When you are sick on the road…

Last updated on April 22nd, 2020

It’s never fun being ill but when you are at home at least you have friends or relatives to keep an eye on you, bring you chicken soup or drop off a video while you recuperate.

Catching the flu or dealing with an upset stomach on the road is a much different story. Number one there’s no medicine cabinet to go through to find your aspirin, cough medicine or pink pills to settle your tummy. Secondly, it’s harder in a hostel to stay in bed all day because of their rules and it’s painful to loll around in a 5-star hotel because it seems like such a waste of travel money.

So based on the many days I’ve been on the road and the sore throats and tummy upsets I’ve endured along the way, here are my 12 suggestions for being prepared to nurse yourself back to health should you feel sick along the way. Or, in more dire circumstances we offer tips on how to find medical help when you need it.

12 Tips When You’re Sick on the Road

1. See your doctor — If you are planning to be on the road for a long time, see your doctor to clear up any medical condition that might be bothering you and any immunizations you require. Ditto for the dentist check-up. It’s a known fact that if you have an abscess, the pressure of air travel will cause additional very painful pressure on your teeth and gums.

2. Create a medical directory — Young or older, prepare an email and telephone number directory of all your doctors and specialists. In case of emergency list your blood type, allergies and any medications you are taking. Hopefully, you’ll never need them but it’s reassuring to know this information is tucked away in your backpack.

3. Health insurance — Make sure you have appropriate health insurance

4. Join IAMAT — Fill in an online membership to IAMAT, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers. It’s free (you can make a donation if you choose) and your membership will allow you, among many other perks, access to a directory of approved doctors around the world.

5. Create a mini medical bag — You should be able to fit everything into two medium-size ZipLock bags. Carry your essential over-the-counter medicines in one along with the hardcore antibiotics and special medications your doctor prescribes in the other. What should your over-the-counter bag contain? Just enough to tide you over if any of the medications you need are not easily available where you are when you start to feel unwell. Simply imagine being on a train between two cities in India and waking up in the middle of the night with a fever, upset stomach and a sore throat.

  • Tylenol or any other analgesic that will reduce both pain and fever.
  • Antidiarrheal such as Imodium
  • Antinauseant such as Gravol or ginger tea bags
  • Pepto Bismol to fight a queasy, upset stomach
  • package of cough drops
  • a very small bottle of cough medicine
  • An antihistamine such as Benadryl
  • Polysporin or other topical antibiotic creams

6. Delhi Belly — Should diarrhea strike and you find yourself far from a pharmacy here are two emergency rehydration mixtures:

-Mix one litre of bottled purified water, one-half teaspoon of salt and four teaspoons of honey or sugar.

-If these ingredients are not available, eat bananas (to restore your potassium levels) and dry chips (to give you salt) and drink cola (to provide glucose).

7.Sore throat and respiratory congestion? — Carry a bit of salt in a tiny baggie or ask the first restaurant you get to for some. Mix with warm water and gargle. According to Dr. Hagen’s Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies, Saline solutions can draw extra fluid from inflamed tissues in your throat (which makes it hurt less). Gargling also loosens heavy mucus which can remove irritants like allergens, bacteria and fungi from the throat (NY Times).

8.Food — A bit hungry but too uncomfortable to get dressed to go out to find food?

-If you’re in a hotel, room service has to be your answer. Tell them you’re not feeling well and even though toast and tea might not be on the menu they’ll be happy to oblige.

-It’s always a good idea to carry a few packages of instant oatmeal for when you have the munchies. They come in so handy at times like this when you need something light.

9. A good doctor — How do you find a reputable doctor on the road?

  • Log on to IAMAT’s website. See #4 above.
  • Check with your country’s embassy. Ask which MD their employees use when they are ill. Ditto for dentists.
  • Most hotels or hostels can summon or recommend a hotel doctor.
  • Most hotels or hostels should be able to tell you which hospital/clinic they recommend.
  • Most hotels can direct you to the closest pharmacy and can arrange for your prescriptions to be picked up and delivered by taxi if necessary.

