Monday, November 26, 2007

Sick and far from home

I'm sure there are worse things than being sick when you're traveling, but at the moment, illness is the trauma that's got my attention.

I'm not talking anything major, thank goodness. Just good old fashioned food poisoning.

This bout came in New York. The Husband and I shared lunch at one of the many soup-and-sandwich spots dotting Manhattan. Six hours later, I was running out of a friendly little dinner party clutching my stomach.

You'd think I'd get sick in off-the-track places like Cameroon or Papua New Guinea. No, mostly it's mostly normal places, like New York. Or Las Vegas (another case of food poisoning.)

And mostly, I get sick when I'm traveling alone. In Vegas, for instance, I was A) alone and B) naked, thanks to lost luggage, no hotel bathrobes and tiny bathroom towels.

I'm lucky, because I mostly get either food poisoning or dehydration. Other people get heart attacks and stroke -- the most common serious problem for Americans traveling abroad, according to a medical presentation I saw at a conference last year. Seems that office- and sofa-bound Americans tend to get overly ambitious about their physical abilities on vacation.

Still, being sick on the road alone has taught me a few survival skills. Such as:

  • Drink plenty of bottled water, and carry powdered rehydration salts. (Being dehydrated in a country where you don't speak the language, like China, can be an interesting challenge.)

  • Think you're going to need a doctor? Ask for him or her before dark, when the price goes up. (Plus, the idea of heading off to clinic in Vietnam after dark is more than even I can manage.)

  • Find a friend, and ask him/her to stick with you while the doctor visits. A random fellow traveler who speaks English as a first language is an improvement over visiting the doctor alone.

  • Staying in an apartment or house rather than a hotel? Ask about medical services when you first arrive. (We had to call friends at 3 a.m. in New York one night because we didn't know the location of the closest hospital.)

  • Wear your seatbelt in the taxi and watch when crossing the road. Traffic collisions are the No. 2 cause of serious problems for Americans abroad.

  • Consider a medical evacuation policy or travel insurance policy that includes medical care. I've never had to use them and hope I never will, but I do feel better knowing I've got a back-up plan.

Above all, I take a modest jammies in my carry-on. If I don't get sick, I know for sure I'll get locked out of your room with only a towel as cover.


Annette from said...

Good tips. I can't imagine going through some of the things i hear about while i was in a forign place. Can't wait to read more.

rome said...

When I travelled to Los Roques, Venezuela, my husband got really sick with very high temperature, vomit and diarrea...Probably food, we then saw rats in the kitchen. Luckily there was a doctor and everything went all right after a few days.