Sickness Abroad: Helping Yourself Heal

One of the worst experiences abroad can come from a seemingly innocent problem: getting sick. Even a mild cold can trigger homesickness as you struggle to cope with illness alone in a strange place. Here are a few tips to help you make it through, whether you have a twisted ankle or the flu.

Remember: when you are abroad, you can’t treat your body the same way you would at home. New surroundings, new food, and new germs mean that you need to be extra-cautious and seek help early if you’re not feeling well. Do your best to prevent and prepare for health issues: Make sure you have all your shots and checkups before leaving for your trip abroad and don’t drink unsafe water or eat questionable street food (street food should be served from a clean stand, fresh and hot).

If you’re sick or hurt it’s always a good idea to get in touch with your program provider to learn the proper procedure for health problems. Your university or program administration may be able to arrange for medical care or recommend a doctor to visit. Find out if they’ll accompany you to get help or reimburse you for medication, payment, travel, etc.

If you have diarrhea or vomiting, be extra careful about monitoring yourself. The subsequent dehydration can be dangerous and inhibit healing. If possible, drink Gatorade or electrolyte enhanced water to help replace the nutrients you’re losing. Salts and sugars will help you retain fluids better. The BRATT diet is crucial to help alleviate diarrhea: Eat bananas, rice, applesauce, tea, and toast. Avoid other fruits, vegetables, or fiber-rich food like beans.

You may have a routine that you are used to when you’re sick : certain foods you like to eat, videos you enjoy watching, and gestures like a back rub or a damp towel on the forehead. Ask your friends to help you while you’re on the mend by providing some of these comforts. Maybe a friend has a laptop that you could borrow to watch episodes of your favorite TV show, or a certain grocery store has the American soup and crackers your mom used to give you. Little things like snacks and TV can be comforting and help you feel more relaxed as you recover.

Get plenty of sleep. Don’t worry about missing out on anything- if you don’t allow your body to rest enough, it could affect your ability to participate in the remainder of your travels.

It may cost you a few extra dollars, but calling home when you’re sick can be both comforting and practical. Hearing your parents’ voices and advice will help you take care of yourself and feel less alone. Being sick in a foreign country can be scary and lonely, so try to surround yourself with the best care and friends that you can find. If you take good care of yourself, you’ll heal faster and be ready to tackle adventure again soon.

Travel Tip: If you’re concerned about adequate medical care while abroad, see about getting a membership to an organization like International SOS that can provide emergency medical and travel assistance.