The Travel Mistake I Keep Making

by Brenna Holeman

Brenna in Paris

Happy days in Paris with my friend Tricia… the calm before the storm

A few months ago, when I was in Mallorca, I wrote a post called “Nine Mistakes to Make as a Traveller“. In that post, I wrote about things like trusting strangers and getting lost and how those “mistakes” could actually be really good, valuable, fun things to do.

But the travel mistake I keep making wasn’t on that list. And I made the mistake – again, and for the hundredth time – just this last weekend in Paris.

“Whatever could it be?!” I’m sure you’re all quivering with anticipation (…not). Well, I hate to break it to you, but the travel mistake I keep making is actually one that I’m sure many people don’t make at all, if they are smart, resourceful, responsible travellers. I always pride myself on being those things, but I am also of the mind that I am a strong, healthy traveller. As in, I don’t get sick when I travel.

Now, if you’ve followed my blog for any period of time, you may have read about some of the ailments that I’ve experienced over the last ten years or so of travelling solo. In no particular order, I have been afflicted with:

-food poisoning

-traveller’s diarrhoea


-a lung infection


-blisters so bad I could barely walk



-bladder infections

-sprained wrist, elbow, and ankle

-torn MCL

-fractured jaw

-countless headaches, stomachaches, fevers, menstrual cramps, pain from sciatica, weird heat rashes, random bites that I don’t like to think too hard about, and so on, and so on, until I stop and think, “Wait, am I the weakest person in the world?” Because seriously, WTF, that is a lot of bad stuff that has happened, and no, I have no idea why I still believe I am quite a hearty individual, but I suppose we’re all guilty of a few delusions of grandeur (I still maintain that I did not get sick in India, though, which is perhaps why I think I’m so invincible).

And despite a lengthy history of getting very, very sick while travelling, I keep making the same damn mistake: I don’t bring a first aid kit when I travel. I do when I go on longer trips, but when I go on long weekends away, or shorter holidays, I never seem to bring any medicine or first aid essentials with me. Sure, I might have a few bandages or some painkillers floating around in my wallet or purse, but nothing substantial.

And oh, how I paid for it this last weekend in Paris.

Brenna in Paris 6

Posing at Notre Dame… blissfully unaware of what was to come

It all started off so innocently: I planned to go straight from work in London on the Eurostar to Paris in order to attend the Rock en Seine music festival. The days leading up to Thursday ended up being really busy, and between evening sessions at my co-working space, attending a rooftop cinema, and hanging out with friends, I was out every night until at least 11pm. On Wednesday night I noticed my throat was feeling a bit sore, so I had a whiskey and hoped for the best (whiskey and hope, the two cures for all ailments, amirite? Oh wait, no, it’s not the 19th century anymore).

By the next morning at my desk, suitcase in tow, I was feeling worse, with a horribly gummy throat as well as a stuffy nose. I don’t get colds that often – maybe once a year, if that – but when I do, they’re usually of the I-need-to-lie-in-bed-and-feel-miserable-while-watching-Golden-Girls variety (I also call my mum twice a day, drink a lot of tea, and moan, “Whyyyyy?!” every half hour or so). They always strike when I’m feeling run-down or stressed, which I’ve been feeling a lot lately. Not ideal for a perfect Parisian weekend.

Even though I had lots of cold medicine at my flat, I had to buy new medicine from the pharmacy in St. Pancras station, which was annoying. But I thought I was oh-so-clever in buying the medicine I needed in London, long before I’d land in a new country. And what else could go wrong… right?

Enter the second problem. On my second day in Paris, I got my period. You might be thinking – how the hell do not know when you’re going to get your period? But full disclosure here, I’ve been having some difficulties lately and my period has been totally irregular (also due to stress, I believe, but I’m getting it checked out). And while I usually have some spare tampons in my purse, this time I had nothing, because I switched purses right before I left that morning. Oh, and did I mention that, without fail, I’ve also been getting crippling cramps and insane back pain with this newfound period schedule? Thanks body, you’re the best!

