Someday I’ll look back and laaaaugh… Foreign travel while pregnant

My husband works for the forest service as a fire fighter, and spends a good portion of the hotter months of the year away or on call.  So when we got married in February, we decided to delay our honeymoon until after the fire season was over.  We finally bought our tickets to Peru over labor day weekend.  On September 9, I found out I was pregnant.  Lindsey is an old pro at the whole pregnancy thing.  Every time she’s told me she was pregnant it was like.  So, yeah, I’m having a baby in nine months.  What are you going to be doing?

Me?  I went into shock.  How much yummy soft cheese had I digested in the last month?  Was that last glass of wine three nights ago the end of my baby’s future?  My body was going to change forever… in the wrong ways.  How was I going to get a job after finishing the PhD if I also had a baby?  And how in the world was I going to get back the money we’d spent on our Peru plane tickets?

After three days of hyperventilating, my brain finally stopped seizing, and I started doing some research.  Technically I’d be in my second trimester when we left.  Technically I was up to date on all my weird foreign disease shots.  Technically there was no reason I couldn’t go.  My doctor agreed, and the planning commenced.  In my head I envisioned taking my unborn child to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and wherever else we ventured.  I envisioned it benefiting from my good mood, my relaxed attitude, and it being born stronger and healthier because I had taken it abroad.  Perhaps it would miraculously have an aptitude for Spanish language as a result, and I would have a bilingual genius at the age of three.

The hormones in my body had different ideas–apparently they don’t deal in technicalities.  Remember how everything is supposed to be better as soon as the second trimester begins?  That’s an average.  I was not average.  My food aversions, my sensitive nose, my lethargy lingered well into my fifteenth week… until the second to last day of Peru.

I knew I was in trouble the minute I stepped out of the airport into the fresh night air of Peru.  I inhaled.  And promptly gagged.  I spent the entire two weeks fighting the urge to gag at the smell of fried food, peppery sauces, coca leaves, dirty dogs, and various types of debris collecting in the gutters and crevasses of Peruvian cities.

I also developed motion sickness for the first time in my 36 years, which turned our Peruvian bus rides into hours (as in, 16 hours straight on a bus) of hell on earth.  Granted, it appears that Peruvian bus drivers hire teenagers who think they are driving Ferraris to captain their buses… but still, I have always been game for the fastest, jerkiest, most hair-raising roller coaster rides, and usually beg to go again as soon as we lurch to a stop.  Not so anymore.

We hopped on our first bus at 3:45 in the morning–our second day in Peru.  We were headed for a little place south of Lima on the beach for a day of sight seeing by boat, bike rides along the coast, and amazing seafood.  The bus was nice.  Amtrak could learn a thing or two about decor from those guys.  Plush seats that lay almost flat, foot rests, tables, soft blankets and pillows, curtains on the windows, soft flute music playing on the speakers.

At 4:00 am I woke my now slumbering husband by announcing that I was going to puke, and promptly did.  All over my soft blanket.  I was horrified.  Embarrassed.  Panicked.  And did I mention horrified?  With a Spanish vocabulary of six words I had no way to tell the nice bus attendant that I had just vomited on my blanket and was so very sorry. We cleaned up the mess as best we could, folded the blanket up and stuffed it back in its bag until we got off the bus, and I tried to relax, willing myself not to repeat the incident in the next four hours.  I was destined to repeat this horror on two subsequent bus rides, though I was much more prepared with each subsequent event.

I additionally developed a wonderful ability to nap.  The minute it occurred to me that a nap would be nice, Bam!  I would fall asleep.  On our 8 hour train ride through the Andean mountains, my husband took photos of llamas, small villages, and glacier-capped mountains from the ‘viewing car’ at the back of the train.  I slept, snoring like a bear in my seat up front.  On our four hour boat ride on Lake Titicaca, my husband lounged on the top of the boat with other travelers, exchanging stories about politics, worldly adventures, and the curiosities of Peru.  I slept, mouth agape, drooling like fool in my seat below.  After walking an old colonial town, seeing towering Spanish cathedrals, catacombs, and monasteries, I begged to go take a short nap at our room.  Dennis begged to see the chocolate museum, or browse the store fronts for some baby alpaca goods.  What a downer I was!  The urge to sleep seemed beyond my control, and no amount of willing myself to stay awake seemed to work.  It didn’t help that the smell of coffee, which I have loved my whole adult life, disgusted me.

I turned into a sap on this trip.  The bus rides would often feature movies to watch to pass the time.  Dubbed over in Spanish so that I couldn’t understand a word.  Nonetheless, I bawled–no exaggeration.. I sobbed and went through an entire pack of Kleenex watching a Bollywood movie.  For those that don’t know better–this is not what I usually do during movies of any kind.  You should have seen the look on Dennis’ face.

