Being sick at home is bad enough, but what happens when you come down with a sudden cold or stomach bug while you’re away? If you’ve travelled much in your lifetime, chances are you’ve been under the weather at some point in your journey, and you’ll no doubt recall how miserable it can be. I was recently exploring some incredible Canadian cities when I was hit by a knockout cold that had me craving nothing more than homemade soup and my own pillow, neither of which were easily accessible.

So what do you do when sickness strikes? These are some of the ways that you can prevent, prepare for and fight an illness while you’re on the road so you can still come home with happy memories of your time away.

Note: I’m talking about colds and minor stomach upsets in this post – if you’re seriously sick, make sure you seek proper medical attention.

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Before you go

Don’t stress. Nothing’s going to conjure a cold more quickly than being stressed, tired and run down right before a trip. As soon as you stop and allow your body to rest, those pesky germs and viruses come out to play. Of course,  there’s a lot to get done in the lead-up to any adventure, but make sure you’re taking care of yourself by getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, keeping active and eating well.

Insurance. I know, I know. I said we were only talking about minor illnesses. But if you’re anything like me, the smallest cold will have you googling your symptoms and then inevitably thinking you’re going to die. Travel insurance should be something you invest in any way, if for no other reason than peace of mind. Getting a stomach bug and spending the whole time worrying that you won’t be able to afford treatment if it is actually serious is no fun for anyone.

Be prepared. You don’t need to carry around a full first aid kit, but there are a few essentials that you’ll be happy you packed if you do come down with something. My must-pack medical supplies include:

  • Paracetamol for those aches and pains that come as a bonus with a cold.

  • Immodium for…well, I’m not going to spell it out for you. Just pack some and thank me later.

  • Rehydration sachets for essential hydrating salts.

  • Berocca for vitamin C and other helpful vitamins.

  • Multi-vitamin tablets for day-to-day use.

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On the road

Eat well. While you’re travelling, a lot of your meals will be enjoyed at restaurants which, of course, is part of the fun of exploring somewhere new. But it can be easy to go for days without eating anything really, truly nutritious (am I the only one who’s had doughnuts for breakfast, a burger and fries for lunch and a hot dog for dinner? Just me then?) and your body will start to rebel against all of that deliciously decadent dining. Don’t skip the tasty treats, just make sure you balance them out with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. And if you can’t find these on menus in restaurants, take a trip to a local supermarket or farmer’s market to get some fresh and delicious food that your body will thank you for.

Take vitamins. Your body is being subjected to a whole new environment when you travel, so do it a favour and give it a helping hand with some vitamins. As I mentioned, I like to carry some multi-vitamins in my portable medical kit and I keep them with my toothbrush and toothpaste so I remember to take them every day.

Stay hydrated. When I’m out and about in a new city I often forget to stay hydrated, which is obviously not great for my body. To combat this, I’ve started packing a collapsible water bottle that I can pack in my hand luggage and refill wherever I am so I’m constantly drinking water. If there’s anything unpleasant in your system, keeping your fluids up is one of the best ways to flush them out before they do any damage.

Rest. Getting run down is another fast track to sickness on the road, so set aside some time each day to rest, whether that’s lying on the beach for a while, sitting in a cafe people-watching or spending an extra hour in bed. You’re on holiday after all, so make the most of it and give your body a break.

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If you get sick

Google translate. If you do get sick on the road, the Google Translate app will be your new best friend. Download a language pack when you have wifi and make sure you are armed with the app if you do need to visit a pharmacy for additional medicine. Trust me, trying to communicate what’s wrong in a language you barely know is next to impossible.

Consider an upgrade. If you’re staying in a hostel or an Airbnb house with hosts, consider moving to a private hostel room or hotel. Being sick around other people is unbelievably unpleasant for you – and for the people around you. You may have to spend a little more than you’d planned to, but trust me, once you have a comfortable bed, your own bath and a bit of silence you’ll forget about the cost.

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Take it easy. OK, so you booked that boat tour for today, but now you’ve got a stomach bug. Sure, you could dose up on meds and hope that you don’t spend the whole time being sick over the side of the boat, but is that really how you want to remember your trip? If you’re unwell, go easy on yourself and don’t try to do too much. Enjoy relaxing at your hotel, order room service if you can bear to eat, watch films, catch up on your favourite travel blogs…just give your body time to recover and then you can get on with all of the exciting things you had planned.

Keep drinking. You might feel like nothing less than drinking cup after cup of water, but it’s going to be the best thing for your recovery. Sachets of hydration salts are really useful, as they ensure you rehydrate quickly. If you’re in a hot country while you’re ill it’s even more important to keep drinking fluids, and although you might not enjoy it at the time, you’ll recover far more quickly if you’re hydrated.

Home comforts. Sometimes, all you crave when you’re sick is something familiar. I’ve Skyped with my Mum when I’ve been sick abroad, just because it’s comforting. Another indulgence is buying a box of tea bags from the closest supermarket and making endless cups of the stuff. Your idea of comfort might be reading your favourite book, taking a bath or something else entirely, but if you can find a way to do it you’ll start feeling better almost immediately.

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Have you been sick when you travelled? What tips do you have for preventing or recovering from an illness?


*This is a guest post by Elle Croft who writes about her travels on A Bird in the Hand Travel.