Sick in Bed

When You’re On The Road, Sick & All Alone

Derek Romania, Travel Tips & Advice 59 Comments

Sick in Bed
For the past week I’ve been battling the flu as well as the idea that I’m currently in the midst of experiencing my first real winter in over ten years. Even as I type this post there is an actual blizzard taking place outside, yes, a blizzard.

Bucharest is covered in snow, my nose is clogged and I’m stuck inside because I don’t own any boots.

This is the life of a traveler.

Of course, it is my choice to be in the middle of Eastern Europe during the middle of winter. I take full responsibility and I don’t regret for even a second this decision. I’m here because I want to be and if I do make it out of this winter alive, then I’ll add this experience to the list of the most incredible feats I’ve achieved in my decade plus on the road.

As for the flu, it certainly sucks being sick while away from home. Luckily for me it sucks a bit less since I don’t have a home to be away from. I don’t find myself spending hours alone in my room dreaming of my comfortable bed, of eating my favorite foods or of being taken care of and tucked into that bed by my wife.

It does so happen that I have some friends here in Bucharest and I’m actually staying with one of them. And her efforts to feed me endless bowls of chicken soup, platefuls of chocolate crepes and the occasional shot of homemade elderberry liquor have certainly helped make this the most bearable bout of the flu I’ve ever had to deal with.

And when I walked right into a wall in the middle of the night while in a state of complete delirium it was admittedly nice having someone direct me back to my bed.

But what if you are on your own, stuck in a blizzard or monsoon rains in the midst of your travels, completely sick as a dog and without a single person to comfort you? This definitely is a part of travel and it’s not exactly the most enjoyable part as you might imagine.

Over the years there’s been a couple of times when I’ve been sick and all alone in some random destination, times when I would stare out the window and wonder if I would ever feel better again or if achieving my travel goals was actually worth the suffering I was experiencing at that moment.

In general, I would deal with my sickness by rolling around in bed moaning in agony, shuffling outside once a day to grab the quickest food possible and trying to think how long it would take for someone to notice that I had died in my little hotel room.

But again, here in Bucharest I’ve been spoiled this time around. However, as I ate yet another bowl of delicious chicken soup, received yet another neck massage and downed another shot of elderberry liquor this afternoon, I did start to imagine what I would have done if my friend was not around.

What if I was on my own and terribly ill, stuck in some faraway town, unable to speak the language, wanting to do nothing but curl up and vanish from the Earth?

Any advice? What have you done when you’ve been sick on the road and found yourself dreaming of home? How do you think you would survive such a situation?

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Comments 59

  1. Pingback: How To Survive An Eastern European Winter (Video) - Wandering Earl

  2. Sandy

    Hi Earl, i felt great reading about your travel experience.. It makes me feel even good when i think that someone leaves behind all the materialistic things in life and goes wandering around places. I must say you’ve followed what your heart said and you have done it!! I wish you good luck for many more adventures coming your way. And when your desires are true and genuine, u’ll encounter with good people, who are willing to help if your sick, i guess that’s why you found a friend who cared for you.

    “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”

  3. Sabina

    Last year I got sick a few times but was already staying long term most everywhere, so I didn’t miss anything. Half of my time in Melacca, Malaysia, for example, I didn’t feel good at all so I stayed in, but I still had plenty of time to explore after I got better. I suppose this is one more argument for staying in different places long term rather than just flitting through. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Sabina – It is a good argument as there is no denying that life is much easier when you get sick while you are already comfortably set up somewhere. When you’re sick and on the go or you need to look for a guesthouse to rest in, that’s when it becomes frustrating to the point where all we can think about is going home!

  4. Waegook Tom

    This happened to me once…after I recovered, I was so fed up that I booked a flight home! 24 hours of non-stop vomiting and not being able to keep ANYTHING down – water, fruit or pepsi (now that was interestingly coloured barf) – followed by six days of going to the toilet every 30 minutes due to diarrhea killed my trip, and all I wanted to do was be with my family for my birthday which was the next week.

