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How to handle sea-, altitude- and travelers sickness


Almost every traveler has been there. Becoming ill along the way. Nobody signs up for that one. Different timezones, altitudes, food, transport, hygiene. The trigger could be anything. Most of the times not severe, although often severely annoying. With these tips you (hopefully) feel better very soon!

Altitude sickness

#1 Sea sickness (also motion sickness)

Both at open sea and in let’s say a bumpy night bus (with a seriously bad driver) your body’s balance system can get confused by the irregular movements. With a headache and a turning stomach as a result. Far from idealistic. Athough some people are more sensitive to it than others, there are ways to (partly) prevent it. 

If you travel by boat for example. An amazing way to get from A to B. To prevent seasickness however it’s important to choose your seat carefully. Best outside, with fresh air and a good view on the horizon. It’s also crucial to drink enough water. And optionally take medication. Though we rather just keep our paracetamol close, because the motion sickness pills can give you a massive headache too. Lastly a mint can help as well to calm your stomach down (so that’s why it’s called Fisherman’s friend?). 

But sometimes you simply cannot do anything about the nausea. In these cases a bucket is going to be your new bestie. Luckily, vomiting can feel like a great relief from the pain. When you are done, try to lay down in the movement direction. Preferably outside, otherwise in your cabin. And if you can, try to get some sleep. This will make it easier for your body to ‘fight’ the imbalance. Make sure you don’t get dehydrated though. Pedialyte (or ORS) with coconut flavour (!) did the trick for us and was literally a lifesaver on our sailtrip to Colombia via the San Blas Islands.

It may be a bit more difficult to lay down in a bus. But choosing a seat closer to the so-called axes of the vehicle helps with stability. Best to keep your eyes on the horizon here too. Motion sickness pills or paracetamol can help. As well as a mix of sweet and savory snacks. Think soda crackers, salty natural crisps, and a few sips of coke. 

Do take it slow with the caffeine though in general. Same goes for alcohol and smoking (if you somehow manage to pull that one of in a bus).

Are you extra sensitive for motion sickness? Most pharmacies sell those little bags you see on planes. Maybe seems unreliable (I mean, paper?), but they work perfectly fine.  

And no worries, once you come to a complete stop or reach mainland you’ll immediately feel better again! A great mantra while feeling totally und utterly miserable.

#2 Altitude sickness

When you are planning to visit certain high altitude areas (starting at approx. 2500 meters or 8,202ft) altitude sickness can become an issue. Due to a lack of oxygen (the air gets thinner, the higher up you go) you may feel more tired or dizzy than usual. Other symptoms include severe headaches, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite and nausea. Kind of a deal breaker if you are about to start that beautiful hike in Bolivia or Peru for example. Or when you simply go sightseeing in a city like Arequipa, Cusco, Quito (don’t forget: you don’t have to be climbing a mountain or anything, most places in South America already happen to be high). 

The best advice is to take it easy, rest and let your body adjust to the altitude. Especially when you fly in from a place that is close to sea level (talking to you Dutchies). Spending a minimum of one or two nights in the higher altitude area really helps. Make sure you stay hydrated, but don’t overdo it (2,5 liters of water a day minimum). Listen to your body, how new age as that may sound. And calculate a few extra days on your route, hike, tour or something similar. Lastly avoid smoking, alcohol and coffee until you feel better.

No improvement yet? Consider taking some medication. The local coca tea (leaves) and sweets (that can easily be found in these areas) help as well.

If really nothing helps (bummer) or you feel it’s getting worse (while hiking for example) there is ONLY ONE option left. Descend to a lower altitude area as fast as possible. In rare occasions altitude sickness can be life threatening. So catch that first bus or taxi and go! Game over, try again later. 

We both suffered from altitude sickness for multiple days when we got to Cusco (Peru) from Lima. In our experience it’s a bit like a hangover. Without the craving for fast food. Relaxing and drinking a lot of coca tea worked best for us! 

#3 Travelers sickness

There’s no place like home. Literally. And given what you sometimes put your body through whilst traveling it’s no wonder that you can get some kind of illness along the way.

Some are more common of course. We know that all those different time zones plus hours up in the sky can mess up our rhythm: a jetlag. Or that the hygiene around the world kind of ehm varies. Meaning you could end up spending a few days next to the toilet. Not unusually running for it. Whether you bravely (and stupidly) tried the unfiltered tap water (just don’t) or already had the feeling that yesterdays’ street food tasted a bit odd. But wanted to try it anyway, because food culture is one of the best parts of traveling (guilty, I mean stamp and SPOON).

Additionally if you travel more often and for a longer period of time (like the eleven months we’re at right now) that strange, sudden fatigue kicks in. Nothing seems that interesting and all you want is a comfy place to relax. We like to call this ‘travel sickness’ and in many cases it’s sort of a mix of all the above. 

The main thing to remember is that the best thing you can do, in any illness type of situation, is to hydrate and rest. Truly.

Be kind to yourself. And your travel companion. Or at least try to (which is hard when both of you are sick, trust us we know). Go for that luxurious, slightly over budget accommodation this once. Buy yourself chocolate. Plus fruits. Watch the entire season of your series on Netflix. Order in (miso soup!). Whatever floats your boat. 

Furthermore. Wash your hands. With soap (we ain’t ya mama, but still) and make sure to bring some hand sanitizer on your trip. A useful first-aid kit too. We also take ginger with us everywhere we go (fresh if possible) to make a soothing herbal tea... or cook.

And before you know it you’ll be back on your feet! Safe travels.