Getting sick is terrible, but it’s even worse when you’re on the road.
You may be ill with an unfamiliar bug, your creature comforts might be missing, and most of all your Mom is really far away. In my experience I find that getting sick when I travel only magnifies how bad I feel.
Missing out on your trip because you’re sick is the pits.
While washing your hands, exercising, eating healthy, and getting plenty of sleep can help ward off illness, you still might get sick on the road. In honor of my recent illness in Bali, I’m here to share some helpful tips I have to share about what to do when you get sick in a foreign country.
BEFORE YOU GET SICK
Depending on the severity of illness it’s helpful to have these items addressed before illness strikes. Why? Because when you get sick, most of the time you’re not thinking straight. It’s good to have these items sorted prior to a lovely illness taking over your life. Also, when you’re traveling alone it’s all on you. Well not completely, but just take care of these things!
Again, dependent on country and local area you may need vaccinations for entry into the country or there might be recommended vaccinations. The CDC Travel website is a top-notch resource. I went to a travel doctor in Christchurch, New Zealand and walked out with quite a few band-aids on my arms. Good thing they gave me a lollypop. Keep your documentation safe and make backup copies, this will save you from getting vaccines you don’t need.
First off, before you get sick make sure that you are insured. This may mean connecting with your home insurance company before leaving to make sure you’re covered abroad or purchasing a travel health insurance policy. I always purchase a policy with World Nomads Travel Insurance anytime I’m abroad.
Depending on the country and area you’re traveling in, it might be handy to have a list of reputable clinics and hospitals. Although if you’re moving around a lot, this might not be realistic. When I was recently traveling in Bali, I had a list of trusted health care facilities which my travel doctor provided me. You might want to do extra research online or ask at your hostel or accommodation for assistance as well.
PREP YOUR FIRST AID KIT
Make sure you have a well-stocked first aid kit. Your travel doctor may suggest taking particular preventive medicine for malaria or other diseases endemic to the area you’ll be traveling in. Think about what sort of things you like to have when you’re sick. I have a tea from home that I keep with me if I get sick, as a reminder of home can be quite comforting on the road. Also, know what is in your kit before you get sick!
WHEN YOU GET SICK
QUICK, TAKE A SELFIE.
No, this is not really necessary – but I did to share with a friend how pathetic I really was feeling.
If you’re traveling alone, find a buddy or a team to help you. When I got sick in Bali recently I was amazed at the help my new friends provided for me. Deliveries of food, bottled water, tea, and love was a big help to me during those days.
Not to be a drama queen, but I could hardly get up and walk at during the height of my fevers and really needed help. I made sure to send messages to my friends just as I was getting sick to let them know I might need their support. If you don’t have friends near, talk to your hotel or accommodation and ask them to check on you. There’s no need to be a tough guy or gal. Get help, you’ll most likely need it.
CONTACT A DOCTOR (or medial clinic)
When I was in the beginning states of getting sick, I called a local clinic to check-in with them. I had dengue fever symptoms, so I wanted to connect with a medical professional to find out if and when I should come in. I spoke to a doctor who told me that if I didn’t feel better by a particular date I should be exampined. When you’re sick in a foreign country, you might become ill with something unfamiliar so it’s helpful to connect with a medical professional if it feels like a serious illness.
As my fevers started I took my temperature and made sure to document everything. My doctor asked me to do this, as it can be helpful in determining what type of medical tests you might need. I noted symptoms, temperature readings, any medicines I took, and time of day. It seems my days as a clinical trials coordinator are starting to pay off! Then if you have to go in for an appointment, you’ll have documentation to assist your doctor and nurses. Also, if you don’t speak the language make sure to translate your symptoms into the local language or bring someone to help translate for you.
While it seemed I had dengue fever it turned out I had a bacterial infection which was the cause for my glorious fevers, body aches, GI issues, sore throat, and overall feeling terrible. That meant I had a plethora of medicines to take on a schedule for 5 days. Needless to say, I followed doctors orders and healed up just in time to fly to Ireland.
Be sure to get all of the paperwork you can get, documenting the visit, tests, medicines provided, and what you’ve paid for. You’ll need all of this for your insurance claim.
AFTER YOU GET SICK
Be sure to contact your insurance company and start the claims process. This is when you’ll be happy you had the proper documentation and receipts. Make copies of everything in case anything is lost in the mail.
PAY ATTENTION TO SYMPTOMS
Illnesses like dengue fever have an incubation period, so even though you’ve hopped a plane to a new place you might still be ill. Pay attention to your symptoms after you’ve been traveling. If you become ill with something like dengue fever or malaria it may be necessary to visit a tropical medicine doctor.
ENJOY YOUR HEALTH!
There’s nothing like a bout of illness to make one appreciate their health. It took me awhile, but I’ve gotten back into running and yoga again. Be patient, as it might take time to feel like yourself again. Health really is everything, so be sure to appreciate it.
Another big thank you to my friends in Bali who helped me when I was sick. I would have been lost without you all. Feeling ill surely puts life into focus and makes you thankful for what you have. Here’s to being healthy for the beautiful new adventures that await you.
Written in: Rathfriland, Northern Ireland
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