10. Subscribe to the free Journeywoman Travel Tip Newsletter — It’s where travelling women worldwide offer other women advice about their cities. Here is a sample of medical tips that have been included:

NOT FEELING WELL IN MILAN? — writes Roberta from Milan, Italy — Perish the thought that a Journeywoman should need such a thing but just in case a doctor’s or dentist’s assistance is required while you are in Milan, feel free to call upon The Milan Clinic. Not only English-speaking but also British – or U.S.-trained medics are available by appointment from Monday to Friday. The address is 25 Via Cerva, which is round the corner from Via Durini, one of the city’s most elegant shopping streets. Metro stop: San Babila.

11. Male or female doctors — Females being examined by a male doctor they are not familiar with can ask for another woman to be present in the examining room. Authors Maggie and Gemma Moss suggest “it may well be possible to be seen by a woman doctor — you certainly shouldn’t assume that there won’t be any — particularly in Moslem countries … If you can’t find a woman doctor and need a gynecological examination, take a friend along as a chaperone, or insist on a nurse being present.”

12. Be extra good to yourself — Finally, we all know that being sick on the road is not fun. If you aren’t dealing with anything that is dramatic the best thing for you to do is to slow down for a day or two. Your body needs the rest. Don’t push it to do more than it can do and you’ll probably bounce back quickly. Take the time to read a good book, drink lots of fluids, catch up on writing postcards or emails, write in your diary, watch TV in another language, download a chick flick and … if your condition allows, eat lots and lots of chocolate. You’ll feel better in no time!

Great medical service in Paris…

I’d like visitors to my city to know that if you forget a prescription at home or have a medical emergency, there is a wonderful Doctor-on-call service called SOS. Phone # 01-47-07-77-77. It costs the same for French citizens and visitors alike (50-90 euros). They are wonderful here. We waited a grand total of 20 minutes from the time we called from our hotel until the doctor arrived. No lengthy forms to fill out, just a sweet doctor arriving on your doorstep or hotel step, a check-up to understand your problem and a prescription that is easily filled at one of two 24 hour pharmacies within Paris. I hope this is a help to other travelling women. Stay healthy everybody! (Submitted by Oriana from Paris, France)

Carry clove oil when you travel…

One travel tip that I’ve found to be very useful when I’m on the road is to keep a bottle of Clove Oil with me. Yep, aside from smelling like Easter-dinner-in-a-bottle, it’s an amazing analgesic and antibiotic. Great for toothaches (or any mouth discomfort), teething pain, nausea and lots more. The herbalists can tell us more about this remarkable antiviral, antifungal, antibiotic, but for me, it’s an essential oil that’s an essential travelling companion. (Submitted by Linda in Midlothian, USA)

Editor’s note: Thanks, Linda! We’ll be checking with our local health food store to find out more about this oil. We always like to be sure we’re using it in the proper way before we put it into my suitcase.

Doctor recommended Pepto Bismol…

When I sailed around the world with Semester at Sea there was a full ship assembly before arriving in each new destination. During that time the ship’s doctor cautioned us on how to avoid tummy upsets while in that port. We learned where we could eat, what we could eat and what we could drink. In some of the countries where we had to be most careful, he suggested taking a Pepto Bismol tablet to coat our stomach before each meal. He also reminded us that these tablets might turn our tongues and our stools a dark black colour and we should not panic. That black disappears as soon as you stop taking the tablets. I used those tablets, was careful, and never had a tummy upset. Now the choice is up to you but be sure to read any warnings on the bottle and whether they apply to you. (Evelyn Hannon, Editor Journeywoman.com)

Evelyn started Journeywoman in 1994, and unknowingly became the world's first female travel blogger. She inspired a sisterhood of women, a grassroots movement, to inspire women to travel safely and well, and to connect women travellers around the world. She passed away in 2019, but her legacy lives on.

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