In honor of the fact that I've been sick for the last two weeks with bronchitis with a side of pneumonia (that was ACTUALLY the doctor's diagnosis...paraphrased), I've been inspired to write about the hell that is being felled with an illness while traveling.
I am a master of getting sick on vacation. But I'm not unique in this; traveling throws your body out of its normal rhythms, and unless you're a college kid without any kind of routine, traveling is going to throw your body off for sure. I'm in my late 20s, and long gone are the days of all-nighters and month-long Easy Mac jags. It was a daily surprise to me when I moved out of my parents' house that I was actually managing to keep myself alive, but these days I actually take pretty good care of myself, in a large part because I am a slave to my routines. I try to sleep at least eight hours a night, my friends mock my rigid weeknight workouts, and I don't drink that much (despite what it sounds like on this blog...or looks like on Instagram or Facebook).
All that goes out the window when I travel though. I never sleep as well when I'm not in my own bed, I'm constantly staying up late to make the most of my days, my days are packed with running around seeing everything, my diet turns into a disgusting gluttonous free-for-all, I almost never work out (at least not in a gym), and chances are I'm sharing public transportation with the great unwashed masses.
All of these things is probably why I'm happiest when traveling, but that insight into my psyche is a conversation for therapy. The point here is that when someone as type A as me gets thrown into the wonderful chaos that is travel, her body is probably going to take the brunt of it. So I usually come down with a cold like I did aboard the Hairy Coo.
I've been fortunate, however, to not have any serious health problems abroad, but I really have to learn to reign in the urge to make ebola jokes about myself before karma (or a man in a hazmat suit) comes to get me. So to turn that karma around, some tips from me to you for coping with illness on the road:
PREVENTION IS KEY (DON'T GET SICK)
Jesus, I sound like Carly, my best friend with a master's in public health. But it's true; if a trip is on the horizon for you, rest the fuck up, son. Get a lot of sleep before you go, pack some ZzzQuil so you can sleep on the plane, and hydrate like it's your job. You'll be amazed how much better you feel if you've had enough water to drink, so when I travel, I hoard water. No really. After I've gone through security, I buy two of the biggest water bottles I can find, and I make sure to drink as much as possible and buy more water every time I come across it.
Tangent story time. The first time I flew on my own was also the first time I made a transatlantic flight. This was my flight to Italy for my semester abroad. I have a strong aversion (nearly a phobia) to public bathrooms, so I told myself I wasn't going to pee on the eight-hour flight between Philadelphia and Rome. Therefore, I did not hydrate whatsoever...on purpose. I also barely slept, I broke my glasses, and I ended up in tears in the Rome airport, convinced that I was going to get pickpocketed because I was crying and thusly an easy target. Hopped a puddle jumper to Florence, endured the NYU orientation, met my 10 roommates for the semester, and finally, FINALLY, made a trip to the corner store for a bottle of water (tap water is safe to drink in Florence, but it's high in calcium, which makes it emit an almost sulphuric smell, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it even though by this point I must have been severely dehydrated). Delirious, I accidentally bought a bottle of carbonated water, which I also couldn't bring myself to drink, then exhausted, I fell asleep. That night, I dreamt I was back at home at Red Robin (where I waited tables during winter break), and I found myself double-fisting two pitchers of iced tea, just DOWNING them like no one's business. Needless to say, I had a rough first couple of days in Florence, so DON'T BE LIKE 19-YEAR-OLD STACI. Just suck it up, drink your water, and pee in the goddamn airplane toilet.
ANYWAY, it probably also doesn't hurt to pop some extra vitamin C before you travel, and I know some people who swear by Emergen-C when they feel themselves getting sick, although I can't testify to that myself.
BUT IF YOU CAN'T PREVENT IT...
Again, for fuck's sake, I beg of you please DO NOT BE LIKE ME. Bring a goddamn pharmacy with you. For whatever reason, when I pack, a lot of times I get cocky, and I'm like "DayQuil? Who needs DayQuil? Not THIS healthy motherfucker!" And then I live to regret it because I love my DayQuil and my NyQuil.
