This is more or less what the inside of my head has felt like since late Wednesday… my sinuses are a phenomenon of nature…
But I made it back from Paris in one piece, and my experience in the last few days has caused me to think at length about what can be done about the risk of becoming ill when you’re a long way away from home.
First, I think that we have to all accept that it’s a very real possibility. The change in time zones, climates, length of day, food, water, and air quality can all send your systems into disruption, and one opportunistic little virus, bacteria or other malicious organism can wreck you… Realistically, travel might the time that we are most likely to become ill!
So, a smart woman would plan ahead, at least a little bit. The most obvious thing to be certain of is to carry with you a certain minimum number of “over the counter” medications – a pain reliever, something to aid sleep, a cold treatment, and an anti-diarrhea medicine. You skip that last one at your own peril… If there’s anything particular that you know you like, this is the time to portion our a 2 or 3 day supply and make sure that you pack it!
Secondly, think about what you might want with you that will make you more comfortable in your hotel room. I’m thinking about things like this:
I didn’t take a hot water bottle with me this trip, because I don’t get so cold that I can’t get the bed warmed up on my own. I DO, however, always travel with a silk pillow case; I use them because they (theoretically) keep my hair from becoming as tangled as it otherwise might, and because now I’m accustomed to the coolness and softness. If you normally use a CPAP, maybe it’s time to invest in a travel version. And if you’re not the type to rinse out your small garments and hang them in your hotel room, a small personal humidifier might go a LONG way toward feeling more comfortable.
And if you have any sense at all that you’re starting to feel bad, make certain to get the biggest bottle of water you can carry, as well as a couple of pieces of fruit, and take them back to your room. Sometimes dehydration is the culprit in a lot of illnesses, and a piece of fruit might be all that you need in the middle of the night to settle your stomach and your jet-lagged nerves…
But what about that worst-case scenario? You’re really ill…
First off, don’t try to keep it a secret from your travel companions. They won’t thank you for dragging yourself like a martyr through sight-seeing when you’d really rather be back in the hotel sleeping. And they are probably more than willing to do all kinds of things that will be helpful to you. Let them.
Secondly, don’t discount the idea of having a doctor come to the hotel to see you. House calls are very common outside the US, especially to hotels. I remember back in the very first days of the 21st century, I had a doctor come (at 2 a.m.!!!) to me in a hotel on the Lido in Venice. $27… 50,000 lira, which was SUCH a deal. And a lovely woman, who gave me a shot immediately, and wrote prescriptions, and gave detailed instructions, and wrote out the names of the things she said my friend needed to buy for me – in Italian – so that shopping would be easier. Amazing. I know that Paris has a very good visiting doctor service, and I imagine that your hotel or a pharmacist can help you find someone to come take care of you.
And lastly, consider staying a couple of days longer, in order to recover before flying or traveling. Especially if you’re having sinus issues, especially if you’re flying, this might be the only logical choice. This is why you don’t “max out” your credit card for a trip, and why you don’t take your last hour of vacation. Your hotel will almost certainly be lovely and helpful in accommodating you, either right where you are, or very close by. The airlines will be obnoxious and greedy about your changes, but you have to think of yourself in this case.
This might be an opportune time to really grasp the concept of sunk cost. A Sunk Cost, in economic terms (and in the real world) means that you’ve spent money on something that isn’t going to come back to you, no matter what. You have to make your decisions for the future with the assumption that the money is gone, and what matters is your quality of life.
It’s like this: you have tickets for a museum tour tomorrow. You’re sicker than 3 dogs. The tickets can’t be changed, nor refunded. Here’s your equation:
Let’s all of us, right now, accept that we’re not going to “get our money’s worth” out of anything that we do or see when we’re ill. Yes, the money is gone. But they money can be gone, and you can have a dreadful day (and possibly spoil it for your companions), or you can be out the money and get some rest. Which one is smarter?
The museum will be there next time!
Yes, I’m beginning to feel better. For the rest of the week I’m going to share with you what I saw in Paris last week. Even having had this hideous cold, it was a glorious trip, and I would do it again!
A big YES for classy hotels with plenty of services. Room service dinners, laundry service, child care etc. are very nice services to have at hand when things go wrong even if ideally one is a self sufficient traveller.
A big YES to leaving wiggle room in the budget.
Also, one should learn ahead what specific dangers/illnesses are a risk at the destination. Make sure that vaccinations are up to date and understand the traffic condition at the destination. Even though you are a confident at home, traffic conditions in different places can vary a lot. Exotic destination may have things like insane traffic culture, steep mountain roads, heavy snowfalls or sandstorms. In some places walking around is very difficult, in others driving is hard, and in many places public transportation works much better on paper than in practice.
Call your travel insurance company to make sure that your insurance actually covers what you think it really should. You don't want to pay a medical evacuation (or even an US hospital bill) out of your own pocket, or fight with the insurance company when you should be able to consentrate in fighting illness.
A little preparing beforehand can save one from big trouble in a strange place.
Taste of France says
You poor thing!
The full cost of a doctor's visit in France is €23; not sure how much a house call costs. But it's definitely affordable enough that one shouldn't forgo it if it's needed.
