Not your traditional travel health advice post, this is an excerpt from “The Dark Parts”, a collection of chapters from Digital Nomad Escape Plan that describe the darker parts of nomad living.
Everyone has a reason why they go nomad –and the words we mouth in public about “getting tired of the nine-to-five” are only the tip of the iceberg. The whole truth often doesn’t look so pretty on a travel blog, nor does it attract sponsored posts.
The reality is, a lot of digital nomads have two things in common.
Whenever I meet a new friend who I feel comfortable being around, I’m always curious what they can do, and why they’re here.
“What’s your ‘super power’ –and what’s your glitch?”
A “glitch” is not a negative personality trait at all –if anything, it can be a source of strength.
For me, it’s more of a playful approach to why they got on a plane in the first place.
I recognized early on that those able to make the leap and leave so much behind either have an open mind or a bit of a death wish, and strong independent skills that unlock doors other people keep closed. Earlier in Digital Nomad Escape Plan I referred to them as roadworthy skill sets.
And the longer some have been away since their last visit home, the bigger the glitch.
Something that hurt them, bad.
Takes one to know one I guess.
That isn’t to say we all have scars. Some people are just light, and good for them. But for those carrying a hole under their ribs, our health is often the price of admission we pay for the struggle. The older you get, the more this will resonate with you.
For some it was the death of a close friend, a car accident, a gut-wrenching divorce, a string of brutality, a cancer victory that scared them to life –or worse, a fight they’re in the process of losing. I’ve met people with every one of these scars, and some of them aren’t breathing anymore.
Or it was Trump in the White House.
Whatever your poison, it’s pushing you onto a plane and it made you pick up your copy of Digital Nomad Escape Plan. And it made you fearless.
There’s always a calibration period; a distillation of sorts. Our heartaches in life can make us reckless, fall apart and force us to put ourselves back together, discarding the leftover pieces.
Maybe “glitch” wasn’t the right word. Recently I came across this video from a public television station in my home province of Ontario, Canada and the glitch I speak of is more aptly called a dragon.
We can ignore them, but sooner or later they’ll occupy more space than we can handle and we’ll have to take them on.
For me it took years, and I did it overseas –far and away from the gaslights and catalysts back home.
I turned to cheap drinks, women, Camel Whites, and Rasta bars because of decades-old family problems and a posthumous voicemail message I received months too late, from an old friend who kissed a train.
I ruined myself into oblivion, buried my little sufferings between the thighs of strangers, and destroyed friendships. And it started a chain reaction for my health that almost killed me.
We all distill differently.
When it’s over, we either come around, learn, adapt, and mature –or we become bitter, passive, arrogant, or all of the above. Some don’t survive the pursuit.
During this time of transformation, you need to be mindful of your health, relationships, and the frailty of others. At one point or another in your life, these things are all you’ve got.
Why I Wrote this Chapter
Me and Death, we’re tight. We dated for about a year and a half before I broke it off amicably.
Mysterious health problems reduced me to 140 pounds, even in spite of the 5-6 whole roasted chickens I’d eat per day.
I ate everything in sight and I was disappearing faster than Marty McFly in a Polaroid picture.
I was scared I couldn’t stop it. I avoided going out. I refused to go home to Canada, and I put myself into debt with hospital bills in Bangkok. There was a dozen suspected causes, yet nothing conclusive.
My immunity took a total dump; at one time or another over the course of a year or so, I had parasites, ringworm, skin fungus, chronic candida, ear infections, eye infections, irritable bowel syndrome, intense neck pain, light sensitivity, headaches, rapid hair loss, intense mood swings, and cold sweats where the mattress was unusable for days afterwards. And that’s just what I remember.
Needless to say, it did my head in. My boat was taking on water, and I had no choice other than to accept it.
My body was fighting something, and it fought hard. Night life most certainly played a central role, it wasn’t the meat and potatoes. The whole self-destruction thing is stupid, I know, it happens to the best of us.
It wasn’t cancer, HIV, TB, dengue, malaria, kidney failure, liver damage, meningitis, or any of the usual Southeast Asian health problems –I got checked for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. And I didn’t touch hard drugs.
I did eventually go home to Canada after I made improvement and I did it for my Lady, but only after we started Copyrise, met in person, became romantic, fell in love, and I secured our engagement. Had I retreated, none of that would have happened.
Doctors in Canada found nothing other than my stark vitamin B deficiency. When you’re traveling, vitamin deficiencies are par for the course.
I had never been more productive than when I faced death.
Travel Insurance, Simplified
Safetywing is incredibly economical, but is it comprehensive enough for your needs? World Nomads offers more coverage, but is it too much?
Find out, read our side-by-side comparison.
How to Protect Your Immunity During the Dark Parts
Today, I’m back to 99%. I’m healthy and without medication. I’m not a doctor, so there’s no merit in tossing around blind guesses.
I did take antibiotics and ketoconazole before it got really bad, and I have a feeling these drugs sent my immune system in a tailspin. They hand it out like candy in Thailand.
The list below could be longer, that’s a story for another book. If you sign up for my mailing list I’ll let you know when or if it comes out.
I’ve only included the key things that I made part of my daily regimen below, and I believe this is how I got better over time.
When the dark parts dissipate, you’ll be glad you took care of your health as best you could. These health suggestions are basic, easy to follow, and in order of importance. Affiliate link warning in effect.
Buy a Blender that Fits in Your Backpack
If you don’t make it really easy to consume your fresh fruits and vegetables, you never will. A bit of spirulina or frozen spinach cubes you can pick up at Big C won’t overpower the mango and coconut oil in a smoothie.
