What Kind of Sick Traveler Are You?

Let’s talk about getting sick. It’s the worst. It’s even worser than the worst when you are traveling and it inevitably happens to even the heartiest travelers.

Personally, I have been sick on nearly every continent of the world. I’ve had food poisoning in Mexico, tonsillitis in Europe and one of those awful warm-weather colds in Australia. The entire three months in China I suffered from a painful persistent cough (which mysteriously disappeared the moment I left the smog behind for Canada).


whatever could have made me feel ill?

So what do you do? The way I see it there are really only two (maybe three) options when sickness strikes.

  1. Carry on no matter how hard your body protests.
  2. Give in and rest up until you feel better.

The only other option I can see, if you are really ill, is going home. I suppose if you are deadly ill that might be a possibility, but for the rest of us our choices are either rest, or deal.

Back when I was young and strong and foolish I would always go with option one. I fought my way through Amsterdam with literally no voice, I explored Italy with the flu and I battled St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin with a cold of death. I traveled quicker then: If I only had a weekend somewhere I was damned if I was going to spend that time doing anything but exploring.

Drinking even though I literally can not speak on the Heineken tour in Amsterdam.

Of course the downside to this strategy, aside from looking like the walking undead in your photos, is that you don’t actually get any better. My semester of studying abroad in London I was a complete zombie because I refused to let my body rest and recuperate. I just kept pushing and pushing.

I kind of doubt I could still pull that off now, nor do I really want to. Slogging through the streets of a beautiful city while my muscles ache and my head pounds seems like a special kind of hell. I can do it when I have to, but I’m definitely a convert to the second option: rest and wait it out.


not pictured: Santiago

Sometimes a day of rest makes all the difference, sometimes it doesn’t and you get sucked into a black hole of sick (see: Santiago debacle). Sometimes you need to visit a pharmacy, sometimes you need to even (shudder) go see a doctor.

The bottom line is that it sucks to be sick in a foreign country. That’s why I pile on the Vitamin C and drink lots of water at the first sign of a sniffle.

How do you deal with being sick on the road?

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11 thoughts on “What Kind of Sick Traveler Are You?”

  1. I’ve managed to avoid getting sick whilst abroad (except for maybe a nasty hangover – Koh Phangan flashbacks!!!). Fingers crossed it remains that way. I could not think of anything worse. Ryan has told me some of his stories. How horrible.

  2. We’re actually both sick right now in Morocco. Doug’s been down for the count for nearly a week now and we’ve had to completely rearrange our plans. Originally we were going to take a bunch of buses south into the desert to do some trekking (we’re talking 24h in transit from here to there) but at the very last minute (like, midnight before we left) we realized how INSANE that would be. So we have stayed put an extra 3 days, booked into a nicer place with our own bathroom (luxury) and have revised the rest of the trip to be a lot softer on us.

    When I was younger, I used to just plough through illness- I spent most of the late ’90s fighting back bronchitis or flu or whatever all over Europe and Africa. Now, not so willing. We stayed in our lovely room all day yesterday, napping. It helped a lot.

  3. Ugh, being sick while traveling really sucks! I’m definitely the ‘carry on no matter how hard your body protests’ type, though I usually manage to stave off getting really sick until I’m back home.

    But I did go to Amsterdam in the middle of winter with a bad ear infection – I couldn’t hear anything, it throbbed, and the doctor had recommended I not fly. I ignored him, then spent the whole flight in pain, terrified my eardrums were going to burst! The cold Dutch weather didn’t help either.

    Maybe I should try out your new strategy next time! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. I’m reading this in bed as I am sick right now… Too much playing with the snow in Patagonia and being wet all day! ๐Ÿ™ Best thing to do is to stay in bed and rest, read, etc… I’m still traveling through travel blog posts! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. I got bitten by ants at a tram stop in Milan and by the time I got to Nice my right leg had swelled up. Hardly able to walk with a sore swollen leg in a very hot hostel dorm I was not a happy camper. The Pharmacist was so helpful even though she could not really speak english and I have very bad French. Lesson learned: always have bug repellent and anti histamines at the ready! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I’m just getting over being sick in Thailand, and I just hung out and rested until I got better. It sucked, but at least I’m in Koh Tao where i can just rest by laying out by the beach.

  7. I used to get sick every time I went home to Dallas, Tx. in the winter months. After a couple of sore throats and sucking down throat lozenges I started taking Airborne before each flight and voila, sore throats no more. It’s miserable getting sick while traveling. When you’re supposed to be up, you’re down. It’s no fun. I did get sick in Mexico once with something like a cold. Runny nose and sore throat. Don’t know what to chalk that up to because a friend of mine got it too. We just sucked on a lot of peppermint that I had luckily packed along. Miraculously it went away when we were on our way home. Figures. We still were able to ignore it and have a good time.

  8. On the positive side: I’ve gotten to see some interest pharmacies because of being sick in Bulgaria and Australia. It’s a cultural experience!

  9. I don’t usually get sick, but when I do I drink ALOT of orange juice and go for a run ๐Ÿ™‚ the fresh air usually helps me SOOO much more than sitting inside would!

  10. I was really sick in Seattle. I had to spend 24 hours on a Greyhound bus squashed next to a woman who coughed persistently. Within 24 hours of my arrival in Seattle I was battling a fever and keeping everyone else in my dorm awake with my coughing. I had no choice but to rest it out in bed. In hindsight I would have moved to a private room or a hotel while I was ill so as not to bother my roommates but at the time I couldn’t think about anything else but how ill I felt! It’s really important to rest when you’re ill because otherwise you don’t get better.
    Some time I’ll have to return to Seattle to explore it properly!

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