One thing everybody here seems to do for a cold is to wash out the sinuses (with little sterilized tubes of saline from the pharmacy; a big box is about €3). Also, olive vendors at the market usually sell garlic confit–kind of like pickled garlic–which I munch all winter in hopes of warding off colds. Doesn't smell as bad on the breath as raw garlic.
Patricia Gilbert says
So sorry you were sick! Yes, indeed, Paris does have a 24-hour house call service known as SOS Médecin. Here is their web page: http://www.sosmedecins.fr . I work with a summer program in Paris and have used them many times. It's about 80€ for a visit – well worth it when you feel dreadful – and you can ask for an English speaking doctor. Pharmacists in France are more like physician's assistants and are allowed to give you a lot more help. The SOS site also lists pharmacies de garde – those that are open 24-hours. There really is not much worse than feeling that you are at death's door when you can't snuggle in your own bed. Hope you're soon 100%.
Great post. These are the exact words I need to hear when I am sick. Thank you for taking the time to put them down. Feel better soon.
I'm sorry you were ill on holiday – as you say, a common time to feel unwell.
I love the photograph, though!
Oh so sorry to hear of the case of the "sickies "! It often happens to me too, with the disruption of sleep, food, rest, etc.. Lousy timing, but as you said, the museum will still be there ! Take care of you first, number one priority ! Hope you feel better much soon ! Healing thoughts coming atcha' !
So sorry you were ill – I hope you're on the mend now.
Beautiful photograph, though (would make a good capsule wardrobe basis, non?)
In case it's of use to anyone, there is an organisation that provides health information for travel and a network of English-speaking doctors worldwide. It's called IAMAT (https://www.iamat.org/) and is free to join for a year, with renewal available for a donation. I don't myself have any experience of the organisation in action – maybe other readers do – I was just "pointed" at the site from another article I was reading.
The Bride says
This topic strikes very close to home. Last year I was miserably sick during a week in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. And then this September, I sprained my ankle while hiking in England. We easily found athletic tape and a cane but the air brace I needed wasn't available in the places we had access to as tourists. Amazon.co.uk to the rescue. Amazon would have most of the things you mention above and could deliver quickly to wherever you are staying.
I also always carry a tiny kit for repairing lost dental fillings. These are available in any drugstore in the US, but not, apparently, in rural France or elsewhere.
There's also GeoBlue – supplementary health insurance that covers you worldwide and will repatriate you, if necessary.
Madame Là-bas says
I'm glad that you are feeling better. Sometimes being ill is just part of the adventure. I'm always surprised how helpful pharmacists are in other countries. I've not had occasion to visit a doctor but certainly medical care is a lot cheaper in most countries. I always travel with supplementary medical insurance (not expensive in Canada) so I could be flown home if I or my companion were ill. Take care!
Margie from Toronto says
Some very good advice Janice – and glad that you are now feeling better. I would like to suggest that "getting your money's worth" while on vacation is something that many of us should revisit. I am no longer guilty of this but I know it's a common issue with travellers – they rush from one thing to another trying to fit in 6 things in one day and don't really "see" them or enjoy them and often end up exhausting themselves so much that an illness gets the opportunity to strike. My advice is to slow down, listen to your body and adjust your pace accordingly. Fit in a nap or at least 40 winks, drink lots of fluids and find activities that don't require a 10 mile hike daily! You'll enjoy yourself a lot more and it may even help you to avoid some illnesses brought on by the sheer exhaustion of travel.
Lori @ inmykitcheninmylife.com says
Janice AND Margie (and others), GREAT advice.
Thank you, Janice, for this wise post. As I'm sick as well now, I've finally learned that my health must come first if traveling or at home. The body needs rest in order to heal. So thanks for the reminder – just what I needed to hear this morning. Janice Collins, Washington DC
Dear janice, I am so sorry you were so sick while away. And very happy that you are on the mend. What I admire is your ability to take this experience and turn it into a learning and sharing experience for all of us.
Deb from Vancouver
Janice Riggs says
I'm hoping that if we're all tremendously well prepared for ill health when we travel, that we will have magically warded off all sickness and we'll all travel in great health!
Not that I'm superstitious that way…
So sorry you got sick! But, this was an excellent post, especially the info about visiting doctors. My husband makes a habit of getting sick when we travel, so we have long since accepted that i will do a bit of sight-seeing on my own, while he sleeps. Your Sunk Cost is a good description. Usually your quality of life is worth well more than the dollars. Hope you feel much better soon.
Great prep for my next trip. So sorry you got sick but love the picture and colors – soft and warm image – very comforting. Hope you do a 4 x 4 with those colors and all that lovely texture.
Take care of yourself and get well soon.
Thank you for the reminder about visiting doctors! One of the things I carry is Umcka in tablet form. I use the liquid at home, & it works well for me.