Rock en Seine 1

But I still went and danced all night at Rock en Seine, because that’s what you do

So now, full of cold medicine and on the search for both tampons and painkillers, I was really kicking myself for not thinking ahead and packing appropriately. However, after going to a French pharmacy, I once again patted myself on the back for at least getting the things I needed. I was feeling kind of shitty because of the sore throat and the blocked nose and the back pain and the throbbing uterus from hell but hey, I was in Paris, and what else could go wrong, right?!

And this is when my body decided to show just how much power it actually held. Oh yes. The two words no traveller ever wants to utter out-loud, in fear that it might manifest itself in some He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, Don’t-Say-Macbeth-Before-Playing-Macbeth kind of way. The two words that make everyone else you tell go, “Ohhhh, noooooo.”

Food poisoning.

And let me tell you, nothing makes you wish you had packed some spare Imodium in your bag like lying naked on a mildewy bathroom floor in a budget hotel in Paris wondering if you’ll make it to the toilet in time for the next round of “how can there be anything left?!”. To add to humiliation, one of my friends even texted me to say he could hear me throwing up through the walls. The food poisoning meant I couldn’t leave my room until about 5pm (it struck around 7am, and yes, I know exactly what it was from… oddly not the steak tartar of which I posted about on Facebook) and it meant that I could only attend the festival for about an hour that day (to be fair, it was to see Iggy Pop, so it was the best hour ever).

Before going to the festival, I hobbled to the only pharmacy open on Sunday that I could find, only to be greeted by the very attractive French pharmacist (sidenote: why are the doctors and pharmacists always extremely good-looking in these situations? The first time I ever got a UTI as an adult I went to my local walk-in clinic and the doctor was SO HOT and asked me all about my sexual history and I was so nervous I just answered “yes” to everything… which in retrospect was probably not a good idea). The hot French pharmacist asked me what was wrong, and I kind of wanted to shout, “EVERYTHING” (remember the cold, and the period), but instead I just pointed at the Imodium and he understood perfectly, giving that tight-lipped smile of someone who knows you’ve just spent the last 12 hours in the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno.

So while I took some nice photos in Paris (and even did a live Facebook video… if you watched it, there’s now a reason I look a bit green in the face), my physical ailments definitely put a damper on things. And no, none of them could have really been prevented (except the food poisoning… probably not a good idea to eat off a charcuterie platter that has most likely been sitting in the baking sun for hours), but I definitely could have packed a lot better, i.e., packed some essential medicines that I’m familiar with and know will work in a pinch. As my mum says, you really only need enough to last you for about 12 hours, or overnight, because it’s the worst when you’re lying in a strange hotel room in a foreign country and you’re very sick or in a lot of pain and you know that a couple of tablets that you didn’t pack would make you feel so much better. At least you have that “buffer” medicine to last you until you can get to a pharmacy or doctor.

Macaron in Paris

Things I bought just for the sake of a photo but could not eat: this macaron

So, the whole point of this long-winded post was to say: pack a first-aid kit, even for short trips. Don’t be like me, essentially. From now on, I’m always going to carry the following in a small bag that can fit in my carry-on, making sure all medicine is still in its packaging and clearly labelled (please note the following are affiliate links):

-painkillers (I prefer North American brands, so Tylenol or Advil, just because I grew up using them)


-cold medicine (my favourite is NyQuil, but again, I have to go to North America to get it or order it online)


Pepto Bismol tablets (great for indigestion or heartburn)

Tiger Balm (great for bug bites, sore muscles, or even to rub on your chest when you have a cold… this stuff is THE BEST)


Advil Nighttime (pain reliever and sleep aid). I don’t mean to sound like a pill pusher (oh god, I do sound like one), but these are AMAZING. If you can’t sleep on airplanes, like me, take two of these and thank me when you land.

