishes and going off a picture menu is just bad. You’ll find errant and unpredictable choices, like the dinner choice in my video. It was obviously so off the mark of what would support dietary health and a part of me felt like I knew this after seeing it arrive.  But after you’ve ordered a meal and plunkered down money for it, it’s hard to throw it away after one bite.

 

Foods to avoid when you’re sick

When sick with a stomach bug (and while taking antibiotics),  I learned there were a few foods to avoid: greasy/oily, fatty, acidic and spicy. No caffeine and nothing carbonated.

Recommended Foods when you’re sick

This is not a comprehensive list of foods you can eat. It’s always best to consult your travel doctor. But based on my experience and what’s been recommended to me, here’s some simple rules of thumb:

–  Simple carbohydrates, like rice porridge and plain noodles with broth.
–  Simple broths for potassium and electrolytes
–  Probiotic products like yogurt, yogurt milk (you can even see if the pharmacy has lactobacillus pills!) 
–  Charcoal tablets (They help with detoxification of any toxins in your body. Do not take them close to the time you take your antibiotics as it will undo all the good your antibiotics do)
–  Simple sugars and not a lot of acid like warm tea with sugar.
–  Remember BRAT:  Banana, rice, apples, toast.
– Lots of water.

How to Deal with Getting Sick While Traveling

 

As a solo traveler, getting sick abroad is one of my worst imagined fears.  Until I actually get sick and are forced to deal with that fear. So far, I’ve found that while dealing with it is uncomfortable, it’s still do-able.  Here’s some basic tips if you find yourself not feeling well:

1- When in doubt if your symptoms are due to food poisoning or a parasite, take the pill.

You’ll find conflicting advice between doctors and nurses about this matter. Generally, your body knows when something is not right and is very very wrong. Unless you’re a hypochondriac. The reason you’re advised to wait it out a bit before popping your antibiotics is that some antibiotics can be very strong and not good for your stomach. However, some bacteria and parasites can be worse. The gamble is to mess up your stomach with the antibiotics vs the bacteria/parasite. Your choice and it’s a personal one you’ll have to weigh the consequences for.  The latter however, will mess up your travel plans and quite possibly, compromise your entire trip.  Just saying.

2- Get help and find a recommended local clinic (or hospital).

While my illnesses and parasites have been bad, but not to the point of immobility (knock on wood),  it doesn’t stop me from finding the nearest help and recommended clinic or hospital.  Ask your hotel for the best and nearest recommended hospital. A slightly longer trip to a decent hospital can make a big difference. Depending on where you’re staying, you may have great medical facilities. Other times, not.  When I was sick in Dharamsala, I saw both, a town doctor and when my symptoms got worse, I hopped into a taxi on a Sunday to McLeod ganj’s local hospital, Tibetan Delek Hospital. Sundays are the worst day in India to go to a small local hospital, because they’re like local holidays and are short-staffed. Thankfully, I saw a doctor who prescribed me strong antibiotics to cure my symptoms and blast my parasite.

3- Always let people know that you’re sick, so that they can occasionally check in on you or help you find health support.

I highly recommend letting hotel managers and fellow travelers know you’re sick. I might even go as far as asking them to keep tabs on you.

As soon as my stomach didn’t feel well, and I had gotten off the phone with a nurse friend living in Bangkok, I went to my guesthouse manager and ask what the nearest hospital or clinic. I also told fellow travelers I had befriended.  I was recommended to the Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, a purported international hospital. Although I think seeing a good international doctor there is hit-or-miss, it got me through the door of tackling my big, bad bug.

4- Visit the local pharmacy

In places like Thailand, some local or country pharmacists are the closest things to a doctor and can do consultations and prescribe medicinal relief. Many have have basic support like oral rehydration salts, anti-diarrheal medicine, anti-nausea/vomiting, fever/cold tablets and depending on the country, travel bug antibiotics like Cipro. The costs are much lower than hospital pharmacies, so if you get a hospital prescription, I’d buy it at the local pharmacy.

 

Pre Trip Preparations

Travel Insurance

To ensure you’re covered for any medical condition, travel insurance is always advised.   American travel insurance is expensive. The best travel insurance I can recommend is via World Nomads Travel Insurance.  I’ve used them when I was required to get travel insurance to cover my month-long  yoga teacher’s certification program in India.

As I mentioned in my first  ‘I got sick’ video, I ran into a female solo traveler (in her sixties), who warned me about avoiding mosquitoes, due to the fact she battled Dengue Fever in Chiang Mai on her last trip.  Ironically, two days later, she came down with her second bout of Dengue (the second time can be vital and life-threatening)! In her case, I hope she had travel insurance. Although her condition is more the exception than the rule, the potential dangers of her illness can be severe.

However, I don’t buy travel insurance for every trip and these are to countries, which I visit specifically, for medical tourism.

As a safety backup,  I insure my travels via American Express , which automatically insures everything from travel, flight tickets and car rentals,.. free of charge! This is all provided I purchase my trip and car rentals with my credit card.   I love my American Express!

Getting Shots & Medication

As an American, my body isn’t used to certain strains of viruses and bacterias of a foreign country ( like India, Korea or Thailand… so far, all the countries I’ve been sick in). My diet is used to processed food, chlorinated drinking water, etc…  So when I lived and worked in Korea, I got a lot of unusual types of colds (and like many expats I knew, I kept falling vulnerable them!).

So a pre-trip visit to my travel doctor is an essential part of a smart travel regimen.  Consider it like packing essentials for a trip. Travel shots for certain countries are a passport to protected health. While they won’t keep you from experiencing food poisoning or picking up a cold, they’ll help prevent you from contracting certain things that can be prevalent to the country.

As I mentioned earlier, depending upon country, the local pharmacy can be stocked pretty well with basics, so if you’ve forgotten to buy something like anti-diarrheal medicine, you can easily get it when you’re in that country.

 

Any tips for dealing with getting sick while traveling?

 

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