Travel is generally fun and fulfilling, but if you go travelling enough times and for long enough, you’re bound to run into one of these problems (or all of them) at some point.

Here are five common travel problems and my solutions for them.

Stomach problems and food poisoning

This is one of the most common problems to besiege travellers, especially once you venture to the tropics and to less developed countries. Even in first world nations, different bacteria, stress and fatigue can upset your stomach and bowels.

First, make sure you get all the recommended vaccines for your destination in order to avoid serious illnesses such as Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Your local travel clinic should have the latest information. Pay them a visit at least six weeks before your trip.

If you’re Canadian, there is an oral vaccine called Dukoral that you can buy at pharmacies. You can get it over-the counter (except in Quebec where a prescription is required). This vaccine, which you drink, protects agains E-coli (a very common pathogen bacteria) and cholera. Since it was introduced, I’ve taken it before every trip to a developing or third world country, and I haven’t suffered a single case of food poisoning.

Even if you are well vaccinated, you should be careful about what you eat and drink. In places where you don’t trust the hygiene or the tap water, only consume hot and well cooked foods, and of course drink only bottled water. Vegetables or fruits washed in contaminated water, or bread and pastries handled by dirty hands, can all be sources of disease.

Piping hot soup, rice + beer = safe food in Laos

Piping hot soup, rice + beer = safe food in Laos

If all you have is diarrhea, give your stomach a break by eating bland and easy to digest foods for a few days (crackers, plain rice, noodles, non-acidic cooked veggies) and it should go away by itself. If you will be away from a washroom for several hours, an over-the counter medication like Imodium (Loperamide) should do the trick. Buy it in your home country before departure.

On the other hand, if your diarrhea comes with a fever, you should consult a doctor right away. Becoming a member of IAMAT gives you access to a list of English-speaking doctors around the world. Your travel doctor at home may prescribe an antibiotic to take with you for self-treatment in case no medical help is available.

Motion and seasickness

As somebody who’s very prone to motion sickness, I’ve spent years experimenting with different techniques and medications.

In a bus, I find that sitting near the front, preferably with an unobstructed view of the road ahead is better than being cramped in the back (where every bump is amplified). If you can, recline your seat and try to sleep, or at least close your eyes. If you know, or suspect, that a ride will be especially curvy and/or bumpy, take anti-nausea medication at least an hour ahead of time, such as Gravol (Canada) or Dramamine (USA).

Boats are a more serious affair. Getting seasick is no fun. Try to be outside on a deck (fresh air helps) or at least staring out of a front window so you can see the horizon. Position yourself close to the centre of the boat and on a lower deck to minimize the motion. These rules also apply if you have to pick a cabin.

Sea-sickness is a hazard of boat travel

Seasickness is a hazard of boat travel

If you are very sensitive, you may need medication. I’m not one to overindulge in pills, but seasickness is not something I want to experience ever again. Ginger apparently helps, and in Canada you can now find Ginger Gravol which seems to be effective without the dry mouth and drowsiness side effects. If you need something stronger than over-the-counter meds, ask your doctor. In 2009, I discovered an effective remedy made by a little pharmacy in northern New Zealand that I now swear by. It bears the odd name of Paihia bombs. I have no idea what it’s made of, but it works quite well. (They do ship abroad. Let me know if you need the contact information.)

Insect bites

Depending where you’re travelling, insect bites can be merely a nuisance, or a risk of serious diseases. On top of that, some people are allergic and develop painful symptoms even from the most innocuous mosquito bite. The best solution is prevention.

To avoid insects as much as possible, try to travel to your destination during the driest time of the year. In the tropics, where cheaper accommodation often does not have screened windows, make sure that the bed comes equipped with a mosquito net. (You can also carry your own, but you are not guaranteed to find a spot to hang it from.)

Try to avoid being outside at dawn and dusk, and if you must, wear long sleeves and trousers. If you must use bug-repellent, use a product with at least 30% DEET. I have tried natural products before, such as Citronella, but never found that stuff to be effective. (If you know of a natural product that works, please let me know!) DEET is obviously a strong chemical, so I use it as a last resort.

Mosquitoes in some developing countries may carry serious diseases like malaria or dengue, so you’ll want to take appropriate measures.

If you are travelling to a country with a risk of malaria, get a prescription for malaria tablets from your travel doctor and take them! You should still try to avoid being bitten. Malaria pills are a prophylactic, not a vaccine, so you can still get the disease, although in a much weaker and easily cured form.

Dengue is another disease transmitted by mosquitoes and there are no pills for this one. Unlike malaria, the mosquitoes carrying this disease bite during the day and are found in urban areas. So cover yourself up or use repellent. Dengue is usually not fatal but can be very unpleasant and knock you down for a number of weeks. You may end up in hospital.

Put together a medical kit with all the meds you may need

Put together a medical kit with all the meds you may need

Bug bites are unsightly and itchy at best, but people allergic to insect bites develop large inflamed and painful swellings at the bite sites. A topical neutralizer like After Bite (mostly ammonia) will help stop the itching and swelling. Calamine lotion is also good to stop the itching and prevent infection. Even more effective, for people with allergies, is an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl or Claritin, which you should begin taking a few hours before going to an area where you’re likely to be bitten.

Homesickness and loneliness

If you’re travelling for a long time in places that have a very different culture from your own, especially if you’re travelling fast and on a small budget, you may get pangs of homesickness. This will most likely happen after you’ve had a trying day, or are feeling very tired. Fortunately there is an easy solution: if you miss home, just call home! And nowadays, with technology like Skype and new cell phone apps, it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Just having a chat with your friends and family will help alleviate your feeling of isolation. If that is not possible, look for other travellers to chat with. Even if you’re travelling on your own, it’s not hard to meet other kindred souls. If all else fails, write. At least I found this to be helpful for myself. Jotting down my feelings and frustrations on paper or typing them on the computer helps me deal with them. Drawing, or some other form of expression, may work better for you. And don’t forget to have a good sleep!

Use your computer to call home or record your feelings!

Use your computer to call home or record your feelings

Single supplement

Here is another issue that solo travellers may have to contend with: the dreaded single supplement. This happens when you book tours or packages, because the listed price is based on two people occupying a room. Several companies (e.g. G Adventures and Intrepid Travel) offer to match you with a person of the same gender to share a room, in order to avoid the supplement. Some cruise companies (Carnival, Holland America) are offering this as well. Some ships may also have single cabins.

If not, you could become a member of CSTN (Connecting Solo Travel Network) and look for a partner to share a twin room with through their forum.

If you really do not want to share your room with a stranger, then you’ll have to either absorb the supplement, or organize your own trip. (I tend to do the latter). If you make your own bookings, you can look for single rooms (cheaper but smaller than double or twin rooms) in hotels or hostels. There are usually very few single rooms, so you should book early if this is what you want. When booking directly, the hotel will often charge a little less for a single traveller, even if she occupies a double room.

You can also use AirBnB to find a room in someone’s house that fits your budget. Many of these rooms are double, but you’ll also find rooms with a single bed perfect for a solo traveller (and priced accordingly).

Which of these issues would you like to read more about? What other travel problem would you like me to tackle?


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