I forced my eyes open, blankly stared at the ceiling, and groaned. This was not good. I had just arrived in Helsinki mere hours ago and the thought of even moving an inch was painful. All I wanted to do was melt into the bed, completely ossified. I had chills, but I was also sweating. My head was spinning and my throat was burning … and I was very much alone.
I’ve traveled solo extensively around the globe — from the Galapagos and Patagonia to Morocco and Romania — and I thought I had gotten it down to a sick-free science. The paranoid germaphobe in me packs a carefully curated first-aid kit stocked with a variety of antibacterial products including Wet Ones for my hands, Clorox wipes for the plane’s tray tables, and, of course, bottles of Purell just for good measure. The travel nerd in me studies every map and learns the key phrases of the local language I need to know to maneuver on my own. And the solo-meets-FOMO adventurer in me meticulously stitches together a fast-tracked itinerary to make sure I pack all the essential museums, restaurants, and landmarks into a short amount of time.
But my formerly foolproof method clearly had a glitch — and a few pesky germs had infiltrated, threatening my first-time visit to Helsinki. So there I was by myself in a strange country with no sense of direction and completely ignorant of the local culture and language.
The battle in my head began: How could I come all this way just to lie in bed? I only had one day — this day — to get to know the Finnish capital before meeting up with a group of solo travelers for a weekend in the woods. Growing up, my mother had drilled into me that I could only take a sick day if I had a fever. Meh, my forehead wasn’t that hot. Or was it? Did I even need to abide by that rule anymore? Logically, I knew what my body was telling me: You’re sick. Stay in bed.