If you are a regular on social media (and who isn’t) and have severe wanderlust like me, you probably follow a whole slew of bloggers who post absolutely perfect photographs of their ultra-glamorous travels-stylishly sunbathing on a Positano patio, sashaying in Chanel near the Eiffel Tower and baring their bikini bodies in Bali. Nothing wrong with a little Instagram eye candy.
But the reality is that the downright ugly side of travelling just doesn’t make it to the gram. Shit (literally) happens sometimes when you are jet setting around the globe.
I am sharing some cautionary tales about my personal travel troubles so we can share a laugh and more importantly so that you can avoid them.
After touching ground from a nearly 24 hour journey to Greece, I immediately set out to explore and more importantly stuff my face with lots of Greek goodies. Sticky baklava sprinkled with chocolate, ice coffee, spanakopita, Greek salad-my stomach was an empty pit, ready to receive. And it paid the price. In. A. Bad. Way.
On the second night I enjoyed a very late dinner (the Greeks like to start their meals after 9 pm), involving only one glass of wine (I promise!) and many delicious dished. One salad, so tasty, that I kept eating more, asking mid chew what the secret ingredient was tucked among the arugula. My table mate, with an alarmed look on his face, informed me it was pork. Not wanting to make a dramatic scene, I nodded my head, but inside I was panicking. Pork?! Why did I like the taste so much?!
I have been vegetarian for the last 25 years and I was nervously unsure of how my body was going to react to having this foreign substance after so many years. Guilt washed over me. What was my Mom, a lifelong veggie, going to say if she found out?
I headed back to the hotel and that’s when a feeling of dread washed over me. Without getting into too much detail, the night was long and very unpleasant and I got to know my room’s porcelain seat very well.
The next day, I mustered up the strength to get up for breakfast and nibble on some toast, passing by the bougatsa, a powdered sugar, cream-filled pastry. It was warm outside, but I wrapped a pink shawl around my hunched shoulders and slithered my way through an informative afternoon visiting ancient archaeological sites. On a normal day, I would have been completely pumped to see the detailed mosaics and marble statues, but not this time. As the guide was pointing out the old Greek potties and remarked at the ingenuity of building such a complex sewage system, the rumblings in my gut became harder to ignore. I excused myself and went back to the main building to use the museum’s washroom. Down a twisting staircase (not helpful when you are already dizzy), I opened a dank stall, only to find a hole in the floor on which to squat over. “Shit,” I muttered to myself. I gave a second stall a try and was relieved to see an actual toilet. As I was washing my hands, a massive stray dog casually strolled by, completely ignoring my presence and plonked itself down on the cool floor in a stalls.
I mustered up the strength to go to the next museum-this one out in the middle of nowhere. The site was spectacular. Mountains hovered in the crisp, blue sky. As I admired a chiseled statue of Aphrodite, the guide rushed over to me. “You look like you are going to faint, you must sit down right now,” she urged.
I sat outside and felt the world spun around me. I hunched over, clutching my midsection, praying for an end to whatever this awful bug was doing to me.
I stumbled like a drunk sailor to the bathroom. I swear if a cop had pulled me over, I might have failed to walk in a straight line. That’s just how dizzy I felt.
Once again, there was a hole in the ground. But this time I simply didn’t give a damn. I crouched down over the dark pit and placed my hands on either side of the tiled walls for added balance. I felt like the whole cubicle was rotating and I thought, if I faint in this stall, so very far away from home, how will my parents ever find me? Your mind goes into crazy land when you are sick in a foreign country.
Doctor Don’t Know
After days of suffering, I finally gave in and asked the lovely hotel concierge to call me a doctor. She looked at me with concerned eyes as though I was a sick puppy and hurriedly called not only a doctor, but a pharmacist to help. The doctor poked at my stomach and determined that I had caught a virus which could be rectified with probiotics and a whole ocean’s worth of water to flush out the bad guys.
This was supposed to be a dream trip of a life-time. Two weeks in Europe-my favourite continent-but instead it was turning into a nightmare and all I could think about was my comfy bed in the lonely suburbs. I felt so icky that I even vowed that I would never travel again. I would resign myself to life in the bland burbs and just accept that I would only see the big, wide world through other peoples’ social media posts. “You will be back on a plane again soon,” laughed my sister over a text. She knew my inability to resist the travel bug.
Somehow I managed to get through the airports alone and fly off to Malta right after Greece. For a day, I actually felt a bit better. Food was staying put and I was able to walk a little straighter.
