Is there anything worse than being sick in a hotel room? Yes– being sick on a plane. That’s worse. And if you travel a lot, the odds are the jet lag, airplane-incubated air and new food bacteria are going to get the better of you.
My first time getting really sick on the road was (you guessed it) my first time on the road. I was in Semarang, Indonesia, and it was my first time eating at a restaurant outside the hotel:
Look at that fresh face! So optimistic! So eager to try crispy fish, barbecued squid and sip my coconut water (with ice cubes).
This was my first time to Asia and I didn’t want to miss out on any experience– and that included eating everything that was set in front of me. Wrong choice. Even if the food had been perfectly prepared, the sheer amount of foreign material I was expecting my body to handle was too much. I was sick for two weeks after this.
Tip: Pack Imodium A-D in pill form, and pack a lot of it.
Tip: Ask for no ice.
For more advice I didn’t follow, see this nifty infographic:
I remained sick on that trip until I landed in China. In China, you can get quite a few medications over the counter based on the pharmacist’s recommendation. I was lucky to have a friend there who described to the pharmacist what was going on with me, to which she responded along the lines of, “Ah, foreigners get that a lot, and this is what we give them.”
To this day, I don’t really know what this is– I felt comfortable taking it because a) it was from a popular pharmacy in the middle of Beijing, and b) my friend was a local and could explain everything to me. I had to take handfuls of this stuff until it was gone, but it started working immediately. I had a stomach of iron! It was great for the rest of my time in China, because I got to enjoy the famous spicy hotpot of Chongqing without consequences.
Sometimes you need to weigh the pros and cons: is Montezuma’s Revenge on the last day worth the previous 8 days of tacos and Mezcal? Yes.
After my previous experiences, everyone told me that I will get sick in India. No avoiding it.
I was very careful leading up to this trip and in the first weeks there. I took precautions like:
- brushed my teeth with bottled water
- no ice, ever
- no cut fruit (only eating fruit with a peel)
- only hot food
- no raw vegetables
I also did a lot of preventative self-care:
- started taking probiotics before I left, and drank Kombucha and put apple cider vinegar in my water to promote healthy bacteria
- brought essential oils with me, including thieves and peppermint that promote a healthy immune system and digestive support
- drank a ton of water
(drumroll, please) I didn’t get Delhi Belly!
But, I did get the common cold from the lady that sat next to me on the 13.5-hour flight from San Fran to Hong Kong. It’s a good thing I had a good stash of DayQuil with me, because the last thing you want to do when you’re sick is forage for medicine in a foreign country.
I traveled to Mato Grosso (the center of South America, bordering the Amazonian forest), Brazil after the World Health Organization declared Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (via CDC).
I was up to my eyeballs in Deet.
And I got a pretty bad fever about 3 days in to the trip.
I was really lucky to have friends there to help me– one being a doctor who brought me fever reducers and headache relievers (I was able to Google these to know what I was taking). The hotel also had a really good chicken vegetable soup and wifi, so I did all right.
The CDC tested my blood when I got back, because I exhibited almost every symptom except the rash and red eyes. The results came back negative, so it was probably just the common flu.