You’d think that as a fairly seasoned traveller, I’d do this already, but if my weekend in Paris tells you anything, it tells you we still all have lessons to learn. I vow to never make this travel mistake again (I say three days later, when I was finally able to eat some toast but still get a strange lump in my throat when typing the word charcuterie).

By the way, if you’re interested in reading about more of my ailments (my many, many ailments, apparently), you can check out:

The Worst Travel Ailments I’ve Ever Experienced (Part One)… tales of blood, making out with boys, and stomach viruses (though, thankfully, not all on the same trip)

The Worst Travel Ailments I’ve Ever Experienced (Part Two)… complete with my favourite vomiting story ever (it involves a club sandwich, the beautiful setting of Santorini, and… cats. You’ve been warned)

The Worst Travel Ailments I’ve Ever Experienced (Part Three)… more viruses, rashes, and bug bites, oh boy!

Brenna in Paris 3

Through it all, I still had a pretty good time, though. 

Have you ever been sick while travelling? Do you carry a first aid kit with you when you travel?

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Sharon August 31, 2016 - 8:45 pm

Important topic. With a pharmacist husband, we are generally prepared in our travels no matter the ailment. But we have indeed visited farmacias and apothecaries in many places, sometimes to just chat with the pharmacist and sometimes to make needed purchases. Surely hope you are feeling better now! And have been enjoying your writings very much since discovering a couple weeks ago! Envious of all your wonderful travels and we plan to keep on traveling as we can, too.

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:14 pm

Thank you very much, Sharon – I’m glad that you are enjoying the blog! And that’s very cool to chat to local pharmacists, it must be so interesting.

Katie from What's Katie Doing? Blog August 31, 2016 - 8:48 pm

I totally carry tampons and a mini thing of painkillers with me most places – but it’s always when you need them that you’ve forgotten them in the other bag!! I feel your pain

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:15 pm

I know!! Always happens that way…

Gail August 31, 2016 - 9:47 pm

I feel your pain. Being sick at home is bad enough, but being sick while travelling is the worst feeling.

26 years of solo travel and I made the rookie mistake of not bringing a Diva cup or tampons or anything on my birthday trip to Turkey/Israel in June. My period started after arriving at Istanbul Airport from Tel Aviv where I had to stay overnight for a connection, and there is NOWHERE in Istanbul Airport to buy supplies. No vending machines, no pharmacy. I asked a woman at a shop, and she called over her manager — a man — who said flat out that I wouldn’t find anything. It was the middle of the night and even if I left the airport, nothing would be open.

It’s crazy, Istanbul Airport is Europe’s 3rd busiest. What do women do?!? I couldn’t even find paper towel, just the driers. I had to get by on ridiculous amounts of toilet paper until I got home.

Such a dumb mistake I will do my best not to repeat!

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:16 pm

Oh my god, that is insane! Yes, I guess it’s always best to be over-prepared when travelling (at least when it comes to health).

Danny August 31, 2016 - 10:17 pm

Ouch, I feel your pain. Unlike you, I ended up getting dreadfully sick in India. Luckily, it was on my last day in Delhi, but without going into too much detail, it involved me visiting the bathroom at my hostel four times an hour FOR FIFTEEN HOURS. I was definitely glad I had a bit of Imodium with me, though (which, to be blunt, was the only way I managed to make it through the flight back to Germany). I definitely learned that it pays off to be prepared after that incident!

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:16 pm

Oh man, that is awful!! I’m shocked I didn’t get sick in India seeing as I have had food poisoning a few times now (and have had some pretty bad stomach viruses in the past).

Paige September 1, 2016 - 2:58 am

Oh no, Brenna!! : ( When it rains it pours, right? I brought so many mini first aid type things in my backpack on my recent trip–and believe I used none of them that I actually brought, ha! But did need to invest in multiple packs of peppermint gum in the UK (I’m prone to motion queasiness but as long as I have gum I’m good); may/may not have been the American girl puking not once but twice very discreetly in the airplane loo en route to London (thank you, turbulence and mysterious airplane ravioli– again, why no gum); also forgot to bring tissues for less-than-ideal sinus and public bathroom moments and ended up having to purchase a jumbo value pack of mini tissue packs, then left most of the packs I didn’t need in the hostel with the “free!” note (they were gone so fast!)