    If it ever happens again, which it undoubtedly will, then hopefully I won’t be quite as flighty!

  5. crazy sexy fun traveler

    Hm I get sinusitis at least once a month ALWAYS and some of them are so bad that I really wish to be at home, on my bed and with my mum taking care of me. I hate it when it’s in cold destinations because it’s much worse and I can’t pretty much do anything for some days … hence I try to choose hot destinations to deal with it easier 🙂

  6. Pingback: Blizzard Cold « From Here to Bulgaria

  7. Joe

    If it happened to me, I’d remind myself of the days I had to worry about producing a medical certificate so that I didn’t have to forfeit my annual leave (because I hated seeing the doctor). Someone was dictating terms for more than half of my existence on earth i.e. how many days’ leave I deserved, what time I should clock in and out, whether I got to have a public holiday, etc.

    I’d feel ecstatic immediately.

    1. Earl

      Hey Joe – I can certainly see how that would change your mood right away. Sometimes that’s what it takes, to just remember how lucky we are despite being sick at that moment.

    1. Earl

      Hey Lane – I have drank a good amount of OJ over the past week actually. Just finished my third bottle this morning. And I do feel better now…even managed to spend a few hours outside today!

  8. Jill

    I found out I was violently allergice to mangoes, in Calcutta. I spent 2 days lying on my bed trying to breathe through my swollen throat. I think I staggered out once or twice to buy food and water with my red rashy hands, and then came home to collapse. By home, I mean dorm of 14 with fans so slow you could watch them go around and not get dizzy.
    18 years later, the challenge is what to do when all 5 kids are sick at the same time as the two of us. The answer this week seems to have involved a lot of milo and watching monty python on youtube…

    1. Earl

      Hey Jill – Well, that’s a remedy that would help anyone, anywhere! That must have been crazy to learn about that allergy while in Calcutta of all places. Must have been one terrible experience…and without a laptop then I guess there was no Monty Python to get you through it all. Hope you all start to feel better yourselves!!

      1. Jill

        Thanks Earl!! We are feelig better!
        BTW, we are the Australian family from Perth that invited you over for a beer, and then forgot we were out of town for the weekend.

        1. Earl

          Glad to hear all is better by you too Jill! And yes, I remember your invitation 🙂 I have no doubt I’ll be back in Perth at some point again as I can never seem to stay away from Australia for very long. So perhaps we will have that beer one day!

  9. Lani

    Hi Cousin Wandering Earl – you’re right – just hearing Mara’s voice did make me feel better! And I hope you’re feeling much better also. I would go back to New Zealand in a heartbeat but next time – NO FLU! I think it should be impossible to get sick while traveling – work on that, will you? Love.

  10. Gemma

    I guess the advice I would give is to try and make yourself as comfortable as possible, if there’s anything I hate more than being ill and away from home, its being uncomfortable with it as well. It seems that you don’t have that problem with all the chicken soup and neck rubs though!

    The only time I’ve been properly ill when I was away was a cruise around the Mediterranean, at the time I was about 8 and had terrible seasickness the entire time. All the food on the cruise had a strange liquorice taste to it so I didn’t eat anything. On top of that we were away for Christmas on the cruise which made me feel homesick! 🙁

    1. Earl

      Hey Gemma – Being comfortable is definitely important and if there’s ever a time to splurge on a nicer hotel room and eat some nicer food, it’s when we are sick and all alone on the road! Your cruise experience doesn’t sound too fun at all but hopefully you haven’t had many more illnesses to deal with on your travels…

    1. Earl

      Hey John – Well, tonight I’ve switched from homemade elderberry liquor to homemade wine, so that’s a start! Hope things have been going well for you in 2012!

