Gluten-Free Globetrotter Guide to Getting Sick on Vacation

No one wants to get sick on vacation yet it sometimes happens. You plan for months for your trip yet you can never plan for the unexpected cold, flu, or food poisoning. Unfortunately, my first trip of 2015 came to a screeching halt this weekend when I wound up in urgent care with influenza type A in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I was supposed to go visit my sister in Wisconsin after Colorado but the flu knocked me out and the altitude made me feel even worse. I made the sad executive decision to fly home early and cancel the rest of my trip.

EmergiCare Colorado Springs

No sightseeing for me except for the inside of this urgent care in Colorado Springs!

As I laid in my hotel bed in Colorado Springs trying to will away my illness, I was thinking of all of the things travelers should do to prepare for the unexpected illness away from home. Here are some of my top tips:

Gluten-Free Globetrotter Guide to Getting Sick on Vacation

  • Always pack your medication in your carry-on bag! You can never trust an airline to deliver you and your suitcase to the same destination. Do not pack your medication in your checked bag unless you can go without it for an extended period of time or it is something you can easily purchase in your destination such as Tylenol.
  • Carry a complete list of all of your current medications, supplements, and vitamins, including dosages, on your trip. I save this list in the Notes app on my iPhone for easy reference while I am away from home. This is especially helpful if you do not have the original medication packaging with you.
  • Carry a doctor’s note. Prior to your trip, ask your doctor to write a general note about your celiac disease, the medications you are traveling with, and your dietary needs. This might never be used but it might be helpful in case TSA stops you for questioning.

This doctor’s note was especially important for me when I used to travel with a nebulizer. It wasn’t a CPAP machine and many TSA agents had never seen a young person with a breathing machine in their bag. The doctor’s note, the original packaging, and the prescription information was annoying to carry around, but made travel life a little bit easier! 

  • Bring any over-the-counter, gluten-free medication with you. You never know if you will be able to find your familiar over-the-counter medication when you are traveling away from home. Sometimes, my suitcase looks like a virtual pharmacy. With celiac disease and other food allergies, I always make sure to carry Benadryl with me on all of my trips. I also carry gluten-free acetaminophen,  Tums, and even Band-Aids just in case I cannot find any when I am traveling.
  • Bring translation cards. Translation cards are pretty much a given in my bag for any travel to a place where English is not the native language. While these cards are usually written to be food-specific, you can order speciality cards that indicate you cannot have any gluten especially in medications!
  • Locate an urgent care facility, walk-in clinic, or hospital. Whether it is through pre-planning, talking to your hotel staff, or using your iPhone, make sure you can locate a medical facility who can help you with your illness. Some larger hotels and cruise ships even have on-staff doctors who can help you. Do not self-diagnosis at home or during your trip. This could lead to a more serious illness later on.
  • Always carry your insurance card. Whether you have Obamacare or employer health insurance, make sure you have your card with you when away from home. This will hopefully help you avoid expensive medical bills when you return from your trip.
  • Buy travel insurance. If you are traveling to a different country, you might consider buying a travel insurance package to cover your destination and specific activities. While you might never use the insurance, it gives you peace of mind in a country far from home.
  • Use GlutenFreeDrugs.com when filling a prescription. This website is extremely helpful for you and your pharmacist when filling a prescription to ensure the medications are gluten-free. It allows you to look up popular drug names, manufacturers, and brands to check if the medication is gluten-free or not. While it is not the gluten-free drug “bible”, it is a very helpful resource to point you in the right direction. You should also ask the pharmacist to call the manufacturer to ask about the ingredients of your prescribed medication. I do this every time I fill a new prescription, even when I am at home.
  • Take a shower or a bath. This may sound silly but sometimes washing away the sick feeling and being in a warm, humid environment can make you feel better. While in the dry Colorado air, the steamy showers made a world of difference for me!
  • REST, REST, REST! This is probably the most difficult suggestion to follow. Heck, I am even guilty of not listening to my own advice. If you were ill enough to seek out a doctor, you are probably sick enough for at least one day in bed. Sometimes, sleep and relaxation are the best medicine. Yes, you are on vacation and probably paying a lot of money to be away from home. But your body needs time to heal and you need to listen to your body. Give yourself at least one day of doing absolutely nothing so you do not ruin your entire trip. Hunker down in your hotel room, order gluten-free room service, and will yourself to feel better. If you give yourself even a few extra hours of sleep, you might be surprised at how you feel in a day or two.

Do you have any tips to add? Please leave them in the comments below.

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About Erin Smith

Living with celiac disease since 1981 and eating gluten-free long before it was "trendy", Erin Smith has a unique perspective of growing up in the gluten-free community; Founded Gluten-Free Fun in 2007; Founded Gluten-Free Globetrotter® in 2011; Founded GlutenFreelancer® in 2014. Erin was the lead organizer of the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup group, a social community of more than 2,000 members for over a decade and has recently started a support group in Northern California.
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5 Responses to Gluten-Free Globetrotter Guide to Getting Sick on Vacation

  1. Informative post and definitely agree with carrying a list of your meds…also, carry a prescription or doctor’s note if any of your meds don’t have the labels on them (especially epi pens) as some airlines won’t allow them on the plane without documentation. Rest up, have some matzoh ball soup and feel better! xoxo

    • Erin Smith says:

      Thanks Stacey. I try to always bring the original prescription and packaging when I travel. Traveling with the nebulizer was probably the most challenging. I had a TSA agent say to me “but you look like you can breathe!” Yes, that day I could.

      As for the matzoh ball soup, only if it’s gluten-free for this Gluten-Free Globetrotter! 🙂

  2. Erica Feld says:

    Dear Erin, Hope you’re feeling better. Erica

    • Erin Smith says:

      Thanks Erica. I started feeling really sick the night of the Glutenberg event. Once I got on the airplane the next day, I felt terrible. I am on meds now and on the mend. Thank you!!

  3. Pingback: Gluten-Free Travel in Colorado Springs | Gluten-Free Globetrotter

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