Getting sick is the worst. Like literally the worst. Especially when traveling.
However it happens to be this weird rule, at least in my life, where I have never not been sick when I travel. I have been to 11 different countries and I have thrown up in all of them. Yeah. Lucky me.
But throwing up your way through the world can give you a lot of perspective on illness in general. Here are a few things I have learned from the violent illnesses I have suffered over the years.
1. It will always be funny later. At least to you.
When walking the Camino De Santiago, my friend Renee and I got a horrible fever/flu/cough. We were lucky enough to run into a woman who ran a winter hostel that was pretty much a small apartment with all of the amenities we could ask for, and it was a by donation place! She was amazing and we were so lucky.
However, after both Renee and I had spent the entire night tossing and turning, no sleep because our bodies ached so much and we could barely breath our noses and throats were so stuffed up, I woke up that morning and began coughing so hard that a threw up in the quaint little sink. We were facing another day of walking, it was raining outside and I had just thrown up my last bit of energy. The only thing I could think to say to her in that moment was, "Don't worry, this will be funny later."
When you are so low that you can't possibly go any lower, it is true when they say you can either laugh or cry about it. I find in the moment crying is the preferred option, but later, and I'm talkin' 3-7 days later, you can't help but laugh at how you were so sick. It's a weird and true formula: Tragedy + Time = Comedy.
So the next time you are squatting over a pit toilet losing your lunch from both ends, take comfort that you will be able to laugh at your self about it later. And if you don't, I will. I will laugh at you.
2. It is 100% your fault. Except when it's not.
Most of the time, when I get sick, I can say for sure what I ate, who I was near and what I should have done differently. I know that when I was doing the double dragon in my apartment in Varanasi for 5 days, I was 100% sure it was the cheese and chocolate my parents sent me. It had gone bad and I was desperately trying to hold on to something familiar, but it was still going to give me food poisoning.
I got diarrhea from eating a salad (also in Varanasi), I got the swine flu in Mexico from not taking care of myself and licking all the door nobs (ok not really), I got the stomach flu from not washing my hands around sick people in Peru. It happens and you know why and you are always kicking yourself afterwards. It's a learning experience, it's the universe showing you the negative consequences to your actions, it sucks, aaaaand it's probably your fault.
Except when it's not.
That's the kicker for me. You can be as careful as you want, you can wash your hands as often as possible, you can eat only fried foods, no meat, purify every glass of water and double check the seal and expiration date of every item you buy, and you will still get sick. Then you just have to fall back on step one and laugh about it later. Or cry. That's always an option.
3. Embrace the sickness. Accept your fate.
I've always had a phobia of throwing up, when I was a little kid it would give me panic attacks at night and still to this day I absolutely hate it. I will try my hardest to keep from throwing up for as long as possible. This makes no sense at all. Because the longer that bad food is inside you, the more you are going to digest it and the sicker you will have to get to get it out of you. I learned this the hard way.
Essentially, as soon as you know you are going to be sick. Get back to the hotel, get back to the hostel, the apartment you've rented or your cousins house and get sick. Let it all out. Literally. The sooner you can embrace you fate, go to your happy place inside your head and just get it over with, the sooner you can get back to what ever awesome adventure you happen to be on. Let yourself do this and you will be a happy camper in no time, put it off for too long and you will be prolonging the inevitable.
4. Take care of yourself. Seriously.
Ok I definitely have a casual attitude about getting violently ill abroad, but in all honesty, you need to take good care of yourself when sick. Especially for us solo lady travelers. If you don't have someone to take care of you this is extra important. The list includes, but is not limited to:
- Drinking clean water as often as you can (even if you keep throwing it up)
- Getting electrolytes back into your body. (if you don't have access to these, find as much fresh fruit as you can, PEEL IT FIRST, and then suck or nibble as you are able)
- Nibble on some grain. Screw your paleo diet for a day and get a hold of some bread, rice, tortillas, or what ever happens to be the staple starch in your current location and nibble gently if you can.
- Shower/bathe often. This may have no medical practice to back it up, but showering makes me feel so much better when I'm sick. Warm hot water can sooth a sore stomach, and cold water can help break a fever.
- Clean your sheets. Seriously. If you can manage it after the initial 48 hours, do your best to clean the sheets.
- Tell people you are alive. Especially you family.
Make sure you are in a safe place, if you are vulnerable you can make mistakes and in places that are not always friendly to mistakes. So take care of your self!
So traveling and sickness go hand in hand for me. For you too? Let me know some of your awesome/hilarious/horrible sickness stories and how you got out of it!
Tweet to me @KayaSays and we can laugh about it together!