Travel Isn’t Always Glamorous. In Fact, Sometimes It Sucks.

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Travel Isn't Always Glamorous. In Fact, Sometimes It Sucks.Travel Isn’t Always Glamorous. In Fact, Sometimes It Sucks.

Travel isn’t always glamorous. Sure, we talk a lot on this site about cool trips in first class to far away places. And we talk a lot about getting there for uber-cheap. Sometimes, things go wrong on your trip, and you wind up in suckville. Here’s an example of when travel isn’t always glamorous and how we were able to get through it.

It Started Well

If you’ve followed my reviews over the past months, you’ll see that we are in the middle of a huge trip. We first flew to the US to visit family then went to Mexico City. Later, we visited 2 separate properties in Playa del Carmen before visiting Turkey. That included a hot air balloon ride, which was a dream come true. Trip sounds awesome, right?

From Turkey, we visited Liberia in West Africa to do some nature stuff and then Ethiopia. We then visited Zanzibar island in Tanzania before coming to western Tanzania for a safari.

Planning For Contingencies

Of course, we’ve followed the changing nature of COVID travel. This means seeing what documents we need to enter a country, whether we have to quarantine, etc. I previously mentioned that we carry an annual travel insurance policy, and we talked to them to see what changes in coverage they’re employing during this time. We did a ton of research to see what dangers like insect diseases might be present during our safari.

And despite all of that, you know what got me? The most touristy place we went.

Getting Malaria Sucks

Did you know Zanzibar is a hot spot for malaria? Surprised me also. From all of the planning we did for COVID protocols and safety for a safari, the most touristy spot we visited in the last month is a malaria hot spot. You wouldn’t know malaria is common in Zanzibar, given that none of the tourist information mentions it. I guess we got comfortable and overlooked it, since we saw nothing in the info from our hotel, Trip Advisor, or even the detailed WikiTravel article. So, I got malaria in Zanzibar.

The day we left Zanzibar, I started feeling bad. However, it felt just like food poisoning. For 3 days, I thought I had food poisoning. Lots of vomiting and diarrhea, then you feel weak from your body working so hard to vomit. If you’ve had food poisoning, you know what it feels like.

Day 4, we were supposed to go on a safari in Western Tanzania, near Arusha. I still felt like garbage when we woke up in the morning. I told my wife to go on the safari without me. No point in both of us missing out, since it was non-refundable. “I’ll be better tomorrow, and maybe they can bring me to meet you.” If only!

That afternoon, everything went downhill. I had crazy shakes. I was sweating so much in the bed you’d think I had peed in my sleep. Cold chills. More shaking. I knew this was something more and decided I needed to go to the hospital. From checking the symptoms online, I actually thought I had COVID-19.

Travel Isn't Always Glamorous. In Fact, Sometimes It Sucks.
Hospital discharge paperwork

Going To The Hospital

I told the hotel van to take me to the hospital. There, I told them I thought I had COVID-19. They isolated me and started preparing some tests. The nurse asked where I’d traveled recently. As soon as I said “Zanzibar”, she said they were going to test me for malaria. My blood test came back positive for malaria within an hour.

I spent the next 3 days in the hospital. Remember that my wife went on the safari without me? That also made it difficult to communicate with her. The next afternoon, the safari company was able to reach the driver and tell him what’s going on.  Given that the other couple on the safari had canceled last minute (we didn’t know), my wife was amazingly on a private safari with just her and the driver. I told her to come back.

Unfortunately, they were running away from heavy rain between them and where I was. The driver said turning back was unsafe. The earliest they could come was the next morning. That’s day 3 of me in the hospital.

The morning of day 3, my wife arrived at the hospital. By then, I was feeling better. My fever had broken, finally. I’d taken 7 IV bags and countless gallons of water during that time, trying to hydrate against my fever burning up my liquids. I’d received countless injections, taken lots of pills, and continued to sweat like it was my job. One night, the hospital changed my sheets 5 times, due to profuse sweating from my fever!

Leaving The Hospital

I got out of the hospital last week, on hospital day 4 / sickness day 7. Even after discharge, I was in no shape to travel. It wore me out. And it wore my wife out, also. From stress and worry and not sleeping, taking care of me, she exhausted herself. We spent the next week basically laying in our hotel room watching movies all day, just recuperating. And I’m still finishing off the medicines the doctor prescribed, even though we finally left Tanzania a week after getting out of the hospital.

Travel isn’t always glamorous. However, it could be a lot worse. As soon as I got to the hospital, I sent a message to a group chat I’m in for travelers. A friend called my travel insurance and notified them of the situation. I’ve submitted my receipts to them, and I’ll get reimbursed for all of our expenses.

