Health and SafetyPlanning

Travelling when ill


It’s hard to do anything when your body doesn’t want to corporate. You’re sneezing, coughing or wheezing and there’s a flight to catch, or a train to run after, or an early morning call that you have to take because you’ve signed up for an early day tour that you sort of now regret.

I’ve hard diarrhoea and food poisoning (fever and all) on board a plane and it’s far from a fun ride. Besides that, it’s difficult to think about what will happen the next hour, let alone the next day. What is supposed to be the time of your life experiencing loads of new things has suddenly turned to laboured prayers for a warm comfortable bed and much needed, uninterrupted sleep.

It’s possible to enjoy the trip laid out before you, but it does take some preparation. There are those who do have specific instructions about not travelling, but my concern here is for those who simply fall ill or feel very poorly while on the road.

  1. Pack medication that you can get off the counter. I have a huge bunch of them–antihistamines, anti-diarrhoea pills, cough tablets, aspirin, painkillers–and these are brands which I know and have used before, which I lug around. Some of them make their way into my hand-carry bag, just in case.
  2. Carry a doctor’s prescription for special medications especially if your supply is going to run out. If you have a pre-existing condition, this is all the more so important, especially if the emergency services in the country you’re travelling in need to know your medical history in a hurry.
  3. See a doctor in the country you’re visiting and depending on which country this is, access to medical care can be anything from easy to near impossible. Language barriers might worsen this problem. Admittedly, I’ve hardly done this and have always managed to ride out the illness, though this probably isn’t the best thing for more severe bouts that might require antibiotics or surgery.
  4. Purchasing travel insurance that has the kind of medical coverage you’re satisfied with in case you manage to land yourself in hospital. These vary greatly across the insurance companies and it’s not secret that there’s always some kind of balance between wanting the most coverage and the kind of premium you’re prepared to pay.
  5. Get up to date on your vaccines. Preventative measures like vaccines might go quite a long way in keeping you safe. A flu vaccine might be wise for the cold season in Europe, just as malaria/hepatitis A/typhoid/cholera vaccines would reduce the risks of infection.

But if you’re already sniffing and coughing and miserable about it, there’s pretty much no way out but to ride it through as valiantly as you can. I’ve found it hard to give up a particular sightseeing tour if I’ve planned it for months simply because I’m laid low by a virus. So I’ve gone on stubbornly, only to pay for again later.

All I can really say is…have loads of clean water, bland food and a less intense travelling schedule – essentially babying the body until it recovers – would go a long way to shrugging off the untimely bout of flu.

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When mining mattered


I’ve hesitated for years about Taiwan, in part due to the language which has been prohibitive for me, despite how much friends of mine have said—and extolled—about this place. This time around, I have 3 travel companions with me and planning for all of them has been a bloody pain and travelling with them, an even bigger one.

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But Taipei at least, has impressed me from the very start and reminds me (and this is a complete generalisation here) of what China might have been like had Maoist communism   not taken root in the population. I found the people polite and incredibly service-oriented, almost like the Japanese in fact and at first glance, I’d wondered if I actually stepped back into Okinawa when I caught sight of the natural and urban landscape. Despite the language barrier, many tried to speak English and for that, I am beyond grateful and totally aware that I’m behaving akin to a privileged toff in the English-speaking world. The lack of time however—being on a day tour is a timely reminder why I don’t do these things normally in a bigger group—meant that most of it was spent slowing down considerably, and missing out on things that could have been explored.

A day tour with My Taiwan Tour conveniently provided us with an English-speaking guide and a drive northeast towards the old mining towns of Jiufen and Pingxi which have long been converted into tourist attractions. But on a surprise public holiday declared by the newly-elected Taiwan president, we found ourselves on a jam-packed road with half of Taipei determined to make the most use of the day off as well. And that was the start of a long and trying day where I spent most of the time waiting or sitting in a moving bus on a journey that took way longer than expected.

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Jiufen (meaning ‘9 portions’) was originally named that way because there were only 9 families living there back in the day and ordering and hauling daily necessities simply became a matter of asking for 9 portions of all of those. From the carpark down below, it was uphill the whole way on narrow and rather steep stairs made treacherous by the sheer volume of tourists playing this route in a bid to look at the number of shops that dot these alleyways.


In Pingxi, sky lanterns are released by tourists painting their wishes or names on the thin paper who then get their photos taken as the lantern floats upwards. I spent the time hoping that no one’s roof caught fire.

I returned to Taipei, sweaty and absolutely knackered, then wondered if I could have done this on my own terms.

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