Joy and I have collectively visited about 60 countries over a countless number of trips. While that may sound exciting and glamorous, we’ve endured A LOT of complications along the way. In fact, some of our complications have been so miserable that in the moment, it’s easy to question why we keep traveling. But our family loves traveling and we’re determined to keep exploring in spite of our imperfect trips. I’ll pass on a few “lessons learned” that have come as a result of these experiences so that you can learn from our mistakes/things that could happen to anyone. So here’s the first of a few confessions that paint the less-than-rosy picture of our travels:
Confession: I get sick when I travel….A LOT! (Skip this paragraph if you have a weak stomach)
As exciting as it is for me to visit all the amazing places that I have seen, my kryptonite is the traveler’s stomach bug. It manifests itself in a variety of disgusting ways and often at the most inconvenient times. When I visited the Taj Majal in Agra, India, I got to look at it for about 25 seconds before I had to run to the bathroom and wait several painful minutes hunched over with my butt pressed against the wall before I could evacuate the first bout of a 2 day fight against diarrhea. In Hanoi, Vietnam, I set a personal record by vomiting 37 times in 8 hours.
Last summer, I only got about 4 hours of sleep before I hiked the second and hardest day of the Inca Trail due to numerous trips to a grassy patch that proved to be only the beginning of a relentless fight against diarrhea. That fight continued over the miles of terrain that spanned a 5,300 ft elevation change that peaked at 13,800 ft and continued a few thousand feet below on the backside of the mountain. Oh, I forgot to mentioned that I vomited at least 15 times that day
I’ve been violently ill (spewing out both ends) two out of three visits to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and missed numerous sites that I’ve wanted to see. And there are countless other stories about getting sick but you get the point.
1. Don’t feed the monkeys!
I may have gotten sick the first time in Kuala Lumpur because I was feeding the dirty monkeys in the Batu Caves. Then again, I may not have but I did learn that maybe I should have kept a little more distance between the happy furry creatures.
2. Pack an “emergency” kit
I don’t ever travel outside of the US without carrying my “emergency” kit. It consists of:
- travel toilet paper
- hand sanitizer
- Pepto Bismol
- bottle of water
- Emergen-C or some other type of water soluble electrolytes.
I actually recommend that everyone carry those first four things if you’re in a country that doesn’t have potable water since you never know when contaminated water or dirty hands have touched your food before you eat it. The travel toilet paper will obviously be useful when you realize that many foreign toilets don’t provide toilet paper – many people find this out the hard way. ALWAYS wash your hands before you eat. The Immodium and Pepto will help your stomach immensely if you do get sick but realize that they take awhile to work so you’ll still have to suck it up for awhile. I always carry that bottle of water in case I need to take the medicine or prevent dehydration. I use the Excedrin for the headaches that I often get due to dehydration or fumes from polluted cities. The Emergen-C is for my recovery phase if I get sick.
3. Keep one foot in front of the other
I can’t remember many times where I felt worse than Day 2 of that hike on the Inca Trail. I made it for 3 reasons:
- Friends gave me baby wipes and medicine to help me keep going after I ran out of my own toilet paper and medicine
- A friend waited for me at the top of the peak
- I kept one foot in front of the other and didn’t quit
If you get sick while traveling, don’t get all salty at the country, people or any other reason you might come up with that you can blame on your illness. Remember why you came, rest up, and be grateful for the experience.
Bottom line, I almost expect to get sick when I travel overseas. I don’t let that stop me because I love traveling. I want to see more. Find what drives your sense of exploration and keep going.