Local Remedies for Sickness While Backpacking Around the World

I’ve been feeling quite under the weather for a few weeks now, which is why I have not been publishing, commenting or social networking as much as I usually do.

Feeling this way has me thinking about all the home remedies locals have shared with me on my backpacking travels around the world to help cure my ailments. Here are some of them.

A matchstick for your nausea

matchstick for your nausea
Chew on this

Travelling from Kampala to Kabale, Uganda, Craig and I found ourselves squashed in the back of an old US postal van with about 15 other people and several bags of mail. This is travel in Africa.

I sat unevenly with half a bum on one seat and the other on the seat next to it, which threw my back out, shooting pain up and down my back for the 7 hour journey.

The roof was really low and the mountainous bends added to my overwhelming feeling of suffocation. I’m not sure if it was just this or I had eaten something bad the night before, but I felt terribly nauseous and shivered with a chill. The lady beside me chatted away in that friendly Ugandan way. She told me her name was Marian.

“That is my mother’s name.”

Aghhh!” She squealed, giving me a huge hug, and then blessing herself. “Praise the Lord.You are my African daughter. I will look after you. I am so happy you have found your African mumma.”

It only felt natural that I then tell her how sick I was feeling, secretly hoping she would whip out some ice cream and jelly like my Aussie mumma would.

“I have just the thing for you my baby. This will make you feel better.”

After scrounging around in her purse for what I knew would come in the form of an ice cream wrapper, she soon pulled out a matchstick.

“Put this in your mouth and chew on it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yes. Trust me. Put the end in your mouth and hold it between your teeth a little way down on the wood. Don’t touch the head with your teeth or tongue but just let it hang inside your mouth. Your wanting to be sick feeling will soon go.”

I tried my best to protest but she insisted that she was Marian, my African mother, and she knew what she was doing.

So I did it. A strange sulfurous taste rolled around the inside of my mouth and I was glad I wasn’t having one of my roaring dragon days.

After awhile I couldn’t stand having a matchstick in my mouth anymore so I took it out. Besides, I couldn’t chat to mum anymore with it in there. Lo and behold my nausea had vanished never to return again.

Listen to this tale and more crazy adventures in our podcast on Travel through Uganda.

Just let me rip your knee open

local remedies for sickness

We had been hiking the jungles of Sumatra for several weeks and I spent a lot of that time on my arse scraping the crap out of my body.

On this two day hike, our Indonesian explorer guide, Arlen, had taken us through the jungles of Bukkitingi, past tigers, to beautiful Lake Maninyoui where we spent a relaxing week.

One of the sores on my knee began to pus up with infection making it was painful to bend and walk. We were miles from anywhere and had no proper first aid with us. Al, the local boy who ran our guesthouse by the lake, decided that he needed to open up the wound and scrape out the junk.

“It is the only way to fix it. It will only get worse if we don’t”

Armed with shots of whiskey, he and my friends took great delight in taking the scab off my inflamed knee, and then digging deep into the wound to squeeze all the pus out and clean it, leaving me in a sweaty aching mess on the floor. But, hey, the scraping and squeezing worked, and I soon got my knee back to pristine hiking condition.

All you need is some pressure on your points

Pressure points
Pressure on the points

On that same hiking trip the night before we stayed in a wooden jungle cabin at the crest of the mountain above the lake. The dramas of narrowly missing out on being a tiger’s lunch must have been too much for me, and my head pounded with the stress of a headache. Arlen sat me down and demanded I let him put some pressure on my points.

“Well it depends on what points you want to pressure.”

“Just give me your hand.”

He began to squeeze hard a little below the web that joined my thumb and my index finger.

“Ow. That hurts Arlen”

“The more it hurts the better for your head. Give me back your hand. These are your pressure points that help relieve headaches. Squeeze tightly until it hurts for several minutes on both hands and your headache will soon be gone. “

He then showed me two other places for headache pressure points. Pressing down hard on the forearm just above the elbow joint,  and putting a thumb in your collar bone space and your finger opposite on your trapezoid.

Squeeze until it really hurts for a few minutes and hey presto headache gone. I have rarely turned to headache pain relievers since he taught me this local remedy. I start putting pressure on my points and the headache soon disappears.

Go on, find your pressure points now. You’ll know it if you have found the right spot. It feels like a small little knot and it is really tender.

Have some salt in your tea

Salty tea

4 hours on a boat in Indonesia struck down with Bali belly.

Apparently, it was a pleasant journey, but I saw not much else than a squat toilet and the deck of the boat. While my friends sat and feasted on seafood upon arrival, I sat in the chair feeling immensely sorry for myself. The kind waiter inquired as to why I was not eating.

“I can’t keep anything down. I’m very sick in the stomach.”

“Ah. Bally belly. I have just the thing for you. Wait there.”

He brought back a black tea.

“Drink this. It has salt in it so does not taste very good. But, drink it. You will feel much better guarantee.”

Now to rub salt in the wounds, I was drinking salty tea while my friends were drinking beer with their lobster. It was hideous. But, my stomach soon settled down and I no longer had to run to the toilet. By morning, I was completely fixed and tucking into some beers and prawns by the beach.

Not only did these local remedies help fix my ailments they sure did help make me stronger.

More inspiration

We recorded our story in podcast over 5 episodes. Each episode showcases how we made travel our lifestyle despite many challenges, and not matter what life stage we were in.

Episode 3 is where we dive into the dark times spoken about in this post. All episodes are filled with nuggets to help you see how anything is possible. Pull up a chair and your favorite drink and let us help you keep your dreams alive.

