x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The Practical Traveller: Passing up this opportunity is painful

Too tight to buy a bottle of painkillers, Chris Guillebeau learns to his cost that saving money doesn't always make sense on the road.

I slept badly on a flight from Dallas to London and strained my back. The first day I was sore, and I waited impatiently for it to get better. The second day it was worse, but I assumed that was the end of it. I was travelling on to Jordan, and when I landed at Queen Alia International Airport, I was feeling well enough to think I'd be fine the next day.

That evening I took a taxi to Amman and dropped my bags off at the hotel before walking down the street to pick up some groceries. On my walk I passed by a pharmacy and thought about buying ibuprofen or aspirin. Through a combination of naive thinking about frugality ("Do I really need to buy medicine?") and an aversion to medicine ("I can handle this just fine!") I ignored the pharmacy and kept walking to my hotel.

Big mistake. I woke up at 3am with a stabbing pain that didn't go away no matter how I positioned myself in the bed. I tried to go back to sleep, but the pain was too intense. I finally called room service for some ice and spent the next hour and a half alternating between a hot washcloth and the ice. I slept fitfully the rest of the night and walked to the pharmacy as soon as it was light outside. Alas, it was closed, as was the other pharmacy across the street. By that point the pain was almost unbearable, at least by my low threshold of accommodating pain.

I considered how much I would pay for the pharmacy to open and sell me some medicine, and decided $100 (Dh367) would be no problem: if only I had the opportunity, I would gladly pay it for that bottle of pain relief.

Unfortunately, there was no such opportunity; I simply had to wait until opening hours. I trudged back to the hotel and had breakfast, thinking that perhaps the coffee would help. I paid too much for a buffet and omelette station that I didn't enjoy, trying unsuccessfully to think about anything except my aching back.

Ninety minutes later I walked back to the pharmacy, which was now open. The pharmacist gave me several options of varying strengths - an easy choice. I took the big bottle with the strongest pills. Back at the hotel I swallowed my 800 milligrams and patiently waited, which in this case meant using the limited internet time to Google "How long until ibuprofen takes effect?" (According to initial search results, there were many people with the same pressing query.)

I gradually felt better as the drugs kicked in and the pain left my consciousness. Additional doses over the next two days helped me further. By the time I left Jordan and travelled back to Europe, I had only occasional pain and was back to enjoying my adventures.

When it comes to travelling the world, I have a few rules for myself. The first rule is never pass up a new country when it comes your way. I learnt this lesson early on, when I had the chance to visit someplace new but decided to leave it for later. After making that mistake several times and having to go back, I learnt to push myself. Even if I was tired, the rule dictated, I'd make sure to visit a new country whenever the opportunity presented itself.

As I travelled more, this rule inspired several others, including never pass up the chance to do laundry and when you have access to an electrical outlet, never work on battery power. The common theme is to take advantage of what you have while you have it. It might not be possible to do laundry in the next stop, and I might not find an outlet for a while. Carpe diem.

Along the same lines, I should have bought the medicine when I had the chance. If it turned out I didn't need it, it would have been only an expense of a few dollars. But my foolish attempt at frugality and ignoring the pain led me to make a poor decision.

The persistent backache also changed my perception on addiction. All of a sudden, I understood how desperately someone could desire something, even if it was bad for them. In my case, the drug was non-addictive and beneficial, but if it was something else and I felt that strongly, it would have been extremely difficult to forget about it. Peering through the pharmacy window before the clerk arrived, I knew that my solution was right inside. But it was also just out of reach.

I don't get sick very often, and I've been fortunate to avoid major illness throughout most of my travels. Still, I'll always remember the Jordanian backache. The next time something goes wrong, I won't wait as long to seek relief.