June 7, 2020

Traveling Sick – Barfing Up Abroad

What’s in your travelling medical kit?

It’s a reality we plan for, nearly every excursion.

Sickness, injuries, and health issues are a fact of life, and an extra stress while traveling. It can also be extra stressful when you’re traveling solo, and there’s no one to run out to the local pharmacy and pantomime for you. We once spent the day sick in a tiny, barren hotel room in Darwin, Australia, with only our guide book for entertainment. We were barely able to make it around the corner for bottled water.

Still, we’re lucky: neither of us have prescription meds we need to stockpile, or lingering health issues. Still, I plan on at least a few sick days during the course of travel. The very worst we encountered during our trek ’round the world was in the Sinai. I had a fever so high I was hallucinating, and the wife shoved me in a cold shower and seriously discussed an emergency room visit with the front desk staff at our hostel. This all occurred at the tail end of courting pneumonia after a nasty cold that trailed me from Cambodia through Thailand, Jordan and Israel (I recovered).

And just last week, I twisted my ankle running along the often treacherous streets of Morocco. I was lucky: a few more seconds of pressure might have broken it. That would have meant a cast, crutches and weeks of recovery. I limped away, with a foot that’s still bruised and sore a week later. And of course, it’s my left foot, one that I also cracked over 15 years ago during another misadventure in a rambling but woefully under-lit hotel in Beaune, France.

Again, we’ve been lucky, and able to bounce back from the little scrapes life on the road has thrown at us. Much worse can happen. The movie Babel is the best worst movie to watch while traveling, ever, though of course, we caught it in a theater in Bangkok. One of the three plot lines follows a couple on a package tour, as the wife gets shot and the tour bus is waylaid in a remote Moroccan village. A life threatening emergency in a remote location is probably one of the worst things that can happen traveling.

To buy (or not to buy) medical travel insurance? We’ll admit that a). it’s probably a good idea, but that b). we don’t have it among our many flavors of insurance. We do have health insurance and health care from our previous life in the military, but I’ll bet many indie travelers out there are roughing it uninsured.

What’s in our traveling first aid kit? In addition to the usual toiletries, we carry band-aids, sterilizing pads, Imodium, acetaminophen, aspirin, antibiotics, re-hydration tablets. We also have issues with gingivitis, which we keep at bay with 2-in-1 tooth paste (this way, we don’t have to carry a giant bottle of mouthwash) and Trident gum with Xylitol.

On the plus side, lots of medical care in other countries is actually better than the states, and it’s often free. Many local pharmacies also carry things over the counter (such as antibiotics) that are unavailable in the States.

I learned the word for pain (delore) in Italian very quickly when I visited the emergency room with kidney stones… (which are referred to as calculo).

Delhi Belly or traveler’s diarrhea is what you’ll most likely have to deal with, as the flora of your intestinal tract gets a rude surprise. Eating like a local, treating all water as suspect and carrying Imodium are good rules of thumb for minimizing a bout of nasty diarrhea. When that fails, hydration, bland soup and rest are key. We also carry a backup roll of toilet paper or at least a wad of TP in our back pocket for just such explosive situations. You’ll soon realize why simple diarrhea is actually deadly (usually due to dehydration) in some parts of the world.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and also, don’t neglect your diet and health while trekking. This sounds like a simple one, but its often all too easy to skip meals and live on junk food and power bars while moving fast. A daily multivitamin isn’t a bad idea as well. Your immune system is your first line of defense.

Be safe out there!

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