Over six months have passed and I think I can finally talk about my worst trip to date. I can tell you the exact moment the norovirus hit me on my last trip to Europe. I was walking into a hotel in the Frankfurt Airport, ready to go home the next day after dealing with a Croatian sailing trip from hell, and then something didn’t feel right. Within the hour, the bathroom became my best friend and I thought it was very possible Germany would be the last country I would ever see.
I’ll need to back up a bit. My husband and I decided to take advantage of an offer from a sailing company to write about my experience sailing Croatia way back in February. It was a two for one special since I would be writing about the trip and using social media to document our week island hopping in Croatia. We booked our tickets and a couple days into the trip, we kept looking back on that day in February, cursing the email that arrived in my inbox.
A few days into our sailing experience, we both realized it wasn’t completely our thing. Sleeping in what felt like a coffin and using a pump toilet grew tiresome to say the least. We were docked on the appropriately named Pakleni Islands, meaning Hell’s Islands, off of the island of Hvar. We headed to Hvar town for dinner and that’s when, officially, the trip and our stomachs took a turn for the worse.
My husband became quite violently ill in between courses so much so that I knew we had to get him back to the boat. We took a water taxi back to the boat and he collapsed. People walked over him, thinking he must be a Yacht Week victim. With the help of two of our friends from the boat, we managed to get him back on board. I called a doctor and was quickly advised to get him off the boat. He had food poisoning. And to top off the idea, we were stuck on an island, off of an island, possibly the worst place to be when a stomach bug hits.
The next few days consisted of us cutting our losses, spending change fee after change fee to change our tickets and get home sooner. I carried all of our suitcases on and off ferries and through towns for he was too weak to lift much of anything. We would walk a few steps and have to stop. We theorized what he could have eaten that made him so sick and I thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t eat whatever he ate.
Everything changed in that singular moment in Frankfurt when I felt my stomach take a turn. Being that it was several days after food poisoning hit my husband, another call to the doctor confirmed our suspicions. We both had contracted the norovirus, a highly infectious virus from poor food preparation that can transfer from person to person. Considering that our 19-year-old skipper was preparing our meals on the boat, we cursed that email back in February yet again. Not being fit to fly, again, we rescheduled our trip home by another day and I spent an entire 24 hours in a hotel room. As dramatic as it sounds, I wouldn’t wish the norovirus on my worst enemy. It was the sickest I have ever felt. Give me the flu. Give me a cold that stays for a week. Give me strep throat but by God, don’t give me the norovirus.
My husband and I learned a bit about sticking together in sickness and in health on that trip, but mostly we learned how ill-prepared (pardon the pun) we had been all along about food poisoning while traveling. As I wouldn’t wish anyone to get food poisoning while traveling, here are a few of my tips to soften the blow when and if your stomach churns in a way you didn’t think it ever could.
1. Meet with your doctor before your trip and compile a list of medications to bring
I always pack a “just in case” medical kit of recommended medications. Perhaps as some cruel joke, we forget this kit. In many ways, I think we tempted the fates too much. I believe if you are prepared, you will never have to use it. When you aren’t prepared, disaster strikes. Before you take off, you can combat food poisoning by meeting with your doctor and compiling medications to bring should you encounter a problem on the road. You won’t have to search for a pharmacy in a foreign land when you feel as though you are on your deathbed.
2. If you’re on a tour, ask questions about food preparation
In all of my independent travels, I have never gotten food poisoning. It wasn’t until I signed up for a group tour that the norovirus took ahold of me. Our skipper would prepare all of our meals except for dinner. Not once did I ask if the person preparing our food wore gloves while preparing breakfast and lunch. I was at the mercy of a 19 year old kid and whether he adequately washed his hands. Perhaps if we showed more concern like how there wasn’t even hand soap in the bathroom for two days, we would have never gotten sick. If you are signing up for an organized tour, be sure to get details on food preparation. If the company has no policies in place and you witness the person preparing your meals with bare hands that you don’t know when were last washed, it might be time to put down the fork.
3. Hand sanitizer can’t always save you
The norovirus is so mean that hand sanitizer does very little to save you from its wrath. Only soap and water can help prevent it. As mentioned above, the bathroom on our boat did not have soap for several days. I was naïve and thought I could use hand sanitizer as a substitute instead. Food born viruses like the norovirus are vicious. There is a reason the cruise ships ridden with the norovirus shut down ports. They laugh in the face of hand sanitizer. As travelers, we are always told to have hand sanitizer on us at all times. However, nothing beats good old soap and water. Always insist on soap in your bathroom if it’s not present.
4. If someone around you gets food poisoning, don’t think you are immune
Based on my husband’s symptoms and how quickly it came on, we figured that he had some sort of food poisoning. I figured I was in the clear. After a day or so and no symptoms, I resolved that he ate something that I didn’t. All the while, I could have been extra careful around him to avoid catching what would be determined as the norovirus. Even if you are around someone who appears to be battling food poisoning, take extra precautions. Maybe if I had been more careful, I wouldn’t have gotten sick too.
5. When food poisoning hits, take it easy for several days
Once my husband became ill, the next morning I promptly got him off the sailboat, on to another boat that would take us back to the mainland. I booked the nicest hotel I could find with the biggest bathroom. He slept for a whole day. I would later do the same in Germany, except this time my husband picked up the slack, booked the nicest hotel he could find and the easiest to reach. If you do come down with food poisoning while traveling, take a few days to recover. Treat yourself in the accommodations department for you won’t leave your hotel room. You need to sleep and rest and do absolutely nothing. If you try to push it, your recovery time will double.
Sadly travel isn’t always one of posed Instagram shots against colorful backdrops and in our case, feasting on the finest of food. Travel can kick you down, when you least expect it, namely if you catch food poisoning on the road. We spent thousands of dollars to have most simply, a miserable time. You have to take the bad with the good with travel and I’m crossing my fingers, the norovirus never meets me on the other side of the world ever again. We should have known better. Nothing good can happen at a place meaning, “Hell’s Islands.”
Have you ever gotten food poisoning or the norovirus while traveling? Share you horror stories so we can commiserate together.