Also, we’re luck that we got stuck at a category 2 Marriott, so it could be worse. I spent 9,000 points per night (with 5th night free), and I luckily had a huge stash of Marriott points. It could be worse: I could’ve forked out cash every night for our hotel or been stuck somewhere that drained all of my points in 3 nights, etc. Travel isn’t always glamorous, and being stuck in the same spot isn’t what we wanted, but it could be much, much worse.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes, despite all of our planning, trips don’t go as we expected. I’ve taken a lot of great trips, and for that I’m fortunate. Unfortunately, travel isn’t always glamorous. In fact, sometimes it just sucks and you’re puking in the airport bathroom during a layover. You could wind up with malaria, spending a few days in a foreign hospital and then stuck at a hotel, unfit for travel. Despite all of that, I’m lucky that we planned ahead with things like travel insurance. We are super lucky that we won’t wind up paying out of pocket for those hospital expenses or for our hotel stay while recuperating. We overlooked part of our safety plan, but we are fortunate that we landed on our feet afterward. Definitely learned some lessons here, as well.

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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13 COMMENTS

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I have only been to South Africa once. However, I was very aware of Malaria. The first thing I would assume is that malaria is a concern unless I knew otherwise. I was in areas for example that have NO MALARIA, which is why I went to them on my first trip. And CDC website clearly mentions malaria. You need to research everything before goign to Africa. What vaccines, EVERYTHING. You cant just go to those places without getting all the detailed information.

    https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/tanzania

  2. I’m glad it all came out okay, definitely a warning story to others.

    In the future, and for other readers, always check the US embassy page for the country, and check CDC’s website for the country. Both of these resources will warn against common problems in a country, including crime, political unrest, and diseases.

    Also, sign up for the State Dept’s notification system for countries you’re visiting. Makes it far more likely that you’ll learn about problems as they occur in real time.

  3. My Tanzania guide told me he had gotten malaria at least 10 times. He had forgotten the actual number!

    You (and others) might want to check certain medical websites before traveling. For example:

    https://www.iamat.org/country/tanzania/risk/malaria

    https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/preparing-international-travelers/yellow-fever-vaccine-and-malaria-prophylaxis-information-by-country/tanzania#seldyfm948

    Both note the risk of malaria in all areas of Tanzania <1,800 m (5,906 ft).

    You can help protect yourself by wearing light-colored clothing that covers your arms and legs–ideally, previously sprayed with Permethrin–and by applying insect repellent to your exposed skin.

    Some brands of Permethrin last up to six weeks and six washings. You can also spray your socks, shoes, hats, backpacks, tents, etc. You can buy it at any camping store or online. This stuff has worked well for me all over the world.

    Happy and healthy travels!

    • Good advice. Wish I’d seen your post before I wrote, I’d have just commented on it.

      Generally speaking, one should EXPECT malaria to be a problem in sub Saharan Africa. Personally, all the bug spray is great, but I don’t go there without using Malerone. There are other anti-malarials, but Malerone is generally effective and the safest.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been in your shoes before so I feel your pain. I had some follow-up questions that I was curious about:

    1. How has it been dealing with your travel insurance company? Is it pretty smooth or have they been a pain in the ass to deal with?

    2. What types of precautions were you guys taking against mosquitoes while you were in Africa? For example, were you guys using DEET repellent on a regular basis? Wearing pants / long sleeve shirts? Etc.

    3. How bad were the mosquitoes in the various African locations? Were you guys getting lots of bites?

    4. What did you think of the medical care that you received? Based on what you wrote it sounds like the care was pretty high-quality?

    5. Are you using any of the trip insurance benefits that come with various credit cards or are you going to be submitting everything to the stand-alone policy that you guys pay for?

    • 1. I’ve only had to file 2 claims with them previously. 1 was denied because of a technicality, and the other was approved when a canceled flight caused me to miss a flight the next day. On this, so far, they were pretty easy to deal with (still waiting for claim approval, so it could change)
      2. Yes to all of those
      3. Nothing at all. In fact, I searched my body after my malaria diagnosis and still never found a bite. I seriously have / had no idea I ever got a single bite.
      4. Care was OK. They gave me the drugs I needed, but in Tanzania they do not provide you any water, drinks, etc. Until my wife arrived, I actually had to call the tour company to ask them to go buy me water and some Gatorade at the supermarket, then give them cash when they brought it to the hospital room. I found that really odd. I also hated half of the staff for things like never giving me a fork with meals, and I had to ask more times than necessary. Others were great. Care was…decent.
      5. The stand-alone policy. Because we open new cards all the time, it’s difficult to keep track of “flight A on card 1, tour B on card 2…” And what if I put an expense on a card without the protections I need? For me, it’s too much headache and I’d rather just have this policy that takes care of everything, including way more than what I might need.

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