WISS – Dealing with Sickness while Traveling Abroad

If you travel enough, you’re bound to get sick. Some of the most common symptoms we encounter on the road are diarrhea, vomiting, and as a result general dehydration, often due to a stomach illness or our body’s extreme reaction to something we ate or drank. I’m no exception to this rule – I recently spent a full night in Havana endlessly vomiting in my hostel bathroom with some bonus diarrhea the next day, and I was unable to keep any new food or drink down for around 15 hours. It wasn’t any fun.

Getting sick like this can be dangerous, but lucky you! I’ve come up with a simple acronym that can help you recover safely. Just remember WISS, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time!

WISS

  • Water (filtered)
  • Imodium (Loperamide)
  • Salty foods
  • Sleep / rest

Water (filtered)

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Drinking water is extremely important! Excessive vomiting or diarrhea expels a large amount of fluid from your body and puts you at risk of hypovolemic shock, a state in which your blood vessels aren’t carrying enough liquid to properly pump blood to your organs. You could die if this state persists.

So make sure that you keep drinking (filtered) water between bouts of sickness.

Don’t drink too fast – it’s not a race. It may not always stay down, but you need to keep drinking anyway.

Imodium (Loperamide)

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Imodium, a brand name for the drug Loperamide, is an anti-diuretic. By putting a stop to diarrhea, you keep more fluids inside your body. This should make your recovery easier to manage, though it may not speed it up. Having Imodium on hand is what I would consider an ‘ideal’ situation as it can greatly reduce the amount of time you spend on the toilet, but it’s okay if you don’t have any (which often occurs). You’ll survive – but it won’t be pretty.

Warning – Do not take Imodium if you are vomiting! It can make the vomiting worse.

Salty Foods

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Foods with sodium or potassium (like bananas!) help replenish your body’s supply of electrolytes. Electrolytes are crucial in the rehydration process, and it’s difficult to regain lost fluids without them. Salty foods are an easy choice for shoring up your electrolyte reserves, and getting some nutrients into your system is never a bad thing when you’re sick. However, limit your eating to an amount you can comfortably keep in your stomach (which may not be much). If anything comes back up, do your best to replace it, but know your limits.

Sleep / Rest

Getting some rest is just as important as everything else when it comes to your recovery. Stay in the hostel (or wherever), and take a nap. Get extra sleep that night. Or if your symptoms are keeping you awake, at least take it easy, and be sure to stay out of the sun. Never underestimate the power of a good rest.

If you’re horribly ill in the middle of a 20 mile hike and only have a day to make it to your destination… well… godspeed.

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A master at work.

So that’s WISS for you! It helped me when I was sick in Cuba, and I hope it helps you on your travels as well. But remember, if your vomiting and diarrhea become more severe, or you begin to exhibit other significant symptoms such as fever, you should absolutely seek medical help if it’s available nearby. I hope it doesn’t come to that, though.

Let me know what you think of WISS in the comments below, and keep an eye out for my next post on staying healthy while traveling in Cuba.


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