Bitten by the Travel Bug

Travel with a sensitive stomach isn’t always fun… here’s how I cope:

I keep hoping is that the same rule applies for post-travel illness as does for getting over your last relationship: you need twice the amount of time before you feel better.

I was in Cuba for nearly two weeks and was sick for four afterwards. Having been to Marrakech the past three days, I was hoping this nasty bug I contracted didn’t last more than a week.

As I always do when sick after a trip, I Googled “[name of place] + [illness]”.

Turns out, I’m not the only one (duh). One blog post I read from Beers & Beans had a sentence that really resonated with me:

“My stomach is not as adventurous as my mind.”

Unfortunately for me, this is spot on. I love to travel, especially off the beaten track. I’m happiest when in a totally unfamiliar place, meeting new people, eating amazing food, and being active.

The trips are always totally worth it, but it can be hard to remember when the days (weeks, months, etc.) after are spent trembling, dizzy, and running back and forth between your bed and the bathroom.

After Cuba, I could pretty clearly identify what went wrong. While I was diligent about drinking and brushing my teeth with bottled water, I was lazy about ice cubes in my Mojitos and was so desperate for vegetables that I ordered salad whenever I could.

I suffered the consequences. First, I was violently ill for about three days. Then for the next four weeks, I was so nauseous and dizzy that I didn’t get out of bed that whole month, except to get my rabies shots. (More on that later.) My parents put a bowl of plain pho noodle soup on my nightstand once a day, and I ate what I could of that. It was miserable.

That’s why I was super careful on a recent weekend trip to Marrakech. Nothing but bottled or boiled water, only cooked veggies, the whole deal.

But there I was, stuck in bed and feeling crappy.

Sometimes the dangers aren’t even obvious and can catch you totally off guard. My first night in Dubrovnik was spent writhing in pain in the ER with some sort of food poisoning or water-borne illness from something I consumed earlier in the day.

And yet I keep going.

The truth is that it’s inevitable, especially if you’re like me and can be set off by anything. (I already have an intolerance of gluten, dairy, and soy – you can imagine what some extra germs or a parasite can do!)

The best thing to do if you’re not willing to give up on adventures is to have a plan for how to deal with it.

Here are my must-haves for dealing with a travel illness:

  1. Soup, crackers, and bread. You will not be able to stomach anything else, but you’ll need all the energy you can get.
  2. Ginger tea, water, and coconut water. All those times people have told you how important it is to stay hydrated? It’s TRUE. Make sure to drink it slowly so you don’t overwhelm your system.
  3. Extra-strength probiotics. Try for 20 billion and take one capsule a day with food.
  4. An expert opinion. While you might feel noble trying to stick it out, if it starts to drag on you should really consult a doctor to rule out the possibility of any serious diseases. Even in the beginning stages, it can be worth it to get a doctor on the phone and describe your symptoms.
  5. Someone to keep an eye on you. It’s tough when you’re traveling solo, but let someone at your hostel/hotel know what’s going on. I was so lucky in Dubrovnik to be staying at a great hostel, and the owner not only helped me get to the ER but also checked in with me regularly while I was staying there. (Shout out to Fresh Sheets Hostel!)
  6. A comfortable place to rest. It totally sucks to be sick when you’re travelling, but it will not help to try to tough it out and go out exploring when you feel like crap. Trust me.
  7. Be willing to change your plans. Go easy on yourself! Getting through a travel illness is no small feat, and the worst thing to do is try to ignore or power through it. After I ended up in the ER in Dubrovnik, I spent the better part of the following day reading by the water instead of running around the city. I was rewarded with renewed energy in the afternoon to do some of the activities on my list.
  8. Extra cash on you at all times, as well as the number to a local cab company. You never know when you’ll need a quick ride to the ER. Hopefully this won’t happen, but it’s totally worth it to not be caught off guard.

**Disclaimer: I have no medical expertise or experience. This is all based on my own experience dealing with travel illnesses. If you’re concerned or unsure of what to do when you’re sick, contact an expert immediately**

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