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When the drugs don’t work

Written by 8 July 2010 No Comment

Picture this: You’re backpacking alone in a tropical exotic country, far far away from home with all its comforts, amidst language barriers that are amusingly out in full force, travelling with companions randomly met on your journey… then you wake up at 2am throwing up last nights stir-fried chicken and vegetables with a fever and feeling like you’ve been floored by a ton of bricks. And to make everything a little worse, your mum is as far away as she can be and there ain’t no chicken broth and motherly advice at your bedside.

Getting sick while travelling is inevitable, especially on long backpacking trips (I seem to be cursed with holidays and illnesses e.g. chicken pox in Greece when I was six years old and having a burst blood vessel in my stomach in Australia when I was ten). It could be from a bit of dodgy chicken, tainted ice, unwashed salad or it maybe just your body wanting to give you a new challenge for the hell of it. Who knows what got me in Koh Phi Phi (Thailand) with that delightful review of the night befores dinner, and it was just my luck for it to occur on the day of a planned (and paid for!) snorkelling trip to Maya Bay, the famous setting for the ultimate backpacking film ‘The Beach’. Well, I never got to see it but my silver-lining was that that sickness lasted exactly 24 hours and I was well enough to get a ferry, a night bus and a night train up to Chiang Mai the next day. Phew.

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There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve just been run over and you’re a million miles from home, but luckily for me I had met an amazing Canadian girl and a couple of Aussies who ensured I was hydrated, breathing and in the vicinity of plain salted crackers. It definitely made me grateful and calm in knowing I wouldn’t be forgotten and discovered a week later when house-keeping notice a funny smell coming from under the door…

I was lucky to be travelling with people when I was struck down in Thailand, but it’s always a comfort to be able to contact family and friends from home when feeling like crap. Thankfully (despite the time difference) my mum and sister were very responsive to my texts of misery and pain. Plain dry rice, avoidance of stomach irritating acidic citrus fruits and hydration salts were top on the list for advice, and of course a trip to the pharmacy. Luckily, there are many in Thailand with staff speaking relatively good English… and a vast array of drugs. Valium for a night-bus, anyone?

Travel insurance is key when travelling; no matter what length of time or whatever destination. It sounds like common sense but if you’ve changed your trip at all and not notified the company/renewed/extended your cover, that much needed medical advice and medicine will definitely leave a sour taste in your mouth when you receive the bill.
A good sized, well-equipped medicine bag is a must-have with items such as, plasters, insect repellent, sterilizing swabs, electrolyte hydration salts, antiseptic cream, insect bite relief cream (which I needed A LOT), stomach soothing pills, Imodium (weirdly I didn’t need to touch at all) and laxatives. Now I definitely needed that during my trip! Despite the length of my trip (8 ½ months) I was fortunate to not be horrendously sick. I only had to visit hospital once in Singapore during my depressing ‘constipation beyond comprehension’ episode, but it did help to be able to spend unwell nights in comfortable accommodation. Just make sure that you don’t max out your credit card and have to face squat toilets or mosquito infested rooms when you desperately need a comfortable bed and a bad movie to curl up and recover in front of.

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