And lastly, it appears that I forgot to pack my stamina.  Hiking to Machu Picchu from the little town of Aguas Calientes is no small feat, mind you.  The town itself is at 6,690 feet, and Machu Picchu is roughly 2-3 miles away (1 mile flat, 1-2 miles up a rock staircase), at 7,972 feet.  But I’ve done things like that a thousand times here at home, and I live at 7,300 feet, so this should have been a cake walk.  For Dennis, it was.  I gasped for air, stopped at every switch back, and whined in my head about my husband being so very very far ahead of me.  After the first 400 feet up, he took my backpack, tied it on to his, and carried both.  This helped tremendously, but he still beat me to the top with enough time to strike up casual conversation with others at the top.  We then immediately hiked from Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu, the peak in the background in every picture of the infamous ruins that you see.  Huayna Picchu is at 8924 feet.  The hike is less than a mile up.  Straight up.  Then we hiked down the backside of Huayna Picchu, to the Grand Caverns–1300 feet lower than the summit of Huayna Picchu, and then back up to Machu Picchu.  As far as I can recall, this is the only hike in my life where I thought to myself, “I don’t think I can make it”.

I spent two weeks feeling like I was a foreigner–not only in another country, but in my own body.  I didn’t recognize any of the things I was feeling.  Nausea was new to me.  Food aversions have never been a problem.  Fatigue?  Pah.  Who was this person that had taken over my body?  Lindsey, my sister, my mother, and every other woman who has ever carried a child tells me this is all normal.  And if this is normal, then I suppose all I can do is become comfortable with the new norm (which, thankfully, is abating every day).  Here’s the good news though:  Peru was fabulous.  Even while sick, and tired, and cranky, Peru was an incredible and unforgettable experience.  I can always tell how much I like something by my subconscious effort to collect it on film.  In this case I collected 2500 pictures.  I’d go again in a heartbeat… only I’d change a couple of things up front to make the ‘adjustment’ a little easier.

If you are also thinking about travelling abroad while carrying a babe in your belly, here are my pointers… the things I learned over two weeks but that I wish I’d known before I left.

1) You are no longer super woman. If you’re like me, you’re used to powering through the rough times. If I get hungry on a trail, I just forget about it until I get to a good stopping spot–usually at the top. If I’m tired, I put ‘sleep’ on my to-do list for that evening, and keep going. If I feel a little off, I ignore it. I know my body and I know how hard I can push it. But I don’t know how hard I can push the little one growing inside me, and I don’t know how not taking care of myself will affect my baby. I chose not to take the physical risks I normally would. Rather than saving the extra apple for Dennis on a long hike, I ate it. Same with the chocolate. When my heart beat seemed too high, I stopped to rest. I fretted about how slow I was going, but looking back, we had enough time for everything, and the stops gave me a chance to really look around me and see things I might have missed–odd flowers, leaf-cutter ants, a passing brightly-colored bird. I found that accepting my new state of being, and focusing on finding creative ways to deal with it put me in a much better mood than fighting it or pretending it wasn’t real.

2) Gorge yourself when your tummy is feeling good.While at home I can eat small meals all day long, this proved difficult while travelling in Peru. We’d stock up on snacks to get through long bus rides, but inevitably would run out it seemed. Every evening, when we’d sit down for a big meal, I’d lose my appetite. Rather than forcing myself to continue eating as if all was normal, I took to eating large breakfasts in the morning when my tummy was happy and the Food Aversion Muse was sleeping, and smaller dinners if I could eat at all at night.

3)  Be mindful of what you eat.  Make certain you talk to your doctor about what is okay to eat while abroad.  The usual food-and-travel rules apply of course (no ice, no un-peel-able fruits or veggies, etc.), and the usual food-and-pregnancy rules too (limit or avoid unpasteurized milk, deli meats, raw fish (doh!), etc.)… but I would have gone to town on the homemade cheeses if my doctor hadn’t reminded me that most cheese outside the U.S. is (alas) unpasteurized.  So.  So.  Sad.

4)  Prepare yourself for being more nauseous than normal.  After my first embarrassing bus ride, I took to carrying a Ziploc bag on my person when on the bus; my own personal puke bag.  I tried a small dose of Dramamine, which has helped some pregnant woman, but I got no relief.  I carried water crackers, and if I chewed on one or two as soon as I started to feel queasy it would help.  If I waited too long, they just made me sicker.  I carried ample wet wipes, Kleenex, toothpaste, and extra Ziploc just in case.  We took one extremely choppy boat ride, so bad that half the people on the boat were sick by the end–strangely I didn’t have any problems.  However, I shared my useless Dramamine with two other passengers, and was happy to be able to help.

5)  Give your nose a break.  I took a couple of dryer sheets with me, and would slip them into my pillow case at night, just to give my nose a break from all the things that were annoying it.  I also sucked on lots of breath mints, and used my cherry chap-stick more than I probably needed to.  I know it sounds silly and uptight–but the smell clung to my poor nose–even now I occasionally recall the odors of Peru and feel sick to my stomach.  Dennis didn’t notice at all.

Have you traveled abroad while pregnant?  Share with us your own stories, and what you do to make it easier.

14 Comments so far

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  1. Congratulations Olivia!

    • Thanks Jessica! We are pretty excited… found out Friday it’s going to be a girl! =)

  2. That’s so awesome. Same thing here. Had a trip to Peru planned and then found out I was pregnant. Still went. Was barely able to eat anything while there and found nothing agreed with me.

