Lifestyle Travel Guide

How To Prevent Getting Sick Overseas: First Hand Experiences

Sickness overseas when you are travelling has to be one of the most frustrating things to go through. There you are laying or even worse, being sick in your hotel room in another country far, far away from home, and all you can think about is how much you paid to get here and what activities you are now going to miss out on!

When I get sick on holidays, I often feel like I’m going die. Like I literally feel like I will never be able to leave the hotel room, and someone may as well call it in, as the trip is over.

I’m going to tell you about the times Matt (my partner) and I have been sick on this world trip so far. Take into note I have visited over 40 countries and been to all seven continents in the past twelve months, so surprisingly I can only say I’ve been sick three times. To me, three really isn’t too bad considering the places I have been.

The first time was in Costa Rica, Central America. This was in January this year, five months into the trip. I really did think South America or Africa would be the places, but it’s always the ones you least expect!

On this particular time, it wasn’t directly my fault *cough, Matt* my dearest honey, Matt fell very ill in the middle of our 12 day Costa Rica tour. It’s actually a pretty funny story when we talk about it now, but at the time he thought he was going to die. (Like he always does! ‘Man-Flu’) But when he gave it too me, I definitely couldn’t agree more. In 40-degree heat, in the middle of a tropical rainforest…Mmm, it’s not pleasant at all.

It started off when we were in the middle of a rainforest “glamping” amongst the trees in tree house tents. Now we knew not to drink the tap water, because you just don’t do that in Costa Rica! But on this particular occasion, Matt decided to fill up his drink bottle from a water cooler in the reception. BAD IDEA!

After he took a sip I told him that’s probably not fresh water and they just fill it up from the tap. *Insert Mel was right* and less than three hours later we were walking through the middle of the rainforest in the pitch black, searching for wildlife on our night excursion. I then turn around to see Matt completely out of it and lagging behind the group.

I started to get pretty cranky because he was all moody and normally loves this type of thing. I didn’t actually realize something was wrong until the next time I turned to speak to him, and this time he was as white as a ghost. I though he was going to pass out! He just looked at me and said “I need to throw up, I’m going to be sick” and within two seconds the poor guy had his head in the bushes. We ended the excursion and raced back to our tent in the pitch black, casually stopping to have Matt be sick. Take into note it was still like 30 degrees at this time of night, poor thing – it couldn’t have gotten worse! But it did…

He got back to the room and didn’t leave it for two whole days. He didn’t eat and when he drank water he couldn’t keep it down. He was up all hours of the day and night! He was so pale I seriously thought that’s it. We need to take him to a doctor, as he is WAY to dehydrated and has had no nutrients for over 48 hours.

Miraculously on the third day he was able to eat some fruit and started to feel a lot better. He was able to get on the tour bus and we moved to the next place without any problems.

However, 12 hours later…

It was my turn! Mmhum – that’s right! Matt had Cholera from the water he drank, and like most bacterial infections, it can spread, and it spread to me. Even though we used hand sanitizer like crazy, I still had to sleep in the same tent with him, and germs spread.

It was late afternoon when we arrived and the sun was setting over the volcanic mountains around us. I was getting ready to go out to see the waterfalls with the tour group, but rushed into the bathroom and thought, ohhhhhh bugger! I am not going anywhere.

Fast forward to 8pm and I was laying in the shower under cold water moaning in agony, wanting to throw up, but couldn’t and feeling so sick! I had been under the shower for almost an hour (sorry I don’t like wasting water, but when I’m sick I always end up in the shower because it makes me feel better!) plus it was 30 degrees and the water was nice and cold! Matt came in (he is all better now!) and decides he wants dinner. I told him I literally couldn’t move, and somehow we end up in the middle of town at a restaurant with me watching him eat his dinner, about to faint because it was so hot and I feeling SO sick!

We had to leave half way through dinner, because I wasn’t going to make it! We raced home and I ended up back in the shower, but this time everything came up from lunchtime and it wasn’t stopping.

It’s funny because I don’t remember eating much that day (was feeling like I had butterflies in my tummy earlier that day) but somehow my body thought it was ok to keep me going, even though nothing was left inside of me!

I was bed ridden for a day, but assuming because I’ve been sick in Asia many times before, my immune system was a little more use to it than Matt’s, and I recovered just fine.

