How Do You Cope With Sickness On The Road?

I’m extremely excited yet feel like pure crap.  I’m boarding my flight from New York City to London, hoping to go along those next 7+ hours in the plane without any major issues and without eating a heavy dinner.  I’m not sick anymore, yet the strong antibiotics prescribed to cure the strep throat that was killing me the previous week are making me feel awful in many other ways – among those; nausea from eating and smelling things.  A couple hours before boarding the place, I take the last of the dreadful pills and hope that the side effects don’t extend more than my first day abroad… oh, the jet lag this will cause me…

That was my ordeal just before traveling to Europe earlier this year.  Even when I managed to fight the sickness right on time before leaving, the antibiotics’ side effects were still kicking strong during the first two days of my trip.  I wasn’t feeling the hottest, but still, I pushed the most I could to not let it ruin my short time in Brussels.

I hate feeling sick while on the road.  Who doesn’t?  Not only does it make me feel like crap, but also makes people give me that weird don’t-come-near-me look and end up avoiding me like the plague.

Being sick while traveling

Since I don’t want to end up spending my days thrown on a bed wishing for things to get better, I do my best to overcome my sickness in various ways:

  • I always travel with a stash of medications (antibiotics, acetaminophen, vitamins, ibuprofen, etc.), almost to the point of looking like a hypochondriac.  But I rather be safe than sorry if I get sick on the road.
  • Sometimes I open myself to experiment with local remedies.  When in Cuzco, I drank a lot of coca tea to counteract the altitude sickness.  I wanted to be in the best shape for the Inca Trail.
  • I try to boost my immune system. I drink a lot of juice, especially orange juice for the Vitamin C.  Sometimes I even take Emergen-C or Airborne On the Go.
  • If I feel food might be an issue, I try to improve my digestive system with probiotics.  Contrary to antibiotics, probiotics boost the number of good bacteria in your digestive system in order to have a proper coating (flora) to tolerate “uncommon” or “harsh” foods.  Yogurts are also good for this.
  • I try to avoid sudden shifts in temperature.  On my trip to Thailand, before arriving to its high 80’s weather, I spent some time in South Korea’s low 10’s weather and New York City 40’s degrees.  That drastic difference in temperature between these three places gave me an instant cold – not bad, but not ideal either.
  • I drink a lot of water. Hydration is key
  • I carry a small bottle of Purell and use it every now and then.
  • Sometimes I man it up.  I consider myself a little trooper! Even when I carry medications with me, if I feel like it isn’t necessary (and that it isn’t contagious), I just ride it along by pacing myself and supplementing with my meals.  When possible, I rather not take chemical medications, so I choose a natural alternative or none at all.
  • Even though I want to see everything there is at any given destination, sometimes I just stop, sit somewhere, and relax for some time. I don’t want to make the mistake of draining all my energy and lowering my defenses, plus it gives me the time to admire my surroundings with greater detail.
  • If I end up not feeling the hottest and find myself needing more rest than what I would ideally love, then I cut down my itinerary and pick the most meaningful sights for me – instead of the usual highlights everyone sees.

In the end, it is all a balancing act between how I feel, how I want to tackle it, and what I want to do.  Thankfully, I haven’t had any major sickness while on the road and hopefully, it will stay that way. ::knock on wood::

How do you cope while on the road?

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Original image by Svenstorm, taken from Flickr Creative Commons.

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38 thoughts on “How Do You Cope With Sickness On The Road?”

    1. Cardio is a great tip… Thanks Zablon. I haven’t done any cardio during my travels but I guess I should start implementing it on my future long term trips.

  1. This is a very clever article. Illness scares the hell out of me. Because I escort groups around Europe it is always a fear at the back of my mind. Normally my system keeps going, but as soon as the group is finished I sometimes collapse – twice even with pneumonia!!! Man it out! This is a valid suggestion, and I reckon works – the power of the mind etc.!!

    1. Wow, you have truly endured it. And I guess you must have done it putting up a good face, since you are dealing with tourists. Yes, the power of the mind has a strong effect in the body.

  2. Sickness is part of travel you just have to plan for. If taking antibiotics, as that is killing the good intestinal bacteria also, assisting those by taking Probiotics and yoghurt is a good idea.

    Got sick in Addis Ababa, and the altitude added to the sapping discomfort, but just had to rest up and get over it.
    It’s interesting that I never get colds or the current strain of flu that goes around, for the past 28 years, ever since I developed a passion for apples. 2 or 3 a day for me. But when travelling, and I can’t get my daily fix, that’s when I catch colds .
    That old ‘apple a day, keeps the doctor away’ sure rings true for me. All that ethylene gas they give off is a potent virucide.

    1. Like you say, I guess planning for it is a good idea. That way you won’t feel like things are falling apart.

      Jesus! 2 to 3 apples a day! I guess it’s true… An apple a day, keeps doctors away. There must be a way you could get your “apple fix” through other means, so you can keep your health consistency like at home.

