I spent last weekend nursing a painful sinus infection, and somehow the entire weekend slipped by without my achieving any of the things on my to-do list.

The good news, however, is that while I snorted through a box of tissues, I made excellent headway on a wonderful novel.

Sadly, it often takes illness or an accident to get me to slow down enough to read a good book—or just do nothing. And it’s gotten me thinking about times I’ve been under the weather while traveling.

Being ill away from home can be, at the least, scary and a huge inconvenience. At worst, it could be life-threatening. (An acquaintance was on a dream trip to Florence when her appendix burst. Fortunately, she’s fluent in Italian and received excellent medical care, even if the hospital environment left much to be desired.)

Tikal's temples by moonlight were so breathtaking that I momentarily forgot I was sick.

Tikal’s temples by moonlight were so breathtaking that I momentarily forgot that I was sick.

Most of the time being sick sucks. My trip to the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala was marred by a fever and digestive disorders. On my first day, I managed to hike through the ancient temples and witnessed a spectacular sunset over the jungle. After I staggered back to the hotel, I was down for the count.

All night I alternated between sweating in the heat and shivering with fever, but I kept telling myself I’d be ready for more archaeological explorations in the morning. It’s a measure of how lousy I felt that I couldn’t muster even an eyelash of energy to see some of the world’s most spectacular pyramids on my second day. Heartbreaking.

Another time, on a trip to Germany, I spent half the night steaming in the shower because my sinuses were so clogged from a raging head cold worsened by the dry air on the plane.

And there was that time I slipped and broke my ankle at the most gorgeous resort on Vancouver Island, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. I dismissed it as a badly sprained ankle and managed to hobble around for the rest of the trip…but it wasn’t as fun.

Silver Lining?

Sometimes, though, there can be a wee silver lining to having a sniffle or a rash: enforced Slow Travel. I remember an absolutely divine (and rainy) day nestled under the featherbed in the Swiss-Alp village of Mürren. This charming town offers some of the most drop-dead-gorgeous mountain scenery on the planet, but I was nursing cramps and jet lag.

I broke my ankle while staying on Bedwell Sound in British Columbia. As you can see, staying in bed in this luxury tent wasn't exactly horrible! Photo courtesy Clayoquot Wilderness Resort.

My low mood and depleted energy level, plus the rain, were the perfect excuse not to go hiking, not to take photos, not to seek out restaurants. Instead, I washed out some dirty socks and underwear, hung them on the radiator to dry, and stayed in bed with a paperback and Toblerone bar. And when the clouds finally parted over the Eiger mountain, I was content to admire it through my lace-curtained window.

Looking back, I was glad for the day of rest and recuperation.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and travel survivor

P.S. What sickness sagas can you share?

Showing 6 comments
  • Carol Apple

    So sorry you have been sick Laurel! Hope you’re feeling better and are ready for more travel adventures. Great stories about sickness and injury while travelling. In your own charmingly unique way it sounds like you made the utmost of every unfortunate situation.

  • Laurel

    Yes, I do seem to be a cockeyed optimist. Although that’s all in retrospect; when I’m in the moment, it’s never as grand as I tell it. Guess that’s one of the wonders about writing about events in the past–you can afford to inject some humor.

  • Kimberly Lord Stewart

    Oh Laurel, I feel your pain, though I’ve always wanted to stay at the Clayoquot. I’ve had Delhi Belly in India, insect bites in Italy, kidney infection in Turkey and a scary skin disease while transporting Cambodian refugees from Hong Kong to San Fran. The doctors backed out of the examining room, locked the door and put me in quarantine for this last one. I am a tropical medicine physician’s dream patient.

  • Laurel

    Wow! You certainly have had some exotic ailments. The kidney infection in Turkey sounds really scary, although so does an unnamed skin disease. Sounds like some great story ideas!

  • Laurel

    Oh yeah…I forgot that on my honeymoon in the Caribbean, I got what I assume were awful sandfly bites on my legs…tiny little welts that started at my ankles and worked their way higher than my knees by the time I got home. Somewhat itchy, but mostly unsightly!

  • Gail Storey

    Laurel, these vignettes of being under the weather away from home sure are colorful. I agree that anytime we’re slowed down is a great chance to chill and read!

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