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.)
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.
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.
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?