How I deal with getting sick when traveling

Filippina Lady thinking in Puerto Princessa, The Philippines (click to enlarge)
Filippina Lady thinking in Puerto Princessa, The Philippines (click to enlarge)

Getting sick when traveling

I was in Sabang in the Philippines getting ready for a trek along a monkey trail when I woke up during the night with a fever. It got worse. But that’s all next week …

In Pakistan I was projectile vomiting purple ooze …

In France and Spain I tore muscles in my leg …

In Africa, well … you name it I had it …

Now all that may or may not sound like a lot. But if you consider I’ve been traveling nearly 4.5 years now, I’ve done pretty well illness wise. The odd cold and bad kebab aside.

But when Illness does hit when traveling, it can be a pain. And, usually I have something to do and don’t want to miss. Or I am alone in a remote area.

I wrote up a personal Travel Medical woes page here. It covers a lot more than here. But here are some pointers I work from. Again this is my own personal medical check list.

Medical check list for travel:

 Healthy Travel: Asia & India by Lonely Planet - I carry it
Healthy Travel: Asia & India by Lonely Planet - I carry it

1) I carry a small medical book called Lonely Planet’s Healthy Travel: Asia & India. I wrote up a review for it on my Travel Review section if you’d like to have a look. The book is a great resource for me in that if a stomach bug just won’t go away, it gives suggestions and,  I keep forgetting what my temperature is meant to be!?

2) I carry a thermometer: one of those plastic ones. They don’t break so easily. I’ve rarely used it, but in the case of the below. It’s been important.

3) I am conscious and aware of Malaria zones: This is one bad thing I do not want to have in a remote area alone, again.   There’s a lot of online advise about this, but a tropical disease clinic and  getting the advice of a doctor who works in this field was of great help. It’s especially true as I’ve been through several different types of malaria zones.

4) I keep hydrated: One of the biggest causes of worsening illness in the tropics is a lack of water. And I sweat like crazy anyway so I drink plenty of water. And when sick, I’m not tight with my money and so I part with money for bottled water.

5) I tell everyone I am sick, like an old granny: Why? Simple. If things get bad, someone will notice me missing. They will knock on my door knowing I am sick, and not just trying to kick me out because I haven’t paid the bills. Moreover I’ve had people bringing me water, food, and supplies out of genuine care in many places.

6) I am really paranoid when buying  medicine over the counter in another country, especially developing countries.  Fake medicine is everywhere. I check what I am buying carefully. Making sure the packaging is sound, there’s strong print, and if at all possible I buy a brand name that I recognize. I also carry a who’s who of supplies with me that I know are real.

7) If it gets bad I seek out the help of a medical professional. I am not a doctor, and neither is anyone else online. I try getting to a big city if I am in a remote area. It’s easier that way.  Expats can help here, as they generally have been around long enough to know where to go for a good doctor. My next choice is either the British Council or an embassy. I usually just call and ask for a recommended list of doctors.

Every country is different when you get sick

These are some of the basics I use when I get sick on the road. In every country there seems to be something new, though in the Philippines I’ve noticed that I’ve not been a sick even for a day. The odd bad portion of adobo aside.

Moreover I’ve noticed when a Filipino get’s a cold, it’s the end of the world for them! They tend to keel over faster than most others. That said, they have tough stomachs!

Coming Soon:

The monkey trail in Sabang, trying to get to the world’s longest underground river with a fever!

(disclaimer: the above information is based on my own personal experiences. I do not recommend anyone to follow what I do. However I do recommend anyone with any concerns with travel illness or sickness before, during or after traveling to consult with a qualified medical practitioner.)

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11 Replies to “How I deal with getting sick when traveling”

  1. You did not mention anything about mosquito netting? Is a mosquito bar or netting very useful, especially when going to bed? How about the Philippines? Is a mosquito bar good for use over your bed?

    1. @Simon Yea I carry a load of broad spectrums too. :) In fact I’m carrying far too much at the moment! Only been sick once in the Philippines, unfortunately I didn’t have my med bag with me at the time! That’s a good point about Tamiflu. Never thought of it as a regular flu protector, just heard about it recently with the H1N1 stuff.

      @Gary In West Africa yes a Mosquito net saved me, and others plenty of times. To be honest in all my time in the Philippines I’ve not come across Malaria. There are Mosquitos, but not so voracious. By Mosquito bar I’m not sure if you mean the smoking incense type, or bar as in hanging bar? Not seen the incense coils for sale. Even in Africa I was not a fan of them. Preferred the net. A fan if you have electricity works wonders too.

  2. Sound advice. I also like to carry a broad-spectrum antibiotic as these can be difficult to find and vital should infection occur. I have also recently started travelling with Tamiflu and this has already saved me from influenza on one occasion. It’s powerful stuff though and should only be used when absolutely necessary.

  3. Thanks. A mosquito bar is a rectangular canopy used over a camping cot or regular bed. Visit this link for picture: here

    1. ah yea, i recognise it. I used a similar one in africa. But just use string to attach it to the wall and pull it out from the bed a bit. I prefer this type if staying in a place for a while.

  4. An important topic!

    We are into our 5th year of open-ended, non-stop travel as a family, so have dealt with much on the road too from surgery twice in a foreign hospital to 11 months with a totally paralyzed dominant right arm when I broke my arm and almost severed a major nerve biking the Danube.

    All 3 of us have dealt with illness, serious dental problems and accidents, but like you say, not really any more than we probably would have had at home and in fact we almost never sick. 99.9% of the time we are healthy as horses, but when you travel a long time, especially with a child, life happens. We haven’t even used our first aid kit! With a kid who is super skinny , we are very careful when we visit the third world and she is almost never sick. We are much older than most long term travelers ( and I’m over weight and mobility challenged) so we have more concerns than most to consider.

    We have some fantastic MD doctors and alternative PhD doctors ( and dentists) that we use via Skype and email with that have been a godsend for us. I am going to be doing a whole series about things that we have used that have had miraculous results as soon as we have time, probably when we get to Asia.


    1. Hi & welcome. There’s nothing quite like travel to open one’s eyes to the realm of possibilities out there. Dealing with illness when traveling is indeed very different than dealing with it from home. Good to hear you are in touch with medical people through Skype. I think virtual doctors may be one the way!

      All the best on your journey to Asia!

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