Photo courtesy of Ellie who was kind enough to take a few snaps of me lying on my deathbed in Zadar, Croatia.
One of the most difficult things to deal with when traveling is sickness. Without the comforts of home there is no option to crawl under the sheets of your bed with a cup of tea and watch David Attenborough talk about insects and you can’t raid the kitchen for a can of Heinz tomato soup, the miracle remedy for all ills.
Food poisoning is fairly common within some travel destinations. It usually comes on fast, is very unpleasant and can last up to a week in severe cases. Some people are more susceptible to food poisoning than others. If you’re going to high risk countries like India, Morocco, or even the USA where they have deplorable food handling standards you might like to take some broad spectrum antibiotics. I’ve never used antibiotics, and I would resist using them up to a point, but if I was very sick from eating unhygienic food I’d certainly consider it as a one off. I’ve also seen them work very quickly on a friend with food poisoning.
With food poisoning and normal virus or cold type illnesses it’s essential to understand what your body needs to recover well. I once caught a virus off a friend whilst on tour at a time when I was extremely lean because we had been cycling hard and eating modestly. Apart from having caught a virus I was very healthy, but that caused its own problems. Because my metabolism was so high from the previous weeks of exercise, and I had a raised temperature from the virus, I was burning calories fast at a time I couldn’t keep food down. It took about 36 hours to start feeling better but by that time I was emaciated. During the time I was ill it was vital that I drank water and took on salt, and I also tried eating tiny amounts of food through the day. Even something as small as a single pretzel once every two hours can make a lot of difference to your strength and recovery.
Another time, when on a solo ride through the South of France I very nearly made myself ill by drinking too much water. I was cycling through the Camargue on the South coast during a record hot summer. Being especially young and foolish I rode at full pelt all day for several days, constantly sweating and constantly drinking water. My guess is that I became desalinated.
All I know is that I experienced a strange bout of dizziness and sickness that resulted in my cowering under a tree with my head in my hands. It was very unpleasant, scary and a pivotal event that saw me taking much better care of myself from then on. I always take some salty foods touring now, I drink slower and ensure my diet is well-balanced and high in calories, vitamins and protein. I take in a lot of complex carbs in form of rice, pasta and lentils.
It’s easy to tell when you have sufficient salt by tasting your sweat, if it tastes salty then you probably have enough. If it tastes like water then you might be salt and electrolyte deficient. Also you can often see or feel salt on your skin or on your clothing. This is a good thing, you should have some amount of salt in your sweat.
As for fluids, look at the colour of your urine (you don’t have to taste it). Generally speaking, the darker the colour the more dehydrated you are. The more you exercise the more you will need to drink to keep your urine a light colour (pale straw is the ideal shade I’m told). It’s really a balancing act as the more water you drink the more salt you need. Monitoring both of these things is a good way to ensure basic good health, if you do fall ill then being well hydrated and having plenty of electrolytes will give you your best fighting chance of recovering fast.