Lucky time number two! Ok so on this next occasion we were travelling with my parents for a few weeks around South East Asia and within 24 hours of landing in Laos, I had the butterflies again. I lost my appetite, and only nibbled on lunch (I just assumed it was jet lag and I wasn’t hungry) but boy was I wrong! I had Giardia.

One of the worst things to catch when overseas, caught through drinking dirty water etc. the tough thing about Guardia is that it can take a few days or even weeks to show up. You lose your appetite, get really tired and have the worst cramps/bowl movements in the world! Like I’m not trying to gross you out, but it’s like a tap that does not turn off! (Trust me, you will thank me for this story at the end of this post, when I tell you what medication to take with you on your next trip!) For the first 5 days in Laos I was OK. I wasn’t eating much, but I assumed it was the heat (40+ degrees) and weird time zone changes. I felt the butterflies in my stomach, but was ok.

Fast forward to Cambodia (2 weeks since first butterflies) it was the night before we had a 5-hour drive ahead of us, I raced to the bathroom and did not leave there until 1am. I went back to sleep and woke again an hour later and then woke up again and it was 5am. I had been to the bathroom all night, literally had 3 hours sleep and had the worst cramps in the world. I toughened up and pushed through the car trip, but when we arrived at the hotel, I didn’t leave the bathroom in our room for a whole day. I couldn’t eat anything and even drinking water made me feel nauseous so now everything was coming out of both ends! It was extremely unpleasant and very uncomfortable.

I knew something was wrong so we pulled out my medication bag and I took a 48 hour pill which you take over two days and it’s meant to whip out the bug (which hides out in your intestines) but it didn’t help. It eased the bathroom time, but I still felt so sick! We then got out another set of medication I had and within 24 hours I was fine! This miracle medication is called Metronidazole (Flagyl) and is two simple pills you take over the course of 24 hours and it kills whatever evil bacteria is stuck inside your intestines.

The final occasion was in Vietnam, some of you may had read about this on my Instagram and Twitter posts back in May, but it was once again, horrible and totally unexpected.

We had just returned from a two-night cruise through stunning Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam, it was the morning of our 52-hour flight path to Rome, Italy. The flight was leaving at 5:30pm and it was 3am. I woke up and was in the bathroom all morning. At around 7am I went in search of cold bottled water and within 2 minutes of stepping outside, I raced back inside and didn’t leave for another hour (the smells are super intense in parts of Asia and smells just set me off when I’m feeling sick!) half way through my laying in the shower and moaning in discomfort (yep, showers are amazing when sick!) Matt came in and started.

We just knew at that point we had caught something on the boat trip. I mean we were in Asia, Vietnam and its not uncommon to get sick. We figure, we had caught it on the cruise as we arrived home at 9pm and didn’t have time for dinner and went straight to bed. The last meal had been on the boat and was rice paper rolls, salad and barbeque. They most likely washed the salad in local water, which is a big no, no in Asia, as many tourists get sick, and we just happened to be some of those unfortunate people.

The worst part is we now had a big decision as to whether we would take our flights to Italy that day or not. Our hotel wasn’t the best, and to be sick in Asia is horrible in the heat. Our cruise was leaving from Rome around the Mediterranean in less than 4 days so it was a big decision.

We decide to push through and took as much medication to stop the flow and nauseous so that we could hopefully, at least make it to Bangkok which was our first stopover. That way we would be a quarter of the way there.

It wasn’t until 12pm that we rang the insurance company and prepared for the worst. This meant we would miss 3 flights, 4 nights accommodation, a 10-day cruise and then have to claim for our medical bills and extra accommodation and new flights. This was a LOT of money to painfully claim back which would seriously be such a hassle.

By this point I was feeling ok. I had stopped being sick, but still felt a little uneasy. Matt wasn’t leaving that bathroom anytime soon. I’m guessing I got it first and it wasn’t as bad for me. Matt unfortunately just seems to always get it a lot worse.

It was then 2pm and our car was coming to pick us up to take us to the airport. Matt had stopped being sick, but was not feeling good at all. He insisted we try to make it to the airport and that we would take it one part at a time. We packed a bag full of water, tissues, plastic bags and started our 30 min drive.

