How to avoid falling sick on vacation

By Jaclynn Seah, 03 November 2017 1049


Falling sick on vacation is one of the worst things that can happen to you on a trip. Here's what happened to me when I not only fell ill while travelling, but completely lost my voice and the ability to talk.

It all happened within the span of a day - I had arrived in Krakow, Poland the night before and was still having normal conversations in the morning with people I met on a group walking tour. As the hours went by, so did my voice - I found myself clearing my throat and getting steadily hoarser as the day went on, and by nightfall, there was barely any sound coming of my mouth.

It was like my voice was suddenly locked away - I attempted screaming but my throat was so congested that nothing but a breathy sigh stuttered painfully passed my lips. It was a bit shocking how quickly I was laid low by this illness as I tried fruitlessly to get some sleep that night, a task surprising difficult for the discomfort in my throat.

Luckily I had a travel insurance plan that covered doctor's visits overseas, and my hostel receptionist managed to find me a nearby doctor that spoke English. My doctor was amused at my breathy attempts to explain what was obviously wrong and diagnosed me with a throat infection, prescribed me some medication and a reminder to rest my throat.

The next few days were spent in relative silence, communicating mostly through apologetic shrugs or very hoarse whisper-shouts, which is hard when you are sightseeing and trying to make friends in a social hostel setting. Keeping quiet makes you appear aloof and unfriendly, but trying to talk to people was painful for my throat and sometimes people looked a bit worried about catching what I had.

Combine that with the physical discomfort of a phlegm-clogged and sore throat, I decided to indulge in more me-time for that particular part of the trip until my voice returned, and spent my time in Krakow roaming around the streets and sights on my own. Ordering food or asking for directions were made mostly with a sheepish smile and pointing, or typing into the handy Google Translate app. Just a few hoarse attempts at speaking usually made it clear why I was being so quiet.

Street Art in Krakow, Poland. Photo by Jaclynn Seah

And thankfully my throat did get better after some rest and medicine over the next 2 weeks, and I was able to join in conversations again and revert to my usual friendly self. Falling sick while travelling is never a fun thing but it's a timely reminder that you need to take care of yourself whether you are at home or on the road.
Here are some tips I have learnt from my past travelling experience for staying healthy on the road. Sometimes falling sick or catching a bug is unavoidable, but there is quite a lot you can do to minimise the chances:

Get your necessary vaccinations pre-trip
  • I recommend a flu shot at least 2 weeks before your trip. Flu might seem like a minor thing but if you can prevent it, why not? This vaccination lasts for about a year

Paying extra attention to hygiene
  • Simple habits like regularly washing your hands, using hand sanitizer or wearing a mask can go a long way in preventing yourself from falling sick. I carry a simple first aid kit with basic medication like paracetemol (for headaches), antihistamines (sinus and minor colds), charcoal pills (diarrhea), but all this medication and more is usually available in pharmacies in most major cities. It might even be cheaper or easier to get some of this medication depending on where you are.

Constant self-care
  • Sometimes we get caught up in the excitement of travel and forgot to ensure simple things like drinking a sufficient of water, getting enough rest because of changing time zones. Travel can be hard on the body, and while you want to maximise your holiday, make sure not to do it at the expense of your own health.
It wouldn't be the only time I would lose my voice while travelling - it happened again some months later when I was travelling in Peru. I could feel the onset of the bug coming on, that scratchy feeling growing in my throat and the alarming amount of phlegm I was hacking up.

This experience and having a travel insurance plan definitely helped me feel more prepared and less vulnerable to falling sick while travelling. Besides covering doctors visits and medicine costs, Income's Travel Insurance plan also covers costs for other physical injuries that you might sustain on the road, something worth considering for peace of mind.