Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesdays: Dealing with Illness When Traveling Solo

Hugging the toilet in a communal bathroom at the YoHo Hostel in Salzburg, I wished I could die. The sausage and cheese I had brought to Austria had sat in my backpack too long, and that, coupled with the unusually hot weather, was taking its toll on me. I had already thrown up once and was dying for this to all be over.

I’ve been sick more than once while traveling solo. Sometimes, such as in the case of the debilitating cold in Wyoming or the perpetual cough in Florida, I was staying with people who took care of me (and sometimes forced me to drink tea and chicken noodle soup). However, in Hamburg and Salzburg, Bellingham and Chicago, I was on my own. And trying to make medical decisions when you’re out of your mind with fever is not easy.

The best way to deal with these issues is to prevent them as much as possible. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (I wrote a blog about this a while back.) To prevent illness, keep yourself from getting stressed out, eat healthily, drink enough water, avoid questionable foods, and know what makes you sick. 

This is how I felt when I was waiting for my flight to Europe.
But if you find yourself afflicted by an illness, it’s time to move from prevention to cure as quickly as possible. Have a game plan ready so you can remember what you’ve already decided instead of making it up as you go. Here’s the game plan that has served me well on my travels.

Don’t panic. When I woke up soaked in a feverish sweat the morning of my flight to Europe (and I was in Chicago, five hours from home), I freaked out. This is natural, but you have to fight it. Unless you’re having a heart attack, five minutes won’t make a difference. Sit down, clear your mind, and focus on your body. 

Assess your symptoms. Pain and discomfort are your body’s ways of telling you what’s wrong, so listen to them. Try to figure out why you’re feeling sick and what might be causing it. If you start to panic again, slow down and just breathe for a while. Start considering what the best course of action is. 

Find a pharmacy. In the case of my Chicago trip, I took a friend’s suggestion and walked to the nearest Walgreens. I told the pharmacist my symptoms and he assured me there was nothing to worry about; I just had a cold running its normal course. He suggested a non-prescription drug to help with the symptoms. I bought a thermometer there that confirmed that I didn’t actually have a fever. A pharmacist isn’t a real substitute for a doctor, but they’re great for any minor conditions.

Get medical attention, if necessary. It can be difficult to decide when an illness is serious, so listen to your body, try to think clearly, and use outside advice (such as the aforementioned pharmacist) to make your decision. My family has generally been the kind that avoids doctors like the plague— but after both my brother and my mom nearly died of burst appendixes within three months of each other, I’ve gotten a bit more paranoid. If you need to go to the hospital, go to the hospital!

Hydrate and rest. This is good advice for almost any malady: there are exceptions, but as a rule, these both will help. Sip water rather than chugging it and focus on relaxing your mind as well as your body.

Take a shower. If you have the option to take a shower, do it. This helps break a fever, ease menstrual cramps, moisten your sinuses, soothe an upset stomach, or relax tight muscles, and generally makes you feel more human.

Try to talk to someone from home. My dad knows a lot about health and wellness, so I usually would call him and try to get his opinion. However, even if the person knows nothing about your condition, it’s good to hear a familiar voice. It makes you feel less alone. Sometimes you have to get a little creative— when I was out-of-my-mind sick at the hostel in Hamburg, I got on Facebook, opened up the chat box, saw that my sister-in-law’s mother was online, and chat-messaged her asking if she could call Zach to ask him to get on Skype. It worked, and five minutes later I was Skyping with my fiancĂ©. Yay technology!

Being sick on the road is no fun, but you can make it easier by preparing for it and keeping calm while you’re weathering out the illness. With any luck, you’ll be back to your solo adventures by the next day.


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