Being sick on holiday sucks. Being sick on holiday and being completely unprepared sucks harder. There is nothing worse than wandering round a city you don’t know feeling like death whilst trying desperately to find a pharmacy, but when the other option is staying curled up in your dorm room bunk in a ball of self pity this is what most of us end up doing. Unless you come prepared with a few essential med kit items that will get you back out looking for amazing experiences rather than doctors. This article is specifically for Southeast Asia though much of it is transferable to all travel.
1. Aloe Vera gel
Of course sunscreen should always always be worn in hot weather, but inevitably when you’re travelling, sunburn happens. Everyone has their go to remedy for sunburn and this is mine – aloe vera is really cooling and gets rid of angry sunburn super fast – which is great if you’re sightseeing schedule doesn’t allow you to take a few days indoors to recover. Another bonus is you can find it pretty much anywhere, though the best quality is the thick green gel rather than a clear liquid. Slap it on, give the skin a few minutes to absorb it and reapply regularly until the pink turns brown.
2. Snake Brand Prickly Heat
I have super sensitive skin and this is the only thing that makes my heat rash go away quickly. I found it in Thailand’s 7/11 but you can get it all over Southeast Asia – it smells like the talcum powder version of tiger balm. The only other thing that helps is antihistamine tablets taken daily, and preferably before a rash flares up.
This fizzy vitamin B tablets help you stay on top of your daily vitamin intake and, as my friend discovered, mosquitoes don’t like blood with B vitamins in it. Every time I take one of these in the morning, I remain bite free for a day or two! Works better than any insect repellent I’ve ever sprayed.
Having said that, if you’re going into a malaria zone it’s still worth taking malaria tablets as a precaution. It can make you feel nauseous and make your skin more sensitive, so don’t use it unless you have to – talk to a travel doctor and follow their advice.
It’s very very easy to get dehydrated in hot countries, particularly when humidity is thrown in. You loose heaps of fluid just sweating as you walk. Of course carry as much water as you can, but if that’s not enough putting something with electrolytes in it, like hydralyte tablets, into a bottle of water will make sure the fluids are absorbed. You know what also works? Salt. When you swear you also lose salt, and salt helps your body absorb fluids and maintain hydration. Long distance runners and cyclists often carry salt tablets with them if they find sweating is a major cause of fluid loss. Salt tablets are somewhat hard to find, but salty foods are not. A bag of plain salty chips has saved me a few times when I’ve sweated through my shirt and got majorly dehydrated. Crazy but true.
Food poisoning is not the nicest subject, but let’s be practical here: it will happen, more so in Southeast Asian, African or South American countries, but really it’s a risk anywhere. And it’s the worst thing that can hit you when you’re travelling by yourself and you have nothing in your bag to make you better. I got hit by bad pastrami whilst at MoMA in New York, spent two hours bring sick in a McDonald’s toilet until I finally felt well enough to venture back to my crappy hostel dorm and dose myself with alka seltzer from 7/11. You will thank yourself later if you buy some stomach settling medicine like mylanta or alka seltzer and something like gastrostop for diarrhoea so you can deal with an upset tummy as quickly as possible. A good precaution is to get into the habit of drinking a probiotic like Yakult daily – they’re really easy to find at even small local convenience stores.
7. Travel sickness pills
Even seasoned travellers get travel sickness, so it’s best to be prepared . I really like these ginger tablets because they’re natural, they work really well, and they have heaps in one pack. They can also be used to fight nausea generally, not just associated with travel. Acupressure bands are also effective, you can get them at pharmacies.
This is obviously not the most comprehensive list, and you probably will need to add or subtract according to what’s relevant for you. But hopefully these essentials will prove useful through your travels! Anything else you find brilliant while travelling? Let me know!