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Travels with Sniffles

This is probably not the best place to seek medical attention.

I have to confess, I’m not feeling my best right now. As I cough my way through multiple boxes of Kleenex and explore the full extent of the “Cold and Flu” aisle at the drug store, I am at least grateful that I didn’t come down with this Yuck while I was traveling.

I’ve had a good, though not perfect, record of travel health. (Pardon me for a moment while I find some wood to knock on.) I haven’t suffered any major health-related calamities while abroad, just a couple of colds and brief spells of stomach upset. But even those minor issues are vexatious. As if it weren’t annoying enough to be under the weather, your ill-health has to go and dampen your vacation, too!

Fortunately, with a little advance planning, you can (hopefully, most of the time) avoid an illness-induced vacation implosion. I’ve written about health before (refresh your memory with my post about vaccines here), but today I offer a few tips for dealing with those inconveniently-timed bouts of sickness:

1. I’ve said it before but I have to say it again: If you’re really sick before departure day, don’t go. I know this is a hard call to make. But traveling when you’re sick is not good for you (you won’t fully enjoy the trip) or your travel companions (they could catch whatever you have) or the world (Just Say No to spreading infectious diseases!). Buy travel insurance when you book the trip so you won’t lose all your money, then rebook once you’re better.

2. To keep yourself healthy on the road, be smart. As in, don’t drink the water when you’re told not to, and don’t eat that tempting-but-unidentified food from a questionable street vendor. I mean, really, why would you?

3. Pack as if you’re going to get sick. I travel with a mini pharmacopoeia, including Pepto Bismol, antihistamines, ibuprofen, and cough drops. These kinds of basics can at least provide you with some temporary relief, if not solve the problem completely – and then you don’t have to spend time searching for a pharmacy.

4. If you get sick, look for the green cross. In many countries (particularly Europe), pharmacies are marked with glowing green “plus” signs, and most pharmacists are incredibly helpful. Even if you don’t speak the language, hand gestures should suffice to communicate which part of your body ails you. In less developed countries, however, you should head to a hospital instead of the corner pharmacy (where you run the risk of being sold fake drugs).

5. Soldier on. As long as you’re not actively vomiting (or, um, similar unpleasantries), there’s no reason to hole yourself up in your hotel room. Instead, carry on with your travel plans (but perhaps at a slower pace). Treat the fact that you’re in another country as your consolation prize for being sick, instead of viewing the illness as an insult to your injured vacation. I find that when I’m engaged in something interesting out in the world, I’m far less aware of my physical ailments. If you’re having enough fun, you might forget your cold completely.

Travel is good for the soul, but it can be good for the body, too.

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