One of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken was to Spain and Morocco. For a couple of weeks, Laura and I explored Madrid, Barcelona, Ronda, and Segovia, as well as Tangier, across the Straight of Gibraltar.

Breakfast in Tangier. Was this was made me sick?

But there was one catch: about halfway through the trip I got really sick. I’m fairly certain it was food poisoning, and the timing seemed to coincide with the Moroccan leg of our visit, but I can only speculate about the cause.

For me, getting some degree of an upset stomach is fairly common while traveling, and I suspect I’m far from alone. The combination of new food, no rest, and general stress can add up to a nightmare.

But as I’ve learned through experience, sickness doesn’t have to sink a trip. Here are a few of the things that have helped make sick trips worthwhile.

1. Savor the small moments.

Our hotel in Cordoba, where I spent most of my time.
Our hotel in Cordoba, where I spent most of my time.

We visited Cordoba when I was at my sickest, and I consequently missed most of the city’s sites. However, as we were walking from the train station to our hotel (where I would end lying around for the next day) we asked two men for directions. They spoke very little English, but happily took it upon themselves to guide us through the twisting maze of Cordoba’s old streets.

It was a small interaction, but also the kind of spontaneous and charming moment that makes travel worthwhile in the first place. And it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip — including the days when I was not sick.

2. Slow down

One of the last places we visited in Spain was Segovia. I was still sick when we got there, but had discovered that by not eating I felt mostly weak, rather than nauseous. The result was that I still managed to see the town’s ancient aqueduct and castle.


I didn’t end up doing a lot of wandering in Segovia, the way I might have if I hadn’t been weak and sick. And I never ventured too far from my hotel room.

But by not trying to cram in every imaginable thing, I managed to still get a lot out of the town — which is something I try to remember even when I’m not ill.

3. Drink a lot of water

Laura, drinking some water.

This is fairly obvious and good to remember even when you’re not sick, but I’ve nevertheless been surprised at how much of a difference staying hydrated makes down the road. I might not feel it immediately, but eventually I’m always glad I have some water with me.

4. Use local medical options

Probably the best example of this that I’ve personally experienced was not in Spain, but in Brazil. One time Laura and I were in Foz do Iguaçu when Laura became sick. So we went to a local pharmacy. I speak some Portuguese, but have a very limited vocabulary when it comes to medicine, and I was struggling with the accent in that region.

After a while I managed to explain the symptoms and the helpful pharmacist found a medication (which I believe would have required a prescription in the US) that ultimately worked. I’m not going to get into a discussion about which country has the best prescription rules and restrictions. All I know is that in this case taking the plunge and trusting that we were getting the right thing ultimately worked.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


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