Over the years there have been occasions where I have had to be more aware of my physical health when travelling internationally. These occasions have included going to Germany four days after getting all my wisdom teeth out and going to England as a visiting scholar at a university a few weeks after emergency abdominal surgery. Then there are the occasions when you contract what feels like a super bug when travelling. But there is also the need to be aware of your health when travelling internationally even with travel insurance.
I gate crashed my sister’s six-month honeymoon to spend Christmas with her and her partner. I had all my wisdom teeth out and I wasn’t going to miss this trip. I got additional antibiotics, pain medication, and carried salt sachets around so I could rinse my mouth out often. We travelled through Germany, Austria, and Slovakia and had a great time with a white Christmas in Austria. We did some awesome things on this trip we went to a lot of Christmas market – yay for gluhwein and gingerbread, we did an escape room with two other friends and saw a live ice-hockey game – so violent and entertaining.
Having my wisdom teeth out did make travelling more tiresome and I was pretty wrecked by the time I got to Munich. I made it all the way to Slovakia before my immune system betrayed me. I ended up with the flu and had to travel from Bratislava-Salzburg-Munich via train which I had to stand for the entire way. When I made it back to Germany I essentially threw my body in front of a poor German pharmacist, who to his credit read my body language and gave me drugs that I didn’t even translate. To this day I have never had such good cold and flu medication, if that is what he gave me.
I was really fortunate to be able to do a visiting scholar position last year in England, I had been unwell leading up to the trip and then had emergency abdominal surgery, but I was not going to miss this trip! I had to be more careful, I took things as easy as I could before flying out so my body could repair as much as possible. When I was travelling I made sure I had all the drugs and a letter from my doctor giving a run-down of the issues – just in case.
I had to be careful that I didn’t upset my internal stitches or give myself a hernia lifting a bag (was not supposed to lift more than 5 kilograms for 6 weeks). This just meant I had to give a bit more thought to what I did. When travelling I usually walk a lot and if not take public transport, but on this occasion my main concession was taking taxis as they lift your bag for you and I was just easily worn out. I also gave myself more time to get to places so that I didn’t have to rush.
Gastro, just when you don’t think anymore will come out of you, it does. This happened to me in my last few days in Hanoi, I know exactly the meal that did it as well. I made it through an entire street food tour, where we did have to pick out odd bits from our food, but I made the mistake of getting a Banh Mai around the corner from my hotel from a dodge store. I wanted to try the spicy mix they put on it, I knew from the moment I bit into it that things weren’t going to be good. My mistake though was not giving in and taking the drugs. I had as any self-respecting person would do going to South-East Asia brought gastro drugs with me but was concerned about it having the “opposite effect,” it took me three days to give in when I almost passed out on my bathroom floor from effectively pooping too much.
Important things to do when travelling
- Take it easy. It is hard to slow down when travelling even when you’re well but when you’re not you have to be even more aware. Take the easy option when available even if it costs a little bit of money – such as taking a taxi.
- Give into the drugs – just take them, don’t think you’ll make it through.
- Get a letter of permission from your doctor outlining all the drugs you’re allowed to carry and keep them in their packets with your labels. This is important if carrying a controlled substance. Customs will look but when you have the permission note it is all okay.
- Get your vaccinations! I didn’t get the rabies vaccination because I didn’t like the list of side effects, but you do need to be a little more careful and be prepared to get the rabies needles immediately if you do get bitten. A girl I meet on one of my cooking classes in Chiang Mai was a medical student that ran in excitement towards monkeys, guess what – they attacked her – it was kind of funny (given she should know better) but it did mean she had to get the needles.
- Travel insurance – I have never had to use it yet, but it does give you a peace of mind. I always print the policy, so I have it on hand if needed.
- First aid kit – the usual drugs but also specific ones for the country you are visiting. Don’t pack this in your checked luggage as your luggage may be delayed or lost.
- Entertainment – be prepared for a time that you might be out of action or you just need some down time. Download entertainment so you don’t have to rely on internet or one pay channel that plays the same movies on repeat.