  11. mmz

    This is from my mom, in the hopes that it can help any of your readers who find themselves in New Zealand with the flu:

    Hello Cousin Wandering Earl. I hope you are feeling better soon. Lucky you are with friends who can watch over your delirious wanderings. A few years ago I was in New Zealand driving a camper van around the South Island. Woke up one morning with a very sore throat; went to the pharmacy and got some lozenges (no doctors available). I was headed to the Southern Alps and had to stop en route to take a nap because I felt so lousy (hooray for camper van – just yanked out the pillows and blanket and slept at a picnic ground). By the time I got to the campground I was really feeling lousy but tried to tough it out. No such luck – finally took my temperature which was over 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Spent several minutes with my fevered brain trying to convert that to Centigrade before I decided it would not matter if I died before I got to tell someone! Went to the campground registration desk and told them I was really sick and needed a doctor. Imagine my dismay when I was told the nearest doctor was further away than the town I had driven from that morning! There was a regional nurse, however, if they could track her down. By then I was planning to hijack one of the helicopters they have for flying tourists over the glaciers and make them take me somewhere with doctors! Luckily they found the regional nurse. Unluckily, when I spoke with her on the phone she decided I was just a cranky American hypochondriac. However, she agreed to see me in town at the community center. I was afraid to drive the camper van so I walked over a mile into town, found the community center, and the nurse walked in. She took one look at me and said: “Oh, you really ARE sick!” She gave me some disgusting stuff to drink as I was very dehydrated, advised me to cancel my scheduled glacier hike for the next day, told me to call her if I got worse, and sent me on my way. I was never so happy to see anything as I was to see that campervan and I did not budge out of it for two more nights by which time my schedule was a little messed up but I was recovered enough to continue my travels (which included meeting up with your cousin (not mine) and her family who were living in New Zealand at the time!) Oh, at some point, speaking of delirious wanderings, I called my daughter, your cousin, in the U.S. at something like midnight to let her know I had the flu. Not sure what I expected her to do but there’s something to be said for letting SOMEONE know. When I went to check out, the woman in the campground office said she could tell I was better because when I had come in looking for a doctor I was so hot I was radiating heat and she was afraid I was going to melt the phone! All’s well that ends well!

    1. Earl

      Hey Mara – That’s an insane story! I definitely didn’t hear that one before…but that’s really the perfect example of how crappy it is to get sick while alone on the road. So I wonder what you did when she called you at midnight??? I’m sure just hearing your voice made her feel better…

      Tell you mom thanks for sharing her tale!!

  12. Dereks Mom

    If you were here, I would make you some chicken soup and make you some tea…Glad to hear that your friend is doing that for me !!!! stay warm and feel better and try to enjoy the snow..Miss you…

    1. Earl

      Thanks Mom! I’m feeling better today but I’m not sure I can enjoy the snow…it was nice for an hour. Now, five days later, it’s a bit much!

  13. Kelly

    I was lucky enough to have befriended another solo traveller about an hour before being hit with altitude sickness on a recent trip to Peru. Our bus had stopped at the 4900m Mirador De Los Andes in the Altiplano, and it was just too much for my system. Being alone and not knowing what was happening to me (or worse, what could possible be yet to come) terrified me! As the hotel had no wifi, I was unable to get a message out to friends or family at home about what was going on; Id never felt so alone in my life. Kindly, my new friend got me a heater for my *very* cold room, sat with me while the hotel concierge gave me an oxygen mask, then basically made sure that for the rest of our 2-day excursion that I was ok and had everything I needed.

    1. Earl

      Hey Kelly – Wow, that was lucky to have met such a nice person who was willing to help you out. While there are of course nice people out there, it can’t really be expected that a complete stranger will come to the rescue like that. Glad you were okay for the rest of the 2 days and weren’t left to fend for yourself!