The last time I had bronchitis, I also had a sinus infection, and I was in Panama. I hadn't gone on a vacation in two years, and I was so looking forward to it. Instead of the glorious tropical paradise I was hoping to enjoy, I was deathly fucking ill with a cough that straight up scared the people on the resort. As I chilled by the pool, hacking away, the resort staff kept coming up to me, timidly offering me water. I sent them away, appreciative but annoyed as hell. I wasn't choking on a rogue piece of calamari; I was struck down by a black plague, and no amount of water was going to cure THAT.
I did have some Advil Cold & Sinus with me, but when I ran out, I was fucked. The area I was in wasn't touristy, and none of the meds in the stores had English labels. So if you get sick, and you want YOUR drugs, you better bring them with you. Even in the UK last month, I went from store to store sampling the weirdest freaking cough drops. I would have given anything for a bag of Halls.
If you ARE up shit's creek without a paddle (read: in a foreign language-speaking country without your preferred meds), a lot of travel books have helpful phrases in the back, and there is usually a health-related section. Or you know...use the internet. I was in Florence before the advent of the smartphone though, and luckily when I got sick, my Lonely Planet book had the word for "cough." I went to the pharmacy, said "tosse," demonstrated, and the pharmacist gave me some sweet, codeine-laced nectar. Another pro tip: In European cities, pharmacies are super easy to find. They're not hidden in grocery stores and Targets like they are here; they are free-standing, clearly marked by glowing green crosses every few blocks.
OK, I am one of the few and proud members of the Tribe to have a relatively strong stomach. I can eat nearly anything (as you may have noticed) and not get sick to my stomach. Everyone I know who went to Israel on Birthright either spent 10 days shitting their brains out, or they didn't shit at all. I am blissfully proud of the fact that my stomach remained relatively calm amidst the falafel and dubious Bedouin chicken.
I do, however, suffer from foreign toilet syndrome. Although when I Google this, the first hit is from Urban Dictionary, this is A REAL THING. Perhaps due to a deep-seated fear of clogging someone else's toilet, sometimes my body just doesn't want to shit abroad. And you know, I don't think that's unreasonable given that in some places (::cough::ALL OF IRELAND::cough::), the toilets only seem to actually flush every 17 to 24 times. Oh, by the way, TMI alert.
Anyway, that isn't actually a physical illness, that's more of a mental thing. So I'll stop boasting now about my lack of diarrhea while traveling. It HAS happened to me, and it's not fun. In fact, I distinctly remember having the shits on a cruise ship before norovirus mania took hold and cruise ships started Purelling the hell out of everyone. And I've had food poisoning on more than one occasion. All I can tell you is Imodium. Pack your damn Imodium ALWAYS.
While you're at it, pack some Pepcid, because traveling can be stressful and paired with unknown cuisine, if you're me, you'll get indigestion at some point. And if you're prone to motion sickness (bagpipe-induced or otherwise), Dramamine is a great drug. (If you ask me, any drug that induces uninterrupted sleep is a great drug.) Vomiting is the worst. The absolute WORST. Worse than the black lung I have right now. If you have puked on vacation, I am so so so sorry. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.*
You probably know this, but you should always carry your insurance card with you (as well as copies) in case you have to go to a hospital. I have no real first-hand knowledge of what it is to experience bodily injury while on vacation except this one time when I was a kid in Disney World and was dragged underwater in a FUCKING wave pool, fracturing one of my ankles. (My mother claims it wasn't a fracture because she was essentially like, "deal with it. We're going to a parade," but we both know it was.)
But anyway, if you're far enough away, they're not going to give two shits about your insurance card anyway, so you'd better have a credit card on hand to cover the cost of a medical visit and then your insurance company can reimburse you when you get back. So I told you how my roommate Rhi had to get stitches in Japan when we went skiing, and it was a total nightmare, and the moral of that story is if you're going to get hurt, don't do it in a town full of Australians who consider toilet paper to be an adequate bandage material. Do it in a city like Tokyo, full of uber clean, brilliant doctors.
So! Now that I've shared all my getting sick wisdom with you, who wants to bring me matzah ball soup and rub my head?
*Just kidding, I know a few people who I would wish this on.