I had scheduled a day trip to the beyond-blissful Blue Lagoon, a paradise of tranquil turquoise water. Maybe it’s the sea maiden in me, but I was fine on the boat ride and then floating the day away in the Mediterranean. But the minute I set foot on land, my sailor’s legs took their grip. I wobbled and whirled. Even sitting on a chair was difficult. I felt like the world was on an angle and I was about to slide off.
Off to the hospital I go. It was time to call in the big docs to hopefully finally fix me up and send me on my way a healthy woman once more. As I signed in at the receptionist desk, I was surprised to learn how affordable this impeccable hospital’s treatments cost. Only 6 Euros to see a doctor? Sign me up!
Doctor number two, repeated the Greek doctor’s diagnosis and prescribed me electrolytes. A few days later, when the world was still spinning like a Ferris wheel on speed, I went back. The third doctor checked my blood pressure and sugars. She attached round stickers to my chest and watched the movement of my heart rate. All normal. I looked her deep in the eyes and pleaded with her. “I’m too scared to even get back on the plane and make the long journey home alone.”
She looked like she understood. A glimmer of hope flickered inside me. Instead she prescribed me anxiety medications, which I did not take. I was actually starting to question if I would ever feel normal again if all of these seemingly well trained doctors could not fix me.
Once I finally staggered my way home, my family doctor told me that I had a case of vertigo, easily remedied with a simple pill that relived my symptoms and stomach upset. I was thrilled beyond belief after two weeks of intense suffering.
Rajasthan feels like it is straight out of an Indian fairytale. Shimmering palaces float on sparkling lakes, ancient forts sit like jewels on the top of craggy hills. My sister and I bargained in tiny shops selling clinking, colorful glass bangles and delicate paintings of regal ranis. But that day, Delhi belly paid a visit. I sat on the edge of a bustling Udaipur street with my head in my hands. A stray dog wandered by, lapping up the stream of water/urine that trickled down the sloping gutter. I made it back to my royal throne that evening without having to join the canine in his outhouse.
Double Decker Danger
Not all my travel troubles involve gut gripes. My son is a good boy with a cheery smile and a generally happy personality. But that wasn’t so a few years ago. He went through a defiant stage, when he would throw tantrums and make me question my sanity. My entire family lives in London, so off we went to celebrate a cousin’s wedding. “We are going to go see castles, eat lots of yummy biscuits and ride on trains and buses,” I said to my son.
England would be a fun little adventure for the growing boy, just like it was for me when my parents used to take us as kids.
My cousin, sister and I took the little chap on a double decker bus, assuming he would enjoy the adventure. But he wasn’t in the mood. He whined and cried, eventually clamping his corn-chip-size teeth deep into my upper arm for no apparent reason. Withholding my scream of agony, I hissed, “We are getting off this bus right now!”
A concerned stranger asked me, “Are you alright?” I replied, “No I am not,” as I yanked the little guy off the bus.
How to Have a Travel Bug and Stress Free Trip
Despite these difficulties, I would not hesitate to jump on a plane so I can sit up high on a double decker bus, jump off a boat into the Mediterranean or take a train ride through Italy. The world is a big and beautiful place to explore and I am not going to get worried sick.
Always carry Pepto-Bismol (the pill form since large liquids can’t go onboard) or Imodium to slow down any tummy upsets and powdered electrolytes to combat dehydration relating to a traveller’s bug. If you are going on a long plane, car or boat journey, keep motion sickness meds at hand. Stash this medicine cabinet in your carry-on. You never know when you might need to pop a pill.
Buy travel insurance. If you end up seeing a doctor abroad, keep your receipts and your insurance will reimburse you.
Stick to Bottled Water
You can never be too careful. Now I always ask for bottled water and do not open my mouth in the shower. Only drink hot beverages and nothing with ice cubes.
Eat the Carbs
Avoid salads. As yummy as the crunch of a fresh cucumber in Greece or that bite of the bursting tomato in an Italian Caprese salad may be, I avoid it. It may not be overly healthy to binge on carbs all week, but I figure all the walking I am doing balances things out.
Even though it is pricier to get foreign currency at your bank, I find that it’s best to atleast get a little bit to keep on hand in case of emergencies and to pay for possible doctor’s visits. In my case, I gave the Greek doctor some Euros and he was nice enough to walk over to the pharmacy for me to buy me the medicines.
Debit and Credit Cards
Call your bank and tell them you are travelling that way they know you will be pulling out foreign cash once you reach your destination. Be sure to include any countries where you will be stopping over. I ended up buying various different medicines in India, Malta and Greece hoping that something would work.