  14. Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    I have been lucky to only experience sickness twice in the past 15 months on the road (food poisoning in El Salvador and a terrible cold that lasted two weeks in BA). There is nothing that makes you feel better if you have food poisoning besides checking into a hotel for some privacy and comfort. For every other sickness, chocolate is the answer. And it sounds like you’ve already got that 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Stephanie – Chocolate has worked quite well I must say 🙂 One way to feel better if you have the flu is to be thankful that you don’t have food poisoning. As you know, that is perhaps the worst illness to get when on the road. I’ll take the flu over that any day!

  15. Gunes AKDOGAN

    The best way is not to be sick. Protect yourself and take care of what you eat. OK I know it’s hard while travelling but some small things will give you advance of staying healthy.

    Take care of yourself Earl. Try to eat honey 🙂 It helps a lot.

    1. Earl

      Hey Gunes – I agree with that! Although, sometimes it’s quite difficult to avoid. And I have been drinking some hot tea with honey this week…I learned about the benefits of honey while slightly ill in India one time and ever since it’s one of the first things I turn to when feeling sick!

  16. A

    That’s the time when you are really feeling alone, you got lucky someone take care of you. If this happened to me I will scared, but that feeling post to make you a stronger person?

    1. Earl

      Hey A – That’s right, once you do survive and you finally feel better, you do become a stronger person and your confidence grows as well. So the next time it happens, you don’t feel as scared and alone…

  17. Tim

    Usually, when I get sick, I get extremely home sick. And it gets worse when I talk to people I like or care about.

    When I was backpacking thru the US and was in bed sick somewhere in a cheap motel with Wifi access. I decided I had to contact the most annoying person in the world. It was the best decision in the world. After a cruel hour of skype conversation, I was extremely glad to be in my crappy motel room.

    1. Earl

      Hey Tim – Haha…that’s a great tip and definitely not one that I’ve ever thought of! I shall give that a try the next time I’m alone and sick for sure. Your comment alone has already cheered me up…

  18. kim

    Earl,
    I hope you are feeling better. I wondered if you were goofing us because the person in the pic doesn’t look like you. I am always heartened to hear from you because you share the ups and downs of traveling alone. Keep sharing your experiences for the rest of us so that we may learn from you. Best wishes, Kim

    1. Earl

      Hey Kim – Believe me, you don’t want a photo of what I looked like this week 🙂 And I shall continue to share the good and the bad of this lifestyle…luckily, there’s always more good than bad!

  19. Julie S

    Just wanted to wish you a speedy recovery! I follow your blog every week, and live vicariously through you (for the mean time). So I am sending you good, healing vibes all the way to Romania (plus some distance reiki for good measure). Take good care of yourself!

    1. Earl

      Thanks for that Julie! I think your healing vibes arrived right on time (and managed to make it despite the continued snow!) as today has been the best I’ve felt in a while 🙂

  20. Andrew

    And I was reading along with this post, agreeing the whole way thinking “aha! Earl will know the answer!”…

    My girlfriend and I got bailed up quite sick in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. That age old truth of eat where it’s busy, and be weary of seafood in the low-season, they weren’t lying!

    So after making it back to Phnom Penh on a day bus, (all sorts of glorious smells, sights & sounds) I drew the short straw to find us some water and bananas and a hotel.

    This is probably my biggest worry about travelling solo, who’ll look after me if I’m sick from a bit of unidentifiable street food! (I’m hoping someone chips in with the answer in the comments section)

    1. Earl

      Hey Andrew – Well, I can tell you that when heading to India, it probably is wise to carry the necessary food-poisoning/Delhi belly medications with you at all times. You’ll be able to purchase the main meds (ORT – a powder you mix with water / Noroxin or Cipro for more serious cases) at any pharmacy in Delhi once you arrive and it will cost almost nothing. This will eliminate the need to go out searching for help if you do get sick. But at least it’s quite easy to get plain naan bread and rice if you do get sick which will help as well.

      Also, if you do get sick, it’s quite easy to splurge for a nicer hotel to give you some extra comfort. In most parts of India, spending $30 or $40 USD will get you quite a nice room in a hotel where the staff just might be willing to help you out as well!

