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What To Do If You Get Sick While Traveling

What to do if you get sick while traveling

You’re soooo ready to go on vacation. Your bags are packed full to the brim with the assortment of flowy, lightweight clothes, various hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, toiletries and way too many pairs of shoes. In your excitement, you may have over packed (just a little), requiring the use of your bum to zip your suitcase shut! But no worries, you finally got it zipped. Phew.

One thing you didn’t pack or plan for? To get sick. Because what fun would that be? No one plans to get sick on vacation.

Getting sick when you least expect it

I sure didn’t plan to get sick after arriving in Thailand. My immune system has been top notch for the last two years, so I may have started to feel a little too invincible. Colds, allergies and histamine issues be damned!

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But just a few days after landing, the fatigue crept up on me. Then came the headache and sore throat. I should have rested then, when the sickness bells were sounding, but I didn’t. Not wanting to miss out on lunch with some new found friends, I pushed through. A decision I questioned again and again the next day when I woke up feeling like a Muay Thai fighter kicked me in the gut.

Tips to bounce back from a cold quickly (anywhere in the world)

You may not have planned to get sick (and you may not have packed for it!), but there’s a few things you can do immediately to minimize your symptoms and boost your immune system.

Rest and stay put

There’s a reason I put this first – it’s THE most important thing you can do, but also the last thing I know you’re going to want to do. I get it – you’re on vacation you don’t want to miss out. You want to make the most of every single day. But by pushing through, you’ll likely prolong your symptoms. Even worse, that small cold could fester into something far worse…like oh, bronchitis.

What to do? At the very onset of a cold, take a day off and rest. No talking, lying in bed, ordering room service kind of rest. Let your immune system direct it’s energy on fighting invaders versus keeping you walking and talking.

Drink lots of water

I know this is common sense, but it’s funny how common sense isn’t always practiced on vacation. Drinking lots of water will keep your body hydrated and help thin mucous that may be developing in your throat and lungs. And make sure it’s bottled water! If you’re in a foreign country, your body might already be fighting a slew of new gut bugs.

What to do? Drink several bottles of water a day to flush your system and stay hydrated.

Gargle with warm salt water

Gargling with warm salt water can help to relieve a sore throat and reduce that scratchy, itchy feeling. The salt makes your mouth and throat (which are rampant with bacteria) a little less hospitable and prevents unruly bacteria from growing. Added bonus? It will also help with any post-nasal drip you might have.

What to do? Thankfully, salt is easily accessible almost anywhere in the world. So head to your local store, supermarket or street market and buy salt – sea salt is best. Go back to your room, warm up a cup of bottled water and dissolve 1-2 teaspoons of salt. Stir it around and gargle for a minute or so. Repeat this several times throughout the day.

Drink herbal tea

Herbs have been used for thousands of years as immune boosters, cold fighters and anti-inflammatories. Depending on where you are in the world, you could find those that are familiar and not so familiar. But don’t discount an herb you may not have heard of before. In Thailand, I visited a local pharmacy and communicated as best I could (without a voice and with lots of hand gestures) my symptoms. The lovely Thai man gave me a bottle of Fa Ta Lai Jone. I’d never heard of this herb but figured I could Google it when I got home. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s similar to Echinacea, an immune stimulant and boy did this stuff work!

What to do? Visit your local market, pharmacy or even medicine man. Herbs to look out for: Green Tea (anti-inflammatory), Peppermint and Licorice Tea (anti-inflammatory and soothes sore throat), Elderberry Tea (anti-inflammatory), Echinacea Tea (immune booster), Ginger Tea (anti-inflammatory and digestive aid) and Chamomile Tea (soothing and relaxing).

Boost your herbal tea with honey + lemon

As a kid, I remember my mom adding honey and lemon to my tea at the onslaught of a cold. She was one smart lady. Lemon not only adds it’s own antioxidants to the mix, it boosts the antioxidants of the herbs. Essential oils within the lemon also offer antimicrobial effects and help to alkalize the body. Honey will not only sweeten your tea, it’s a great germ fighter due to it’s strong antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

What to do? After preparing your tea, add 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of raw honey to your tea. If you happen to be in New Zealand or Australia, pick up some Manuka Honey, prized for it’s potent antibacterial concentrations.

Eat raw garlic

Raw garlic is the triple threat against a cold – it’s antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. Further, if you got sick from accidentally drinking local water or picked up a gut bug, garlic is a powerhouse at killing parasites and various organisms. But wait, there’s more! Garlic can also provide decongestant and expectorant effects. It’s truly mother nature’s workhorse against a cold or flu.

What to do? While this may not sound the most palatable, it simply works. Get a fresh clove of garlic and chew on it! If you have a sensitive stomach, you might want to try this after eating a meal. If that’s a little too potent for you, you can dice up the clove, let it sit for 10-15 minutes before quickly downing it with a spoonful of honey and a big gulp of water.

Steer clear of sugar, caffeine and alcohol

While the previous tips highlight what you should do, there are a few big don’ts. Namely, don’t consume sugar, caffeine or alcohol.  Sugar can completely disable your immune system for several hours after consumption. And I’m not just talking sugar in the form of candy. Remember that bread, starches, and grains all are converted into sugar in your body. So you’re better off keeping your diet light with veggies, broths and soups until your immune system is back to top notch form. Same goes for caffeine and alcohol. They’re horribly dehydrating and will tamper your immune system while you’re simultaneously trying to boost it.

By implementing these tips quickly at the first signs of a cold, you’re more likely to stop it in it’s tracks. Remember, colds are much harder to treat after they’ve had a day or two to take hold. I should know. That cold I got in Thailand lasted a few extra days because I didn’t give my immune system my full attention until 2-3 days after feeling blah. We ALL need reminders! :)


What are your favorite natural cold remedies (that are easily available!)? Let me know in the comments below!

Make sure to check out Roaming Free – A Whole Food Approach for Traveling the World Healthy, Happy and Gluten-Free for more tips, advice and wanderlust inspiration!

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2 comments on “What To Do If You Get Sick While Traveling”

  1. Hi Lisa, what about zinc tablets or the ‘Airborne’ product. Do those help at all when used in combination with your ideas above?

    • Hi Kevin – Airborne is a proprietary blend of vitamins and herbs. I don’t think there’s any harm in taking that and/or zinc at the first sign of a cold – though reports are questionable if they actually reduce cold symptoms. Personally, I think it’s always best to get your vitamins from real food, but if you feel a cold coming on, I think an extra boost in vitamins doesn’t hurt. :)