I (fondly) remember a similar experience many years ago. I was traveling in Europe with a friend and I got a horrible cold the morning we left Switzerland and headed to Paris. I was sicker than a dog in Paris. My friend conveniently decided she was home sick and changed her flight to go back to the US. I stayed another day or two to see what I could once I felt a little better. I ended up being bumped from a flight, got airline credit, and used it six months later for a free trip to London (this time by myself)! 3 or 4 years later I moved to London, and connected with people I had randomly met on the previous trip–they became my family for two years! So, it sucked being sick in Paris, and having my "friend" leave me, but in the end it turned out pretty good!
Hoping you are on the mend. I second the importance of anti-diarrhea meds. Along with some stomach soothers. While traveling alone in London earlier this year, I suddenly became very ill. Quickly tried to get back to my hotel, but didn't make it. I am sure some guy watching the CCTV cameras at the intersection near the Natual History Museum saw more than he wanted (I did make it over to the fence…so didn't vomit right in the street–but it was close). Once back in my room, which was well-supplied since I had a kitchen, I was able to eventually recover with the help of my meds/water/tea. Not fun being sick and alone, but being prepared made all the difference.
Adaire Atkinson says
If you purchase travel insurance, it usually includes some kind of in country medical coverage;check your policy.
One trip to Edinburgh I came down with a miserable cold and spent a day resting and watching TV in my hotel. (something I almost never do at home or abroad) I found a lovely home and garden channel…and after a day of rest, fluids and enjoying the "countryside" via TV, I was ready to carry on with my trip.
One thing I'd like to suggest, if you can afford it, upgrade to first class. A cousin gave me a free upgrade she was about to lose to use on a trip to Hawaii. I caught a cold halfway through the trip. Having that reclining seat helped me sleep. And the flight attendant was checking to make sure I got up and walked around occasionally.
Susan U says
I was so sick in Paris the last time we were there–luckily it came on late in the trip, but I didn't know about visiting doctors! I would have gladly paid twice 80 euro to feel better! I had a few decongestants and nose spray, but there was nothing that could help the cough. I felt like I had the plague on the way home–a most miserable flight. I'll remember the doctors (and the pharmacists) for next time! Hope you feel better soon.
Melissa Hebbard says
So sorry that your much anticipated trip was spoiled by getting sick. It is so important to have travel insurance. They say that if you can't afford travel insurance, then you can't afford to fly!
I had the horror of being unwell on one of my walking trips. I had the most dreadful lower back pain which was only relieved by walking. This was very fortunate as our trip was to walk between towns to the next hotel! I was so lucky that I was pain free when I walked, but the pain returned whenever I sat or lay down, so I got very little sleep and staying in bed was not an option as I found that to be excruciating. We did see a doctor who misdiagnosed me. It was only on the flight home that my symptoms shifted and it was obvious that I had shingles!
Birgit Knutsen says
I travel with a Z-pack and Sudafed from my doctor. I can't tell you how many times it has come in handy for me or someone I'm traveling with. Also, I wash my hands as often as I can. Great post and lots of good advice!
Thank you for the tips! I do think about this, even for weekend trips; it depends where I'm going, and what strikes. Travelling to India, very different from Paris. Besides Sedated, I pack a prescription painkiller, for painful emergencies like toothache. (Not to avoid care, just to be able to get to dentist.) Travel insurance is a must but be sure you know your coverage, sometimes it will not cover illness related to pre-existing conditions. If you take a medication routinely, keep the list on your phone or take a print copy. Medication interactions can be scary. If going to places with iffy sanitation, take oral anti-diarrhea vaccine (Dukoral) before you go (that's how it works). Prevention is way better.
Oops that is "Sudafed"- autocorrect gremlins.
Janice Riggs says
Rats! I was loving the vision of you flying under heavy sedation! I took Benadryl before I flew back last Friday, and I was a drooling zombie; always travel with helpful friends!
Doré Way says
Janice – so sorry you've been sick. And great that you are taking care of yourself (and us with your ever-helpful tips)! Not to profit from your misery, and would you consider doing a "start with art" based on this photograph – it's gorgeous and purple is everywhere (and a fave!) Get well quick!
becky johns says
I have had good success with a product called "Flight Spray" which is a saline solution with tumeric and spearmint. It hydrates the nasal membranes and also kills any germs which happen to enter. Painless and easy, what have you got to loose by using it? I also wipe down surfaces in seat area with a germ killing wipe. I also use a pleasant smelling essential oil called OnGuard by DoTerra that boosts your immune system during the whole trip. You put it on the soles of your feet, what could be easier? I am sorry the travel cold stuck. Hope you are feeling better.
Christi Carlisto says
Oh you poor thing! Having experienced it several times, I feel your pain! Good advice all and I would ass, s a travel consultant, good travel insurance is a travel necessity, especially for international travel and in case it is something more severe and requires hospitalization or surgery or emergency transport!
I swear by AirborneI I take a before my flight, a few times during the flight and then once or twice after landing. Seems to work, I also take extra Vitamin C while I'm away. Have tried the Flight Spray mentioned and it seemed to work but now because because of continuing sinus issues, I use my Arm & Hammer saline mist several times during the flight instead. I did sting sometimes too but just for 30 secs or so. I suffer from very dry sinuses so that may why.
Hope you're feeling better soon! All the best for a wonderful Christmas and fabulous 2017!
The picture in this post is amazing!!