  21. Heidi@Great Family Escape

    Hmm… good question. I guess I’ve been focusing on the fact that I’ll BE the chicken-soup-maker… I did have a terrible bout of food poisoning while on an overnight bus from Guandong to Hong Kong a decade ago. Although my husband was with me and nursed me through the border crossing (i.e. held my place in line while I made frequent trips to the squat toilet), there was no room for him in the tiny bus bathroom overnight, and all I saw of Hong Kong was the inside of our tiny hotel room. All in all, it wasn’t too much different from being sick at home and the distraction of the changes in scenery probably helped keep my mind off of the illness. I’ll also add that, whenever possible, try out the local pharmacies too. In China I found all kinds of great remedies that I wish I could find now at home. Elderberry liquor sounds like a great alternative to Nyquil:) Hope you feel better!

    1. Earl

      Hey Heidi – Haha…it is absolutely a great alternative. Elderberry liquor is almost too good. It’s hard to put it down given it’s seemingly therapeutic qualities! I like your advice about going to the local pharmacies as you’re right, most of the time you will be given some sort of remedy. It might not be what you’re used to back home but it’s always worth a try!

  22. Steve C

    Sick happens! Flew into Kathmandu from Dhaka and spend the first week in bed nursing a stomach/ whole body thing. As just about everyone gets sick in Nepal or India at one time or another, I was pretty lucky as that first week was my only down time, and it was probably brought in from Dhaka. I still laugh about being in Kathmandu for a whole week without seeing any of the sights. I was also lucky having a travel partner to go get me plain white rice and fruit juice to live on. And, to go get me the new “Newsweek” so as not to go crazy. (pre laptop days) Hope you’re feeling better and staying warm.

    1. Earl

      Hey Steve – That is quite lucky actually! And at least you were in a big city where you could find some comfort. Imagine if you were in the middle of nowhere with no Newsweeks around!! I guess you need to get back to Kathmandu at some point 🙂

  23. Jessica

    The walking-into-a-wall reminds me of the one & only time I had a fever high enough to cause delirium (turned out I had the measles). I “woke up” only when the friend who was staying with me asked why I was spreading out sheets & a pillow on the dining room table in the middle of the night, & I replied “Because you told me to sleep here.” Lucky for me I wasn’t under the impression she had instructed me to go pick up some milk at the corner store.

    So, yeah. Glad you had someone nearby to walk you back to bed, E. Feel better soon.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jessica – That might be more than temporary delirium my friend…have you ever been checked for complete insanity? Suddenly walking into the wall doesn’t seem so bad.

      But seriously, I’m glad that was only the measles!

      1. Jessica

        Have I been checked for insanity? Of course not. Never ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer. And when you know the answer is “you’re nuts,” then you REALLY don’t ask the question. First rule of continuing to pretend one is a functioning member of society, dahlink.

  24. Christine

    Ahhhh I HATE it! To be fair, I try to travel with all of my go-to sick meds from home–Dayquil, Nyquil, etc–and so I feel a little less far away when I’m taking those same familiar capsules and drinking camomile tea. I always usually call my mom and grandma and whine in my delirium about how much I miss them and homemade chicken noodle soup. High priority on the homemade chicken noodle soup.

    1. Earl

      Hey Christine – I was talking with my friend about chicken soup. It is incredible how, in every country in the world it seems, homemade chicken soup has become the remedy of choice for those who are sick. I consider myself quite lucky to have had access to some during this current bout of the flu!

      And hopefully you haven’t had to pull out your bag of meds too often on your travels 🙂

  25. Jan

    If I could choose the destination to be sick in (I am talking flu – not serious stuff), I would choose a family run guesthouse in Asia. It is my experience that they are concerned for your welfare and will do their best to help.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jan – That would indeed be a good place to get sick as yes, it does seem to be that such a family is often very caring and willing to help out their sick guests…

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