Hobo Tips for Getting Sick on the Road
Getting sick is one of the unavoidable trials of travel, much like mystery stains on dorm beds and over-enthusiastic drivers who want to show you their friends’ shops.
You spend an awful lot of your hard-earned travel time in close proximity to toilets, plastic bags or on the side of the road. It is by no means ideal. So here’s a few tips I’ve picked up on how to cope with the inevitable
First a disclaimer: I make bad decisions when it comes to dairy. It calls to me, it tempts me with its siren song, “Grab a spoon, champ! Let’s have a calcium-enriched party!” Just about every time I’ve gotten sick on the road has been because of some ill-advised dairy. As such, I consider myself an expert on food poisoning.
Tip 1: Embrace local attitudes
Dairy diary: it’s not a good idea to drink a smoothie from a place that only has electricity for four hours a day, especially the day before a long bus trip. The fridge does not stay cold. Neither does the milk inside it. In the smoothie’s defence, it was lukewarm and delicious.
Within the first 30 minutes on the bus, I had filled the only vomit receptacle I had access to – a snap-lock bag. Not pretty. So I sat, holding a baggie of my insides, just waiting for the inevitable next wave of milky vengeance. Turns out though, Burmese people don’t travel very often, and when they do, they are prone to travel sickness. A kindly, wonderful, god-like old lady who was sitting on a giant suitcase in the aisle said something to me in rapid Burmese. She laughed, reached over and grabbed my baggie, and flung it out the window. I gaped at her and she motioned to a few other people sitting behind us who also weren’t coping with the rollicking hills and sharp corners. They threw up into small plastic bags, actually the perfect size for that purpose, flung them out the window, and pulled out another bag, ready to go again. The old woman was talking again and thrust a handful of plastic bags and an unidentifiable fruit at me. I started to grateful-cry a little bit. Apologies to anyone who may have got hit by a water bomb of my partially-digested food, but when in Rome…
Tip 2: Avoid pharmaceutical intervention
When possible of course, I’m all for a chemical cork when you’ve got a long bus/boat/plane trip, but be warned: the aftermath is not pretty. Much like the cork on a bottle of Pleasant Valley sparkling goon, Gastrostop does wear off and the contents have to go somewhere. Plan accordingly.
Sleeping it off is also a flawed plan. There was the time on an Indian train when, thinking I was getting the flu, I downed some sleeping tablets before realising it was the room-temperature yoghurt I had for breakfast coming to get me. Dairy diary 2: Yoghurt, you delicious bastard. I can assure you that sleeping pills do not make it easy to climb down from the top bunk and use a squat toilet on a train. I don’t know how many times I made the trip to that toilet, but one trip, I encountered a kindly fellow who bravely gave my bum a pat as I passed. Had I been well and not doped up on sleeping pills, this probably would have been mild sexual harassment, but in my addled state it was a sign of encouragement. Sleeping tablets = not a good idea.
Tip 3: Be prepared
Plastic bags are your friend. Mints are your friend. Toilet paper and tissues are your friend. Dairy diary 3: Damn you, yoghurt. Really, again. In India again too. It struck during a visit to a temple, and while I’m sure the local devotees were impressed with me crouched down and seemingly praying, it was stomach cramps that struck, not divine intervention.
The temple toilets taught me that ticket stubs and receipts are a poor substitute for toilet paper. Apologies for the visual, but for god’s sake – carry tissues with you at all times. Be prepared, if not for you, for others. Nothing cements a friendship like offering a mint after someone has had a yak. Whether it be a result of dicey chicken satay or too much tequila, be the traveller you want to see in the world.
Finally, there are two good things about getting sick. The first is that first meal after three days of nothing but Gatorade and your own stomach bile. It is the best thing ever. I have the warped attitude that getting sick is like a cleanse, so for the next week, you can eat/drink whatever you want because you have been so strict with your diet.
The other good thing about being sick while travelling is that it gives you a fleeting appreciation for staying in one place. You suddenly have a near-holy reverence for toilets that aren’t moving. And as soon you stumble into your hostel, pale and sweaty, there’s always one organised dorm dweller that has a pharmacy-sized hoard of electrolytes and three-ply toilet paper that they’re willing to share/you can steal. It truly makes you appreciate shit… not literally though.