    I had super woman energy though and was running up hills to every ruins. The altitude also never bothered me (whereas in the past, it has). Every body is definitely different! It was the food I generally struggled with.

    We were disappointed we had to cancel our trip to the jungle because I hadn’t had my shots before getting pregnant and we had to take the train to Macchu Picchu instead of trekking but we saw a lot of country!

    • Tanya,
      Wow! A fellow Peruvian traveler! And pregnant no less! So glad the altitude and hiking didn’t get you down–maybe I shouldn’t blame the baby, and I’m just a wuss. Too bad about the food for us, my husband told me every night how wonderful it was. =) I, like you, avoided the jungle, but our days were so jam packed anyway that even if we could have gone, I don’t know how we would have fit it in! I’m looking forward to going back with the kiddo someday and hiking the Inca Trail with her…

  3. Susanna

    I was pregnant in Italy, but didn’t know it. In retrospect, It kind of explains why I got sick from eating (except the gelato), had to sleep every afternoon, and was extremely out of breath on my hikes. And, no, Abby wasn’t born fluent in Italian. Though she likes to pretend she’s fluent in Spanish…

    • Susanna: I remember when you came back from Italy you complained about their weak coffee and how it just didn’t keep you awake. Now we know why!!! =)

      And I love that Abby thinks she’s fluent in Spanish. I’ve listened to that clip you sent me several times for a good giggle. Perhaps she’s actually speaking Italian and you just haven’t noticed?

  4. Liz

    I travelled to Oaxaca while 4 months pregnant and cannot report any problems. Sounds like I was lucky with a really active and easy pregnancy despite a few trips in the US as well to altitude and a lot of odd foods as the Mexico trip was a culinary one and trip, grasshoppers and more were involved in eating. I abstained from the big mezcal tasting but otherwise was up hiking early every morning and sightseeing. The little guy later came with me on a trip to Mexico City and one to Argentina too.

    • Liz, You’re amazing! Love that you sampled grasshoppers, went sightseeing in the morning, and didn’t bat an eye at your ‘condition’. You are a pregnancy superstar, and a travelling whiz to boot, it seems! How I would love to visit Oaxaca…

  5. Daktari

    Sorry to hear you had such problems. I might have been able to push you up the hills, but I know for a fact that I would not have kept up with Dennis.

    • Daktari, Problems Schmoblems. Yeah, it was a little rough, but I’d go back in a heartbeat even knowing what I’d be up against! I would have loved your company on the hills… next time, perhaps? =)

  6. I didn’t travel abroad, but I flew to Texas (which some might argue is a foreign country compared to the PA Amish countryside) to meet my husband’s extended family with my MIL (sans husband) when I was 8 weeks pregnant. It was awful. I got horribly sick on the flight, and then we did a ton of driving where I also felt queasy. I felt nothing like myself, had no energy, and was trying hard to make a good impression on top of it. We had only told our parents about the baby, but I had to spill the beans to his whole family because I kept going to bed at 7 pm and took lots of naps during the day. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like abroad!
    Your description of feeling like a foreigner in your own body brought back a lot of memories about my pregnancy. For the first five months, I struggled with this. I didn’t love being pregnant. I loved teaching OE and working 12 hour days and leading hikes and climbing rocks and singing silly songs at campfires… None of which I was able to do well during my entire pregnancy. It was so difficult to accept my new limitations! I started feeling a bit better at my 20 week ultrasound, when I got to see the little person for whom I was making all the sacrifices. Now, I have a six month old baby and would eagerly go through it all again!
    Congratulations! I hope you come to enjoy all of the neat things happening to you right now… Even if it does feel like an alien is taking over:-) Trust me, it is worth it!

    • Sarah. It makes me feel so much better to know that I’m not the only one! At least I didn’t have new family to deal with. What an experience! I ate dinner at a family’s house in Peru that they had painstakingly prepared over a small fire. I had to turn down the fresh cheese because it wasn’t pasteurized, and made it through only half of the pepper and rice dish thanks to my rioting tummy. I wanted so badly to explain why I couldn’t eat the food, but couldn’t quite get the message across. I can’t wait to meet this little lady wreaking havoc on my body, and am sure I’ll look back on this with much different eyes a year from now! =) Thanks for your story.

  7. Bryn

    We are on our last night in Bolivia after hiking Inca Trail at 7-8 weeks surprised pregnant. I am reading this aloud to my husband and we are laughing out loud. My story! I didn’t know what “food aversion” meant until day 2 of hike. Now all food disgusts me. And tired? I am a zombie! Bug we loved it and I loved hiking with our little secret surprise.

  8. Lauren

    Hi there,
    I just stumbled upon this post while researching travel possibilities while pregnant. My husband and I would really like to go somewhere interesting for my spring break in April (I’m a teacher) – at that point I’ll be about 4 months along. We are thinking about either a week in Nicaragua or a week in Oaxaca. We live in Oakland, CA, so both trips would involve somewhat inconvenient and long flights to get there. However, those are two places we are interested in. Have also thought about Ireland. We’d LOVE to go to Machu Picchu but will probably have to wait for a few years…


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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