  1. Episode 1: Solo Travel and Working Abroad before we met
  2. Episode 2: Our 5 year honeymoon living and traveling the world
  3. Episode 3: The Dark times and Birth of the girls and travel blog
  4. Episode 4: Embracing Family Travel and our 18 month Australian road trip
  5. Episode 5: Getting a green card and traveling the US (our dream realized)

And more useful nuggets in I want to Know your Secret,  The Reality of us as Travelers: then and Now and You’ve got Time + the end of 22 years of nomadic travel.

What are some local remedies for sickness you have discovered while backpacking around the world?

42 thoughts on “Local Remedies for Sickness While Backpacking Around the World”

  1. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    What?!?! A MATCHSTICK for nausea? That is really cool and something I never would have anticipated. I get an upset stomach somewhat frequently when I travel (motion sickness sucks), so I’m definitely going to give this one a try soon. 🙂

    I don’t know if I could have handled the pus extraction, though, even with the shots of whiskey!

    1. Don’t forget to pack the matchsticks-cheap and lightweight. The pus extraction was really painful, I’ll give that one a miss next time.

  2. Very informative! Acupressure is great. There is also a point on your hand for nausea which I think I would like better than a match. 🙂

  3. Korea is rife with its own odd little cures for things. Some of them don’t work (when I was vomiting I was given four equally disgusting herbal remedies that made it worse) and some of them (eat lots of kimchi) just don’t make any sense.

    But they have a soup here that can knock the stuffing out of any hangover you might stumble in with. It’s miraculous stuff.

  4. Haha I’ve actually heard of the matchstick one before!

    When I was in high school, I did this exchange trip to the Ukraine and while I was there, I got a bad cold. My host mama took a slice of lemon, put a little honey on it, and told me to eat the entire thing (including the peel). The honey only did a little to help the incredibly sour taste, but it provided a huge dose of Vitamin-C and actually helped me get better real quick!

    1. Cool! Someone else who knows the matchstick trick. The lemon trick is a good one to remember. Not sure how I would go eating it. Kalyra would do well, she loves eating lemons.

  5. I especially love the story about your African mumma! I’ve never heard about the matchstick remedy but I can imagine you’ll remember her and that ride forever. 🙂

    1. She was precious! Despite the nausea it was a really memorable ride. Everyone on the van was talking, laughing and sharing food. Ugandans are so lovely.

  6. The knee sounds ghastly!!!

    In Turkey the salty yoghurt drink ayran is believed to be a great remedy for tummy troubles. If you can get one down that is; I never liked it much!

    1. Ew! Now that sounds disgusting. I’m not sure if I could get that one down either. Why is it that all the natural remedies are so horrible tasting. I think that would make me throw up more.

  7. These are some great tips, especially the one about the matchstick. I had no idea that was a natural remedy for nausea! Here’s one I’ve picked up in Mexico, if you accidentally touch your eye after handling chile peppers eating a little salt will stop the burn. I don’t know why this works but it does! 🙂

    1. That is a really great one to know Laura. I had a friend the other night who did just this. If only I knew how I could have helped him.

  8. Very cool remedies! One remedy that works for me when I have an upset stomach is Sage Tea. Simply toss 5-8 sage leaves into a teapot, add water and bring to a boil. My friend that taught me about this remedy also swears by it for hangovers too.

  9. Ah, local remedies. My Dad told me stories of some of the Seychelles remedies he used to be subjected to when ill. I think the worst sounding one was the cure for ear ache, which involves cracking open a snail and pouring the goo into your ear. Not sure how effective it was.. I never plucked up the courage to try it!

    1. Now that sounds gross! I think I prefer my mum’s cure for ear aches- pouring brandy in the ear! I think that is why I can’t ever bring myself to drink brandy. It feels too medicinal to me.

  10. Interesting how each culture/country has its own local remedies. When I was growing up, my mom gave me things that you can’t imagine. I specially hated a remedy she prepared for colds.

  11. Excellent post! It’s not such a strange remedy, but in Laos they user Tiger Balm for everything. Bug bite? Tiger Balm? Headache? Tiger Balm. Nausea? Yep, Tiger Balm.

    I get motion sickness – I’ll definitely give the match stick a try.

  12. wow – this is an awesome post! I love these little remedies and I’m so glad they worked for you. I actually learned a great one on the farm in Italy from a German girl. We were both sick – stuffy heads, coughing, feeling crappy, really run down. We didn’t have the flu but we had colds. She talked to her mother who told her to cut up a 1/2 of a purple onion and put it in a bowl. Then you cover it with brown sugar, wrap it the bowl w/ saran wrap and keep it on the counter. Over time the brown sugar turns into a liquid. Three times a day you take a spoonful of the liquid and drink it.

    Sounds gross but actually tastes good and it worked! we both got better! We also had a guy from Israel on the farm as well and he had us drink Sage Tea which worked really well for a hangover. Grab a bunch of sage leaves, throw ’em in a pot of water – bam, Sage Tea!

    Hope you feel better soon!!!

  13. Caz, what an article? Acupressure technique was known but other remedies are just very much unknown to me like match stick remedies. Thanks Caz to let us know about these remedies.

  14. Great article! I live in the Peruvian jungle and I’m constantly coming across weird and wonderful remedies. Sangre de Grado, a blood-red tree resin, is excellent stuff for cuts. I fell off a motorbike about a year ago and took a chunk out of my knee. An old local women cleaned the wound and covered it with the red liquid. It set like a scab, went black after a few days, then fell off (the scab, not my whole knee). No scar, no nothing. Brilliant! The local curers also rub a guinea pig all over a person’s body to extract bad spirits and illnesses – but then they have to kill the poor little thing!


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