      1. Yeah, bought apples in Addis Ababa. Now you’re supposed to peel any fruit but I had this crazy idea to add plenty of water purifying pills to water in the handbasin and leave my apples soaking there. On the theory that if the pills kill any bugs in the water, they should also kill any bugs on the skin of the apples….well wouldn’t that work?
        Nope!
        My wife reackoned I was a complete imbecile! Crook for 4 days.

  3. I’m definitely one that when I’m sick I will just find a hotel or a hostel with a comfy couch and hole up for a few days. Usually lots of hot tea and TV.

    I have forced myself to see sites, but usually take pictures and hope to enjoy them later. I once spent 3 days in Cologne with a horrible cold and saw nothing. It was great.

  4. I think it depends on how long of a trip I’m on. If I have a few days to kill, then I would definitely take time to rest, but if I’m only in a place for a couple days, I will likely power through it while taking lots of vitamin C and Acidophilus.

  5. Great tips for dealing with it. LIke others have said, it really depends on how long the trip is. During a three week trip to Europe years ago, both my wife and I got sick in Prague, and we had to take a day to get to a doctor and get better. It wasn’t ideal, but getting some antibiotics helped so much, and we only missed out on that one day.

    Ironically during our year long RTW, I didn’t get sick once. Sure, there were a few “uncomfortable” stomach days, but we didn’t lose one single day to sickness. I know I’m totally jinxing myself, but so be it.

    1. Wow! A year long RTW without serious sickness is a huge accomplishment… I wish mine goes as smooth as yours. Hope you didn’t jinx your next trips! lol 🙂

      1. Haha, oh, I’m sure I did. It’s really weird, too cause I’ve always been one to get sick. Not overly sick, but at least a couple times a year. I was amazed that it never happened in a year abroad. Pure luck to be perfectly honest with you.

  6. Great tips. I always like to go for the home remedies. We had an all day postal van journey in Uganda one day- yes postal van and old one that had been stripped and room made for at least 20 people to cram into. I was really nauseous and this lovely lady sitting next to me- who had the same name as my mother and so decided to become my Ugandan mother- gave me a matchstick and told me to put it in my mouth with the tip sitting inside my mouth. I didn’t have to touch it with my tongue- just clamp on the stick and let the tip hang in there. It worked!!! Nauseau all gone.
    One huge health tip we have is to take Spirulina. We take it daily and are rarely ever sick. It is high in alkalinity and if your blood is high in this than disease cannot occur in your body.

    1. Hilarious! That sounds so surreal… Crossing Uganda in a postal van with a matchbox stuck in your mouth. Caz, only you can pull that one out! ha!
      I had never heard of this matchstick remedy before. I wonder how it works… Well, might start carrying a matchbox here and there… lol I think I might have tried Spirulina before… probably my mom gave them to me, she is all about natural remedies.

  7. I was really strict on my RTW and took airbourne just as a procaution a couple times a week, drank tons of water, walked everywhere and tried not to eat too much- I felt great the entire time. The moment I stepped off the plane back in L.A., I felt like complete crap and then ending up getting strep throat. I guess my body was just done… at least it kept up while we were traveling. I was in the luxury of my own house when I felt like dying!!

    1. Hey Jade, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I guess sometimes our mind setting has a great influence on how we feel physically. But it’s great you went through your RTW without getting sick. I think keeping an active routine, a decent diet, and good vitamins can keep you out pretty healthy.

  8. How’s your trip? I hope you not sick anymore when you arrived. I always bring some pills with em whenevr i travel just in case. Take care of yourself okie?

    1. I felt pretty good after the first two days. It was just the pills side effects that were bringing me down, plus the inevitable jet lag. Thankfully everything went smooth and nice. I take care of myself the best I can… lol Thanks! 🙂

  9. This is a very helpful article! I can’t believe I haven’t read something like it before. I am printing it out for future reference 🙂 There’s nothing worse than being sick while traveling, especially when you’ve spent weeks (or months) planning for fun!

    1. Thanks Michael! Ah yeah, sickness can change your travel experience easily, so its good to prevent it the best way possible or tackle it if we actually get sick while on the road.

  10. adventureswithben

    I make myself a “Hot Toddy” – Hot Water, Ginger Ale and alcohol. Sleep with socks and a winter hat and sweat it out.

  11. This is an excellent list. I would second all of these suggestions, especially probiotics.

    After an especially rough christmas in Santiago, we now always travel with anti-diarrheals and – if we can get it through customs – candied ginger.

  12. Useful tips! I agree to most of them. And, eating fruits and staying hydrated all the time will always do the trick! 😉
    Great post!

  13. Your articles was featured in someone else’s daily paperli which brought me here thinking of the pure “Travel Sickness” – motion sickness issues. It was a surprise to see the effort, resources and lengths you and others will go to in order to be able to roadside combat what ails you on a journey.

    I’ve not thought of carrying the great variety of suggestions made here – but it’s good to see such a wide variety of input. Also pleasing to see some medical personnel open to comment too.

    Great article..

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