I pride myself in being someone who prepares for everything. I’m always imagining the worst-case scenarios and how I’d deal with them (it actually drives my husband crazy because I’m so “pessimistic”).
Still, I wasn’t fully prepared the first time I got sick while camping.
I’m not talking about a bit of the sniffles. I was literally puking my guts out all over the trail. It was just me and my daughter (then 5 y.o.) on the trip. Luckily, it was me who got sick and not my daughter.
Here, I’m going to tell you what happened, what I learned from it, and how to prepare in case you ever get sick while camping.
Everything Started Out Fine…
Even before I got sick, the camping trip wasn’t going so well. I’d changed our plans last-minute because the weather forecast called for thunderstorms. So, I thought it would be fun to camp inside of a cave so we could take shelter there. It ended up not raining. Note to self: Never change plans again because of the weather forecast!
It turns out that camping inside of a cave is NOT as much fun as it would seem. The cave was full of dust which swirled around in the wind. The ground acted like a heat sink and my crappy sleeping pad offered little protection.
Oh, and there was that vipera berus – a highly venomous snake – which was hanging out just 1 meter from the tent! I’m not afraid of snakes and know what to do if you see a snake, but it still put me on edge.
Then I Woke Up Puking and with Diarrhea
I woke up very early in the morning and immediately had to vomit. I’ll spare you the details about the diarrhea! Needless to say, I didn’t have time to dig a cat-hole, and feel really bad about not following the “leave no trace” rule of wild camping.
When my daughter woke up, we packed up camp and hiked down to the road (which luckily wasn’t very far). Then we hitchhiked to the nearest town.
We went to a pharmacy so I could get anti-diarrhea medicine. Oh, did I mention that I was in Bulgaria and I don’t speak Bulgarian??? I had to pantomime what medicine I needed! It’s funny in retrospect.
Electrolytes Saved Me
I wasn’t completely unprepared for getting sick while camping. One thing that I had in my mini first aid kit was electrolytes.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals which are vital for balancing fluids in the cells. You can drink tons of water but won’t hydrate yourself without also consuming electrolytes. Basically, electrolytes help hydrate your body super quickly. That is why sports drinks contain electrolytes.
If I hadn’t put electrolytes in with my gear, I would have been severely dehydrated from throwing up all of the water I’d drunk. I was still tired from not being able to keep food down, but at least I was hydrated.
What I Learned from Getting Sick while Camping
1. Always Have a SOLID Backup Plan
When traveling with my daughter, I always have a backup accommodation in case something goes wrong. For this trip, I’d written down the addresses of 3 different guesthouses. After hitting up the pharmacy, we tried going to them.
Unfortunately, they were really hard to find. We ended up walking all over town trying to find the address (me puking along the way).
The first guesthouse wasn’t open.
The second guesthouse was so terrible that we skipped it.
The third guesthouse was fully booked.
My backup plan had failed!
Luckily, I stumbled across a nice taxi driver. He took us to a nearby campground.
Next time, I will make sure to:
- Check in with the police in case things go so wrong that I can’t get out!
- Get the phone numbers and detailed directions to my backup locations
- Have a phone number of a taxi company so I don’t end up walking all around town while puking
- Research the backup accommodation better, especially when options are so limited!
2. Resting in a Sleeping Bag Is As Good As At Home
When sick while camping, you do what you’d do at home: stay warm, hydrated, and relax. This is what I did at the campground. After setting up the tent, I put on all of my warm clothes and curled up in my sleeping bag. I rested while Isabel ran around playing with beetles (we both really like insects).
Maybe I would have been better in a warm hotel and proper bed. But at least I had a toilet and potable water at the campground. I’m glad that we ended up in the campground and not in a boring hotel where my daughter would have just been watching cartoons all day while I rested.
3. Have a Good First Aid Kit
I have since updated my first aid kit. Electrolytes are a MUST. I also have anti-diarrhea medicine (no needing to pantomime to the pharmacist!), activated charcoal, and fever medicine.
- You can see my lightweight backpacking first aid kit checklist here.
- If you are car camping, see my full travel first aid kit checklist here.
4. Always Bring Soup Camping
I had packed soup for a few of our backpacking meals. The other food was not suitable for being sick. So, I made the soup for myself and gave my daughter the other food. I just made the soup with more water so it was easier on my stomach and more hydrating. Lesson? Always bring lots of warm soup when camping.
Should I Have Given Up on the Trip?
After a day of rest, I felt a bit better. We were even able to go hiking around the area and explore a nearby cave system. However, once back home, I got a bit pissed at myself.
Why do I have to be so friggin’ “tough” that I walked for hours with a pack while vomiting on myself?
Why didn’t I just give up and go back home?
Why do I feel like I have to prove something?
And then I think back to this short trip we had. It was tough. Not just the sickness part, but camping in cold weather, seeing a venomous snake, Isabel overcoming her fear and exploring caves, hitchhiking all day…
It was also really worth it.
How many 5 year olds can say that they’ve slept in a cave?
How many kids love bugs so much that they stop to remove every single bug from the trail so it won’t get squashed?
How many kids get a firsthand look at weathering, erosion, and plate tectonics?
So, yes, sometimes you might get sick while camping. Just do what you would have done if sick at home: eat soup, stay hydrated, and relax as much as possible. You’ll find that you can rest just as well in a sleeping bag outside as you can on your couch at home. Is it worth being tough and sticking with it? Hell yeah.
Tips in Case You Get Sick While Camping
- Always have electrolytes in your first aid kit
- Consider some anti-diarrhea and anti-vomiting pills for your first aid kit too, as well as fever medicines (this is my updated kit checklist)
- Have multiple “Plan B” accommodations
- Check in with the local police or park rangers; get their phone number in case you need to call for help. If you are going way into the wilderness, use a GPS communication device
- It’s okay to give up on the trip. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
- Prevention is best – stay warm and dry, and always treat your drinking water (I use the Sawyer Mini)
What would you do if you got puking sick while camping?