Being sick is no fun. Being sick when you’re alone is even worse. But, being sick, alone and away from home – that has to be one of the most miserable experiences ever.
So far I’ve been fortunate. I haven’t had this experience. But some have so I’ve drawn on the knowledge of others for this post, including members of the Solo Travel Society and Jesse of World Nomads, a travel insurance company that offers travelers a vibrant community and extensive resources on their site.
Here’s advice that’s easy to swallow. (But, a disclaimer: this is not to replace the professional advice of your physician. You are responsible for all decisions you take regarding your health.)
The first part of each section is by Jesse, then comes the advice from the Solo Travel Society…
1. Plan not to get sick – prevention.
When it comes to getting sick on the road, the old adage “Prevention is better than cure” is the best principle to live by. There are many, many ways to prevent sickness in the countries you travel to.
First, inform yourself about any bugs, viruses, diseases and other nasties you may encounter. Then, 4-6 weeks before your trip, make sure you talk to your doctor about what kind of vaccinations you will need – and get them. It’s amazing how many people still don’t bother with vaccinations despite the very obvious risks.
Once you have your shots and are on your way, inform yourself about the different practices regarding food and drink in the countries you visit. Should you drink bottled water or is tap water ok? Are the food standards worse than the country you are from? Look at all of these things and make informed decisions about what to eat or drink – a huge amount of travel sickness simply comes from what you put in your body.
Prepare for specific health problems that you will encounter in your destination. If you are traveling to high mountain ranges, prepare for altitude sickness. If you are traveling to areas with a high incidence of Dengue fever, pack lots of mosquito repellent. Do your research and know the risks.
Also, take it easy on the alcohol and stock up on your vitamins. It’s very easy to get carried away with the excitement of travel and forget about the vitals. Keep a couple of bottles of multivitamins in your travel pack and make sure you munch on them at least once a day. Your immune system is boosted when you have a healthy dose of vitamins.
If you like traveling outside the western world, don’t pick that fruit off the tree without washing it very well. Bacteria big time. Get any vaccinations you may need.
If you do get sick, don’t wait around. Get to a clinic or hospital and head it off. You don’t need to be in Europe for 1st class Med Care. Costa Rica, third World country has some of the best care in the world.
I’m a little off topic, but prevention will allow you to enjoy, quick med care will decrease symptoms and shorten your sick time. Waiting it out will ruin your trip & could result in a deterioration in your illness.
Velo Keep hydrated. If the water is dodgy, purification tablets will do the job. Know when you’re approaching burn-out being on the go constantly and take a rest day (which is hard to do when there’s so much to explore). The Lonely Planet books have a medical section that’s a good reference if you might need a pharmacy.
Melany Focus on boosting immune system and decreasing stress. 99% of illness is stress related. Traveling is stressful. Traveling alone is less stressful for me because then I can really let go and just go with the flow, which sometimes means just slowing down, eating simple nutritious food, getting plenty of sleep, and taking a break from stressful relationships. Wheatgrass juice and zinc lozenges are what I use at the first sign of illness, so far I’ve been lucky…
Kristin Before leaving the country ask your doctor for a small dose of emergency meds to carry with you. I chose not to do that last year and regretted it.
2. If you do get sick – what to do.
Health systems in every country you travel to will differ. Some, like the UK, are funded almost entirely by the government, some are barely existent, and some are quite comprehensive. You need to know what you need to do and who to see if you are sick in your destination country(s).
If you are sick in a country where you do not speak the language, you will need to learn phrases so you can explain at a rudimentary level what is wrong with you so your physician can make a proper diagnosis. You should also know the number for emergency services if it gets to that stage – check the websites of the foreign office for the country in which you are staying, all the information you need should be there.
You should know basic phrases in the language to assist operators in case of emergency. World Nomads provides a range of language guides for all over the world – all available as iPhone apps for ease of use. This all requires research and dedication, but its time well spent if you end up keeled over with a devastating illness.
If you are sick in countries where the health system is marginal at best, you are in for a bumpy ride. Some countries can barely sustain a health program for their own people, let alone the needs of visitors. For dangerous, poor and unstable areas, the more preventative measures you can take the better – because once you are in the thick of it, it’ s very hard to negotiate a good doctor.
Finally, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Many travelers may get a bout of illness and simply brush it off as a simple lurgy, and book into a luxury suite to sleep it off. But are you a doctor? The symptoms of Dengue Fever are a mild flu – if any appear at all – and the effects of that illness can be devastating. So if you get sick, do your best to get it checked.
Tania This is when I spend more money on a nicer hotel because if I have to lie in bed, I might as well be comfortable. I’ve been sick in a youth hostel with a bunch of yahoos and it made things worse.
James Serious Delhi belly in Chiang Mai, the pharmacist was brilliant, but prevention always better than cure.
Lucy I’ve found that pharmacists give great advice on treatments for illness ranging from sinus infections to (I’ll admit this only to you folk) ringworm.
And, of course the kindness of strangers. I once spent a night at the monastery at the foot of Mt St Catherine in the Sinai. I don’t remember a thing but they must have done a good job nursing since I’m still here!
3: Get insured!
Having adequate medical insurance for your trip is an absolute must. Traveling is relatively expensive to start with – it becomes even worse if you get sick and are hit with a whopping bill for medical costs. You need to look at where you are traveling, and what could potentially happen to you, and get adequate cover.
When you are healthy and fit in your home country and preparing you trip, its very easy to say “I don’t need that”. But if it comes to the crunch, you will be kicking yourself later that you didn’t sign up.
Also, if you are sick, you can contact your insurance company who can help you in a manner of ways – they can recommend a clinic, or have a doctor sent out to you if things are that bad. They can also contact your family on your behalf, and even organize repatriation if it is required. It’s not just peace of mind, its real assistance when things get rough.