Thankfully we made it to the airport, and to the gate! Now we had to wait 1.5 hours to board. This was by far the most intense hour and a half on the trip so far. Matt started to shake, and got really pale and I thought he was going to pass out, I was like. NOPE! WE ARE GOING TO THE HOTEL! Just thinking, oh my gosh he is actually going to pass out.

He rushed to the bathroom and stayed in there until the last people were boarding the plane, he came out picked up the bag and almost crawled onto the plane, like I was carrying two backpacks a handbag and plastic bag full of stuff, and he was almost crawling on the plane! I’m shocked they even let us onboard! He was so pale. But he insisted he was ok and just needed to nibble on something and sleep.

He passed out and slept through the trip, we made it onto plane number two from Bangkok, Thailand to Doha, Qatar and Matt slept all through the trip again, which was great.

We had a long stopover in Qatar before boarding our flight to Rome, and thankfully we were both fine by this point! Extremely exhausted, super hungry and so tired, but we arrived in Rome the next morning just fine. (Thankfully)

It’s funny how a trip can go from good to bad, and then from bad to worse in only a matter of hours. For us thankfully, we have just been sick from the water, no trips to the hospital yet! I guess one thing I hope you can take away from this is that sickness comes in all forms, don’t be like Matt and I and try to push through, I thought he was going to faint in the airport!

Don’t put yourselves through things like that. Yes you may lose some money and have to drag through the insurance companies on weeks on end, but try to avoid situations like these. Always have a back up plan and travel insurance is a given! If you don’t have it you are just stupid. Make sure you visit your travel doctor before any trip to places you are unsure about, get your vaccinations and buy those back up medications. I spent over $1000 on vaccinations and medications alone before and during this 12-month trip! It’s a lot of money, but has saved us a lot of worry, sickness and potential diseases.

Best medications to have for overseas trips:

  • Travelan this amazing pill you take once before every meal you may be unsure about in countries such as Asia, Africa and South America where Cholera and Giardia are common. It will kill the bacteria you eat and you wont get sick! This is a MUST if you travel to India. TAKE IT! It’s amazing.
  • Metronidazole (Flagyl) is a great medication to take if you get Cholera or something similar (cramps, throwing up, diarrhea) it should kill the bacteria in less that 2 days, but if it is something stronger like giardia it may not help.
  • That’s when you would take Tinidazole (Tindamax) a wonderful 24 hour medication that will completely clear out whatever evil bugs are trying to feed off your bodies! It is perfect for giardia, which consists of intense cramping, throwing up, diarrhea, headaches, chills, tiredness and loss of apatite.
  • Vaccinations to think about are Yellow fever – a must for Vietnam, India, and other Asian countries such as South America and all of Africa.
  • Japanese Encephalitis, this is for South East Asia and not exactly just Japan despite its name. It’s for more places such as china, Vietnam and India areas. It’s a horrible disease that can disable and mutilate your children after birth – take into note the needle goes in vertically down your arm, its painful and over $350 but a MUST especially because there are more and more mosquitos being discovered around Asia with even a case being discovered in Bali, Indonesia.
  • Oral Cholera prevention drink, this is like a fizzy lemon drink you have twice over two weeks that clears out 95%+ of bacteria you find in water (cholera) it only lasts 6 months, but I only got sick after five months so I’m guessing it did a great job up to almost six months. You can also have a vaccination, which lasts longer.
  • Malaria tablets! If you don’t take malaria tables in parts of rural Asia, Africa and South America than you are silly. Mosquitos carry this disease and it’s a world wide know problem. The pills are different prices but you can get a packet for around $10 that will last around a month called doxycycline or Malarone.
  • And always bring a packet of Panadol/Nurofen and a packet of plain antibiotics incase you get a flue or cold.

The best advice I can give is you are never prepared to get sick, but you can try to prevent it or control it with the right things. Go see you doctor, but preferably a “travel doctor” Google your closest travel doctor. For Australia’s we have a company called “Travelvax” and they are just wonderful! My doctor Alicia from North Sydney was just absolutely incredible. Yes it costs money to get all these things, but your heath should really be your top priority on your holiday. Trust me you don’t want to be sick in the middle of your trip after paying so much money to be there, take the time off work and travel all that way!

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