As always, love how honest and candid your writing is on these topics we all deal with! (I honest-to-God thought about your ailments posts when I was composing myself after my air sickness episode–inspiration in my time of woe! But seriously, haha.) On the bright side–putting together a little first aid kit means you’d be justified in buying some kind of new, cute little bag to store the stuff in!

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:24 pm

Oh no, that sounds horrible! I’m glad you made it through the flight OK… and that’s so funny that you thought of my blog! If my ailments got you through a rough period, it was all worth it – I’d go through it again. 😉

Erin September 1, 2016 - 3:51 am

haha i am the opposite ive usually got like tylenol, advil, bandaids, sunscreen, bug spray, polysporin, immodium( never needed it EVER) and like a million other things lol too bad I was not travelling with you

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:17 pm

Sounds like you are super prepared!

Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine September 1, 2016 - 4:03 am

This is so me too! I was just on a hike the other week and for the umpteenth time thought “…you know what? I don’t have a first aid kit. AGAIN.” It’s super smart, yeah? 😉 I hope you’re feeling back to 100% too! And this might be TMI – but your period being out of whack is such a pain when you’re traveling. I’ve been tracking mine for the past couple of months but it still has a mind of its own. Ay yi yi!

I will be putting together a first aid kit before my next trip thanks to you. Probably!

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:23 pm

Yes!! Let’s make a pact to do it! 😀

Tempesst September 1, 2016 - 6:16 am

I luckily haven’t been sick while traveling other than a couple minor colds. I actually don’t pack a first aid kit, although I feel like I should start as I am a nurse and other travelers always expect me to have one haha. I think my kit will look a lot like yours for my upcoming trip to Tanzania and India!

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:17 pm

Ha ha – better to be safe than sorry! Sounds like an amazing trip 🙂

Ella September 1, 2016 - 9:30 am

Wow, I’m sorry you were having such trouble while in Paris! I sometimes like to think that our bodies do this to us deliberately, as if to say, “You can’t do anything if I’m not okay. I control our experience”. Everytime that I have something major going on (beginning a trip, going to an event, performing on stage etc), that’s when my body decides to get its period and catch a stomach virus. Not fun! But then I laugh (once the pain, discomfort and inconvenience is over, of course) because bodies are weird and funny things and they’re clearly in charge of our human experience. And they certainly like to remind of us that!

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:22 pm

Ha ha I know… I guess our bodies like to show that they have more control than we’d like. 🙂

Katie September 1, 2016 - 2:33 pm

“I planned to go straight from work in London on the Eurostar to Paris in order to attend the Rock en Seine music festival.” <– I was So prepared to not feel sorry for you after reading that sentence. But yeah. The only thing that would've made going through all of that worth it is if you'd asked out the hot pharmacist and he'd said 'yes.' :/

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:18 pm

Ha ha I realllllllllly did not feel like asking out a hot French man in that situation. 😉

Christine September 1, 2016 - 3:54 pm

Oh no! I hope you’re feeling much better now Brenna!

I can definitely relate as I have had my fair share of travel ailments/illnesses while on a trip. My most recent one was getting the flu in Taipei. It was the worst. Having chills and fever while on a trip is never fun. Thank god for awesome (and cheap) doctors in Taiwan. I managed to get better but I had to spend a lot of time resting in my hotel room in Taipei. The only thing that saved me sanity was having my bf and friend there and having amazing cable, and wifi. Otherwise, I would have gone bonkers.

I usually bring a lot of medicine with me when I travel but sometimes no matter how prepared you think you are, s*it just happens! Lol.

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:21 pm

I know! We can prepare all we want but you never know what’s going to happen in the end. I’m sorry you were so sick in Taiwan!

