Oh dear. That moment when you hear your comrade or partner in crime spewing at 4am is awful, but just thank the travel gods that it isn’t you! It sucks if your friend is wiped out by a dodgy belly or a sickness bug, but there’s only so much you can do to make them feel better… Or is there?
In Tallinn last month, we had only one full day there and I had planned to spend it with my boyfriend exploring and having birthday cocktails so I was a bit pissed by 3pm. But at 4am that morning, I heard really loud hacking gagging and retching from our hotel bathroom that woke me with a jolt.
I found him hunched over the toilet, sweating bullets and wailing, “Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, just go! Just leave me!” Poor sod. It meant that he was wiped out the next day, trying to sleep it off, and I was at a bit of a loose end. Quietly singing “Happy Birthday to me” on the cobbled streets of grey Tallinn.
But hey, shit happens and its a shame that your travel partner might be in a bad shape for a few days. Here are some tips on making sure that they have everything they need and everything they do not need.
1. Try to judge how bad it is
It can be scary if someone you care about (even if you’ve only just met them!) is badly sick – your imagination can runaway with itself. If they’re freaking out about their condition and are pretty scared about being so sick, it’s paramount that you stay calm for them and keep any of your panicked thoughts to yourself. It won’t help them.
Ask your hotel/hostel reception about the closest hospital so you have a game plan in your mind in case things get worse, but reassure your patient that it’s going to be ok and they’re not going to vom their stomach up.
2. Get them what they need
Make sure that your sick travel partner is comfortable and has a cold towel to ease any fever, then hit the streets for supplies.
Bottled water, ibuprofen, paracetamol, salted crackers, dry crisp bread and electrolytes are top of the shopping list to help nurse them. When I got super sick in Thailand with a 24 hour bug, I swear Ritz crackers saved me from a world of pain. Steer clear of anything with dairy in if they have an unsettled stomach and ask the local pharmacy for advice if you’re not sure what could help ease their pain. Collect these treasures in bulk and have it by their bedside so they can grab it easily without leaving the bed.
3. Be there for them
Imagine if you’re KO-ed and bed ridden in a strange country – it would be a bit scary, yes? Even if you barely know them and they’re sharing your dorm room, it will be hugely appreciated if you stick around for a bit to monitor their progress.
Just knowing that someone’s thinking of them can really ease the mindset of a sick person and help them relax. It’s a comfort to look across the room and see someone/anyone there – not just an empty room of loneliness.
4. Leave them alone
Once you know that they’re doing ok and they have everything they need, it’s time to vacate the room and give them some space. They’ll most probably be sleeping it off, so you can be safe in the knowledge that they’ll probably be knocked out for a while.
Go off and entertain yourself and have an explore of your surroundings… but if you are still worried about them, try not to venture far (or get lost) so you can pop back and check up on them. I whipped out my bank card and ventured into the shops of Tallinn. Luckily for me, they had some brill vintage shops which I will definitely be writing about!
5. Don’t get frustrated
Having to postpone your explorations or potentially cancel an entire day of adventures can be really disappointing, but keep your cool. Hearing you flip out about what you’re missing out on is something your sick friend does not need and it will not help any matters.
Shit happens, people get sick, people pick up tummy bugs, and it’s a shame that it’s happening on your trip… but at least it’s not happening to you! Be grateful for that and exercise your patience. Your patience may take a hammering if your patient happens to be a grumpy moaner when ill, but keep it together and let them get it out their system. Let them get it all out of their system.
6. Be prepared for the ugly
When things get bad, you might have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Hopefully not too dirty, but bodies do
weird natural things when they’re sick. Make sure that they have easy access to a bathroom, ensure the toilet paper is in abundance, make sure they have a bin (with no leaks) beside the bed. And be prepared to help them change if they accidentally spew down themselves.
Just think of all the good karma you’re banking for a rainy day…. or how much they’ll owe you for this helping hand.
7. Move on
If the sickness doesn’t budge for a while and it doesn’t negate a hospital check-in, you might need to consider moving to an accommodation that is more comfortable for their recovery. A budget guesthouse with a sad whirring fan and blank white walls to watch bugs crawl on isn’t the best, so perhaps have a look around for a place with air con and a comfy bed for your travel partner.
I don’t mean check into The Ritz, but somewhere a little more homely might really help them if they’re feeling totally crappy. Just don’t freak out about going from shoestring backpacker to glampacking as it really might benefit them.
8. Their first meal
Whilst you’re out and about, keep an eye out for something that you can bring back to them which they can slowly munch on when they’re ready for their first proper meal. Veggies are ideal as they’re probably lacking in vitamins and minerals, but mainly make sure its something simple. I would highly recommend a basic sandwich which is not drowning in sauce, or if you’re in an Asian country, a plain veggie dish (no chilli) with boiled rice is perfect.
I made a superb error of bringing Sam a vegetarian crepe. I didn’t quite think it through and it turned out the veggie option had a crap load of cheese pumped into it and a good douse of sour cream smothering it. The smell of it alone turned him green once again. But hey yo, I had two crepes to eat.
Alternatively, source out somewhere nearby and accompany them out to find a dish that suits their needs. Support both physically and mentally will be needed during their first shaky steps into the outside world!
9. Get harsh
Ok, this doesn’t quite fit into being the loving nurse that I’ve painted, but when there’s a flight or a night train/bus to catch which you cannot sacrifice, then you have to put foot to their butt and get them going. Do whatever you can to help the journey; pack their bags, carry their bags, help dress them – do whatever it takes to make sure you get that transport!
A bit of motivational speech might have them glaring daggers at you, but reassure them that it will all be fine. If that fails, ram some Immodium down their neck and push them out the door. Ultimately, they’ll be grateful to have someone to lessen their load and help them, as doing it alone is pretty scary and disorientating. Just remember the plastic sick bags, water and dry crackers… and cross your fingers.
If your travel partner is super sick on your trip, do try to support them as it can be awful to be so far away from home and feeling down in the dumps. It might be frustrating if a day of adventuring is put on pause, but time to recover is the most important thing to bear in mind! Go forth and help the healing process, my friends!