Buy a fancy tote bag to go with it, and wrap it in newspaper for every flight because you’ll have to check it before you board. It’s the only luggage I can’t keep in a carry on.
This one’s probably the hardest one on the list to procure, but it’ll mitigate much of the threats and damage your body will endure while traveling –probiotics are your army of good bacteria, ready to go to war for your precious meat sack.
The best sources are from supplements, kefir, or fermented foods. I’ve been lucky enough to find them in a pharmacy that lines the wall of the lower food court at Maya Mall near Rimping.
Just avoid marketing bullshit when it comes to probiotics –anything loaded with sugar, like yogurt or those little bottled drinks in 7-11 (Yakult?) won’t help you. If you consume yogurt, go Greek and sugar free. Kefir is the most potent, and pretty damned tasty in a smoothie.
Probiotics will boost your immunity against diseases, viruses, diarrhea, parasites, yeast infections, fungal infections, eczema flare-ups, and ear aches, among other things.
Keep in mind you’re always sweating which is a prime condition for fungal infections like ringworm and chronic candida –a waxy film on your skin that is invisible to others but grody for you to walk around with. It’s the same film that’s responsible for dandruff and hair loss, gents. Yes, probiotics prevent hair loss, too.
Probiotics will also preserve your beach abs –especially if you go Paleo and give up foods like bread, rice, peanuts, soy, and sugar.
Most people have a belly from bloat caused by eating foods that either kill off the healthy bacteria in your gut, cause inflammation (peanuts), or feed the monsters like bad bacteria or over-cultivation of yeast. Even eating preservative-laden foods like hot dogs (preservatives) will make you bloat, hard.
Pro-tip: If you do find yourself with a waxy film on your skin, use shampoo with ketoconazole like Nizoral as a body wash + shampoo 2-in-1, and scrub with those fancy shower gloves or a porous stone (they sell them in Asia for bathing) and then apply coconut oil, towel off. Do not take ketoconazole in pill form, it will do much, much more damage than good.
Probiotics will also prevent mood swings after a drinking binge (along with vitamin B). Your moods usually start in the belly. Your gut flora is connected to every system in your body, and if you don’t keep it healthy you’ll feel as moody as a baby with a diaper rash –in your brains.
Lastly, they’re one of the few supplements that can’t withstand an airport scanner.
I bought these amazing probiotics in Canada and by the time I got through all my connecting flights and back to Asia, they didn’t work. You’ll know if they work, because you’ll be able to clear a room for a few weeks after you start taking them. You’ll figure it out.
Please don’t take my word on probiotics –I’d much rather prefer you own this one. If you research anything in this chapter, I implore you to research probiotics and their effect on your immunity, and your mood –and that’s not a disclaimer, I know what you’re going to find even if you use your own trusted sources. They’re important.
Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil
It takes 2-3 days for it to get rid of the heat rash you get on your butt after sitting in a coworking space for too long (looking at you, pale people), prevents yeast infections or itching in your nether regions, is great for shaving and as aftershave, will prevent hair loss if you soak your scalp in it from time to time, and it mitigates damage from the sun. Just apply, leave on for five minutes, towel off.
Consuming it regularly in food or just a couple table spoons per day will also prevent parasites and eczema flare-ups. It’s readily available all over the tropics, too –here’s a link, anyway.
Vitamin B Complex
After a couple months of self-sabotage, I noticed my ring finger and pinky fingers, arms, smaller toes and my extremities in general got numb and tingly easily. During sleep, I needed to roll over often because I kept getting numb.
This was due to a severe vitamin B deficiency caused by microwave dinners and too many noodles (malnutrition). In my case, it was vitamin B1.
Beer and eating poorly (preservatives) rob your body of vitamin B, and that can lead to some real problems.
Vitamin B is responsible for the creation of red blood cells, hormones, improving your energy levels and mood, regulating your nervous system, supporting your immunity, preventing kidney disease, and a host of other things you ignore when you’re on a mission of self-destruction. Take your vitamin B daily.
If you’re not a “supplement person” –wait until you’re deficient then, no sarcasm. When you feel like you’re numb all the time, pop a B complex for 3 days in a row and if you feel better, it isn’t psychosomatic. You can’t placebo your red blood cells to grow.
Lastly, I horde Jack Fruit when it’s in season because it’s an amazing fruit, and full of vitamin B.
Choline is found in broccoli, part of the vitamin B family, and is useful for your nerve function, sexual performance, metabolism, brain development, and it’s great to take an hour before lifting weights.
It’s easy to neglect your vegetables while you’re on the road, and if you’re a man feeling a little light under the belt these days, it’s likely because your body is lacking in choline. A head of broccoli before a night out will go a long way.
Apple Cider Vinegar
For its health benefits, I’m talking about ACV that wasn’t pasteurised. It’s fermented and it feeds the good bacteria in your body while killing the evil kinds, and really stretches out the probiotics I mentioned earlier. It also fights diabetes by lowering blood sugar, makes you feel full, and lowers your risk of heart disease.
It’s also amazing for your skin, which you’ll probably be showing off a lot more in the tropics.
You’ll know you found the right one if the label says it still contains “the mother”, it’s “organic”, and it looks cloudy. I suggest Bragg’s, although there’s some nice imports from New Zealand in Thailand which I can’t remember the name of.
Readily available in the Philippines, I found it harder to find in Chiang Mai. Check out Rimping or boutique grocery shops for this one.
All the grocery store locations I mention here can be found later in this guide.
As a disclaimer, I can’t make any health claims without telling you that “these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any information in this guide is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease”.
Of course, IMHO these are the same ass hats allowing bleach in your food, not regulating vitamins, killing your good gut bacteria, and making you miserable enough to stay in one place. So, fuck people like that.