LC September 2, 2016 - 9:11 am

Hope you’re feeling better! I feel your pain on at least one level – got food poisoning on the OVERNIGHT BUS to Paris two years ago. It was my birthday too. All I wanted was a Nutella crepe, but all I could eat were dry biscuits.

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:20 pm

Oh god!! An overnight bus, that would be the worst. 🙁

Leigh | Campfires & Concierges September 5, 2016 - 8:55 pm

There was a long time where I only got sick while traveling – so I carry a ton of meds in a little first aid kit – DayQuil, NyQuil, Benadryl, Immodium, pain relief and Vicodin for true emergencies 🙂

That’s terrible that you got hit with 3 things at once, though 🙁

Brenna Holeman September 6, 2016 - 1:19 pm

That’s really smart! I definitely need to start doing that more often… I only do it on long trips, and I certainly learned my lesson in Paris!

Marie @ To Europe And Beyond September 7, 2016 - 5:11 pm

I’m pretty organised on that level! I always carry a mini DIY first-aid kit in my bag, which contains band-aids, nail file, floss, dramamine, ibuprofen, anti-acids, Immodium, mini bottle of sunscreen, and lip balm. It doesn’t take up too much room and I end up using it almost daily!

Brenna Holeman September 13, 2016 - 10:54 am

That’s awesome, Marie! You’re much more prepared than I am…

Emily September 7, 2016 - 5:37 pm

Surprise periods are the worst. Especially when there’s a language barrier. In Russia I went to a pharmacy and I could SEE the Tampax behind the glass, but no amount of pointing in the general direction and saying “Tampax” in as many varieties of pronunciation as I could think of could get the pharmacist to understand me. Eventually I mimed writing and she brought me a piece of paper where I scribbled “Tampax”. But my god that was 10 minutes worth of humiliation.

Brenna Holeman September 13, 2016 - 10:56 am

Oh god!!! Yes, that is pretty bad. I once had to mime condoms. Not a fun encounter at the pharmacy, let me tell you.

Renuka September 8, 2016 - 9:17 am

I guess, falling sick and travel go hand in hand. I also fell sick on one of my epic trips. The memories you make along the way are more valuable. Loved your Paris photos! 🙂

Brenna Holeman September 13, 2016 - 10:54 am

Oh no… I’m sorry to hear that! But glad you liked the photos 🙂

Ravi Roshan Jaiswal September 13, 2016 - 8:03 am

Hello Brenna,

Wow. Great things to note. I highly agree with these all mistake which we all keep making.
Specially, food poisoning, sunburn, dehydration, sprained wrist, elbow, and ankle are the common problem which often hassle us and makes our trip bore.

I much appreciate you for suggesting a complete first-aid kit. It will help us to relieve quickly at any time while travelling. These are necessary to make our trip fantastic and full of fun and enjoyment. I have no any idea such like that but from now I must carry a well packed first-aid box with me.

Thanks for the writing about the wonderful travel topic, Brenna.
Good day.
– Ravi.

Laura September 13, 2016 - 11:59 pm

I’m so sorry to hear that you weren’t at top wack for your trip to Paris – I can’t imagine the horror of buying macarons then not being able to eat them! Touch wood, I’ve never fallen ill or gotten food poisoning while traveling before, but I do always pack a first aid kit with all the goods in it.

Brenna Holeman September 14, 2016 - 10:06 am

I was able to eat the macarons a couple of days later in London, thankfully! 😉 That’s very smart to pack a first-aid kit, I always have for long trips but need to start doing it for short trips, too.

Nina Lee: World into Words September 19, 2016 - 1:18 pm

That’s so unfortunate that you had such bad luck during a trip, but it looks like you pulled through a lot more than I ever would have. Worst thing that happened during my travels was when my period came on the Inca Trail and we were already too far in for me to find tampons. Luckily some other girls in the group I traveled with had some *phew*. But lesson learned!

