How To Deal When A Stomach Virus Hits On Vacation

Heidijpix / Getty Images

Heidijpix / Getty Images

There’s a nasty stomach virus going around this winter — the kind that usually takes down entire cruise ships. It’s highly contagious, totally debilitating and really, really gross, especially if you’re a mom and have to clean up after several family members when you should be passed out on the bathroom floor. I know what I’m talking about, because my family picked up this brutal bug over the holidays while sharing a hotel room, an experience that made vaginal birth seem like a day at the spa.

Our adventure began with the baby throwing up in the bath and all over her big sister. I immediately drained the tub and started the shower, where we scrubbed as vigorously as Meryl Streep in Silkwood after she got exposed to radiation. Didn’t matter. Within two days, the rest of us were erupting like human volcanoes and unable to keep down even a sip of water. It was so painful and exhausting that my husband and I could barely take care of ourselves, nevermind our two small children, so we begged our extended family to help. Naturally, they all caught the virus (and pretty much hate us now).


Not only did the evil barf bug spoil our vacation, but we actually had to delay our return by a day so that my older daughter could finish hurling. Can’t exactly show up at the airport like that, right? And that’s how I wound up in a middle seat with the 5-year-old slumped on my shoulder, the baby on top of me, and an old lady with a cane blocking my exit while my husband watched a movie 15 rows back. Remind me, what’s good about being a mom again?

It’s okay, we lived to tell the tale, though I doubt we will be taking any trips in the near future. There’s nothing like getting sick out of town that really makes you appreciate your own bed and bathroom. Here’s what I learned, in case it ever happens to you:

1. Accept your fate. If one of you is sick, you’re all going to be sick. Cancel your plans, stock up on supplies if there’s time, and prepare to lose 5 pounds the quick way.

2. Just say no to anything but water. All the soothing stuff I remember my mom giving me when I was sick, like Gatorade, Jello and ginger ale, were the worst idea ever for a stomach virus. A concierge doctor I called told me sugar aggravates the situation, so stick to very small sips of water, spaced far apart. Think of it as a free cleanse.

3. Procure your own cleaning supplies. One of the most awful parts of being in hotel when the virus struck was not being able to properly disinfect. At the first moment I felt good enough to leave the room, I ran to the store for trash bags, spray cleaners with all the bleach (organic, schmanic, this was an emergency), and as many paper towels as I could carry.

4. Quarantine the laundry. I pretty much wanted to burn our clothes, but instead I bundled them in plastic garbage bags and stuffed them into the bottom of the suitcase, not to be unsealed until I was standing over my washing machine at home.

5. Be kind to Housekeeping. We felt very guilty exposing the hotel’s housekeepers to our germs, but we desperately needed new sheets as our bed seemed to be a favorite place for the kids to miss the bucket. So we advised a housekeeping manager of our situation in case the staff wanted to wear Hazmat suits and we tipped daily and well.

6. Embrace the TV. My kids were too catatonic to even color, so we let Nick Jr. do the parenting for a few hours–okay days–and I do not feel one bit guilty about that.

7. Throw money at the problem. This ordeal pretty much turned me into Oprah doing her “Favorite Things” episode. “You get a new toothbrush, and you get a new toothbrush, and you get new pajamas, and Mommy definitely gets new pajamas!”

8. Enjoy your sick kids. It’s horrible when your children feel yucky and there’s nothing you can really do except let the virus run its course. But take a moment to notice how quiet, docile and snuggly they are. And maybe take a picture.

Photo: Amy Wruble