Travel is fun but it is also strenuous when you’re constantly on the go and changing climates and timezones – falling sick is usually a reminder to slow down a little. Here’s a story I wrote for the Travel Made Different blog about that time I lost my voice and what a literal pain in the neck that was for travelling and communicating on the road.
I’ve encountered various sort of ailments at some point during my travels which thankfully have been fairly minor – flu, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, sore sinuses, sore throats and coughs, and I have an ever-ready pouch of various medicines that I carry around just in case. I’ve also found local pharmacies pretty easy to access.
But this particular time in Krakow, Poland was the first time in my life I developed some weird throat infection that caused me to completely lose my voice, and it made travelling a bit more challenging. It was also another time I was thankful to have travel insurance – I sincerely believe having some insurance plan to fall back on is quite essential and unless you’re absolutely tight on finances, you should definitely consider having some sort of insurance plan when you travel.
A version of this post was first published on Travel Made Different by Income, a source of travel info to get you wanderlusting. Republished here with permission, and some add ons that didn’t make the word count.
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 having to clear 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.
You would think not being able to speak with locals shouldn’t matter since I can’t speak Polish anyway, but it actually makes quite a bit of difference in communicating – being able to manage basic greetings and making agreeable sounds at appropriate junctures. You do seem like a bit of a weirdo if you don’t even make a sound even if you don’t speak the language.
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.
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 after a few days. 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. Other shots I got pre-career break – Hep A/B, tetanus, yellow fever (because I was considering visiting the Amazon), typhoid. Do you really need so many shots? I headed down to the Traveller’s Health and Vaccination Clinic in Tan Tock Seng Hospital for a consultation and these jabs what they recommended based on the regions I was going to visit, but you honestly don’t have to do all of them if you don’t feel they are necessary.
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 and quite easy to get. It might even be cheaper or easier to get some of this medication depending on where you are.
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. I lost my voice for a couple of days again but I was way more prepared than I was in Krakow so it was more silent sighing and less worrying.
What are your travel sickness stories? Funny ones, sad ones, gross ones – share them all with me! I know I definitely had extra sympathy for my friend Annemarie from Travel On The Brain when something similar happened to her when we met in Bucharest – check out her story about her experience.