Friday, February 19, 2016

Worst Trip Ever: Advice From My Nightmare Travel Experience

Last February, my boyfriend Tristan and I set off on our first trip to Dominican Republic. Punta Cana had been highly recommended to us on account of Bávaro Beach being one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean, and we were excited to celebrate my birthday there. 

We arrived late at night, and were disappointed to find that our room was not the one we had booked and paid for. Front desk staff informed us that there was nothing that could be done until the morning, so we slept in our single beds and sucked it up. The next morning, fortunately, we were given the room we booked with a queen bed. 

The first few days of the trip were nice. The beach and weather were beautiful— we spent our days soaking in the sun and our nights relaxing at the resort’s many bars. On the night of my birthday, we tried the Asian-themed à la carte restaurant, where I had some less-than-satisfactory salmon as an appetizer and pork for the main course. Since we didn’t eat much of our meal, we ended up snacking at the buffet later that night. We enjoyed some drinks and a dance performance before heading off to bed.

Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Enjoying the beautiful beach in Punta Cana

It all started in the middle of the night. I tossed and turned, as did the contents of my stomach. It wasn’t long before I was rushing to the bathroom to woof my cookies, if you will. I figured after getting it out of my system and sleeping it off I would start to feel better— I couldn’t be more wrong. As my condition worsened throughout the next day, we began to worry that something was really wrong. I couldn’t even keep liquids down. As someone with Type 1 Diabetes, this was a serious concern as I grew more and more dehydrated.

When we visited the resort doctor early that evening, they performed some cursory tests and promptly shoved me into an ambulance headed for a nearby hospital. As it turns out, barely anyone at the nearby hospital spoke English, so we spent a lot of time playing charades with the nurses and doctors. I figured I’d stay in the Emergency Room for a few hours, and after some medicine and maybe an IV we’d be on our merry way. Again, I was wrong. 

I spent the night in the hospital. The tests were inconclusive as to what was making me so sick. Although we were fairly confident it was the food that had made me sick, the doctors could not confirm. I was diagnosed with acute gastroenteritis, and despite treatment, didn’t seem to be improving. I was scared, I was sick, and most of all, I wanted to go home. 

Exremely flattering shot of me in the hospital 

I was kept in the hospital for three days—the only reason they discharged me was so that I could catch my flight back to Toronto. I missed the excursion we had booked, along with the rest of our trip. Tristan went back to the hotel to bring our luggage while I anxiously waited in the hospital room. I never even got to go back to the resort— we went straight from the hospital to the airport. On the bright side, I got to roll through the airport in a wheelchair and got bumped to the front of the security line. 

I am extremely grateful to have had such a caring, compassionate, and patient travel companion by my side. I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through the whole ordeal without him. Over the course of a few weeks at home, I finally started to feel better. Physically, at least…I was still resentful and feeling guilty that my illness had ruined our trip. Since the tests could not prove the cause of my sickness, the resort took no responsibility and offered no compensation for our troubles. 

Although even the best laid plans can go awry, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of a travel disaster. Here are some tips based on my Punta Cana trip from hell:

Always buy travel insurance. Anything can happen when you’re traveling, especially far from home in a foreign country. You don’t want to be in a position where you aren’t covered and can’t afford treatment. It’s worth spending a bit extra to save you from having to spend thousands on medical care (no exaggeration: my medical bills in Punta Cana totalled thousands of dollars). 

Get immunized. Make sure you’re up to date on all of your basic vaccinations, and check with your doctor or travel clinic about any region-specific vaccinations you might need. Something as simple as taking Dukoral before taking off might save you from missing a day at the beach due to traveler’s diarrhea. 

Do your research. Especially when traveling to the Caribbean, keep in mind that a 4-star resort in Canada or the USA will generally be of much higher quality than a 4-star resort in Mexico or Cuba. Read lots of reviews from different sources, or even check with a travel agent about any recurring reports of food poisoning at a specific resort. Depending on the place you're visiting, you may want to stick to bottled water (even for brushing teeth). 

Try to keep things in perspective. Although you may be having the worst trip of your life, chances are your horrible trip will make for an interesting story in the future. There will always be more trips in the future! Probably not to Dominican Republic, but still…

Tell me about your worst trip ever in the comments!

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