Brenna Holeman September 25, 2016 - 1:23 am

Oh no! That is definitely not the place to be without any tampons. 🙁

Louise Terranova September 23, 2016 - 3:41 am

Hello Brenna, Always be prepared with a first aid kit, like you said it’s the golden rule. I would suggest adding Buscopan to your list for travellers’ diarrhoea associated stomach pain and I swear by Travalan – start one a day with a meal for two days before departing and one a day after that. You can’t take it for too long because it can cause constipation. I used it for about three weeks for a trip and trek in Nepal but I figure I was happy to be a little constipation toward the end of the trip rather than risk diarrhoea while trekking to Base Camp.

Worst travel sick story? Had to jump on this one.Travelling across the Sahara Desert (there were no roads just sand) on a bus/ truck thing ( public transport – not a tour) with my newly married husband I started vomiting. I had a collection of those thin plastic bags which I kept vomiting in and tying up. I ran out of bags and had to vomit in my cupped hands. At this point we were stationary in a sand storm. Complete whiteout. I carefully walked to the centre door with the vomit an African woman saw me and jumped up to let me out. My husband followed me out, I thought to support me but it was in fact, to wee. He nearly had it sandblasted off. Serve him right for dragging me across the Sahara and not to a beach in Thailand. Thirty years later (next week) we are still married and I am really glad that we went to an interesting part of the world, despite all the sand, sadly now too dangerous for travel due to extremist activity. Moral of the story- if you are going somewhere and will bounced about for hours getting there take LOTS of thin plastic bags to throw up in.

Thanks for that opportunity – one of these days I will post about some very old travel experiences. Louise

Brenna Holeman September 25, 2016 - 1:22 am

Thank you for the comment, Louise! That is quite a story…!!

Mo October 6, 2016 - 6:41 pm

Oh my gosh this post was amazing! Not that I was laughing at your suffering, I was laughing because it was so perfectly written and I’ve been there too. . . I used to never carry any first aid for trips, but oh how I’ve learned! Airborne is my staple since I have gotten colds on airplanes too many times, and I usually end up using up my stash of band-aids due to clumsiness!

Brenna Holeman November 11, 2016 - 2:22 am

I’m glad that you enjoyed the post, Mo!

Zalie November 8, 2016 - 8:17 pm

i’m sorry to laugh at this post but you know I love these stories and how you tell them! I actually always have some sort of first-aid supplies on me as I too have learned my lesson well 😉

Brenna Holeman November 11, 2016 - 2:23 am

I’m glad I could make you laugh, sister. 🙂 xoxo

Anita March 15, 2017 - 5:53 am

Can I just take a moment to recommend……. Mooncup! Get it! You can find it in boots pharmacy, at least that’s where I got mine years ago… It changed my life, never ever gonna stick a dry toxic tampon in me or wear a diaper-like pad again.

Heather @ Art Travel Eat Repeat April 4, 2017 - 9:49 pm

Oh my gosh I’ve been there! Recently I made the mistake of going to Mexico for 5 days, returning home for 3 days, and then flying to Japan for two weeks. Well, the travel wasn’t so much as a mistake as much as something I ate or drank in Mexico was. Can we say Montezuma’s Revenge?
I spent the entire flight to Japan groaning in agony in the plane lavatory. There is nowhere over the North Pacific ocean that I haven’t pooped. Thank GOD it was a fairly empty flight. My only saving grace was some last minute medications I bought at a premium in the Los Angeles airport shop. That pepto bismol and immodium was my best friend all the way over there as well as for the first few days in Japan. I tried to get some more medication in a Japanese pharmacy but the language barrier was pretty extreme and I wasn’t sure if I ended up with something to help soothe stomach issues or a laxative. I became afraid to take it so I guess I’ll never know.

YES to this advice. Bring medication. Bring all the medication. Bring more medication than you think you’ll need. Take an extra bag and just stuff the whole thing with medication. Don’t be like me.


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