January 2020: Travel Summary and Statistics

Mt Aspiring 4

I don’t even know how to begin writing about January.

It was… a month. 

I kicked off 2020 with a panicked phone call to New Zealand’s Healthline service at 3 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

I had spontaneously developed nerve pain across my body — tingling and prickling all over, and a sensation that had me feeling like my body had been both set on fire and dipped into a bucket of menthol. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, but things were about to get even scarier. 

Because I was soon to learn that this is one of the first symptoms of rabies.

And I had recently travelled in India, which has the highest number of rabies cases in the world.

And I had definitely played with a whole pile of street dogs while I was there. 

And once you start showing symptoms of rabies, there’s no cure. 

It’s 100% fatal. 

hospital food

Here’s the thing: I always thought that to contract rabies, you had to be bitten by an aggressive-looking dog that was foaming at the mouth. 

Not true. 

If an asymptomatic dog licks an insect bite on your leg, you can get it. If a dog licks your hand and you take out a contact lens an hour later, you can get it. If a dog licks your jeans and you wipe it off and later eat food with your hands, you can get it. And while I used basically an entire container of hand sanitiser after touching any dogs in India, alcohol doesn’t kill the virus — only hot water and soap do. 

I had no idea. 

I was advised to head straight to the nearest hospital, where I was immediately admitted to the acute observation unit in a flurry of panic. The tropical diseases specialist confirmed that I was experiencing one of the first symptoms of rabies and I’d need to be observed every hour overnight in case something bad happened. I had so many tests taken and three shots in the ass. Around me, people were having overdoses and throwing up. 

Then, I had to suddenly come to terms with the fact that I could have actually contracted rabies. 

I had to process the fact that I could have seven days left to live. 

It was a terrifying, painful experience, and I had to be given Valium just to get me to stop shaking. Because extreme levels of anxiety is also one of the first symptoms of rabies. 

lauren in hospital

Getting the all-clear wasn’t as glorious as I’d expected, as I began to develop many additional and just-as-scary symptoms — from my fingertips going completely numb to bleeding all over my hostel bed. It was horrendous to live through.

The most important thing to know, though, is that I’m okay now. 

Much of my pain has dissipated, and many of the weird symptoms have faded. The nerve pain has vastly improved. I finished my post-exposure rabies treatment and after two weeks of extreme levels of fatigue and nausea, I’m finally feeling human again. 

At midnight on New Year’s Day, I made a promise to myself that 2020 was going to be the best year of my life, so it felt just so painfully me to find myself hospitalised 12 hours later. January 2020 was easily the worst month of my life, but I’m convinced the next 11 will make it up to me. 

hanmer springs

What a beautiful place to focus on recovery!

I’ve been returning to Hanmer Springs, on New Zealand’s South Island, for years, but had never been all that struck by it — it was just the place where I hung out with Dave’s family. On this trip, though, I found myself with some spare time in the village on my own, and I set about seeing what was so special about it. 

I was exhausted and queasy from my injections, but I still pushed myself to head out for a hike every morning, then celebrated every afternoon with a dip in the thermal pools. Pushing my body to be active and busy helped me in more ways than I could have predicted. Just having a sense of normality again was so therapeutic for my mental health.

And now Hanmer is one of my favourite places on the South Island! It felt so nourishing for those few weeks I spent there. 

wanaka sunset

When my friend announced she had space at her place in Wanaka for the exact dates we had left in New Zealand, I immediately sent her a message. I hadn’t spent time in Wanaka since my enormous road trip in 2012, so I had been itching to get back. 

And it turned out to be exactly what we had been looking for. 

I love this part of the world, and being surrounded by nature was perfect for calming my mental state. I was able to get a little bit of work done, relax on the nearby lakeside beach, and head out for delicious meals in town each evening. 

Mt Aspiring
Our hike through Mt. Aspiring National Park was a clear highlight from my time in Wanaka

The rest of my time in New Zealand passed in a whirlwind, as we drove to Queenstown, Oamaru, Ashburton, and Christchurch, and then it was time to leave. 

At the start of the month, I was heartbroken to have to cancel my regular jaunt to a South Pacific paradise, but by the end, I realised it had been a blessing in disguise. 

Rather than spending my time in humid huts on beautiful beaches, alone and sweaty, uncomfortable and surrounded by cyclones, I got to spend time with Dave seeing more of his home country, and it had me promising to return every year from now on.

Port Melbourne beach

And then I boarded a plane to ‘Straya. 

I’ve always spent my time in Melbourne in the central neighbourhoods, so it felt strange to be staying a few blocks back from the beach in Port Melbourne. I never think of this city as being beside the sea!

And I love it here! This area is full of great restaurants and cafes, and has such an unexpectedly tropical feel to it. I can’t wait to explore nearby St Kilda in a few days, too. 

january 2020 travels

Countries visited: 2

Australia and New Zealand.

Places visited: 8

Ashburton, Christchurch, Hanmer Springs, Melbourne, Oamaru, Queenstown, Tekapo, and Wanaka.

Distance travelled: 2,294 miles

Mount cook

Highlights of the Month

Not dying: There’s nothing like a somewhat-near-death experience to get you feeling grateful to be alive. Despite all the additional trauma I had to battle through since being discharged from the hospital, I feel happy and light, and ready to get my life back on track. Maybe this will all end up being a Good Thing in the end?

Nesting in Wanaka: It was the perfect way to spend a week in New Zealand: getting back to nature, cooking paleo meals, and recovering from the panic of the first couple of weeks of the year.

Lowlights of the Month

The stress of everything rabies: Something I’ve learned in recent years is that my body does not cope well under stress. Being faced with the prospect of only having a week left to live was more than a little taxing and I’ve been suffering from the side effects ever since. 

My autoimmune condition reared its head with a chronic pain flare-up after a year of being free from its symptoms and I also started suffering from anxiety and panic attacks for the first time in two years. I contracted an infection and had to go on antibiotics for the first time in a year. Argh! It was such a disappointment to have to deal with three issues I thought I’d finally managed to get under control.

Obviously, rabiesgate was a bit of an edge case that I don’t expect to experience again, but it was a big reminder to ensure I’m keeping stress levels as low as possible in my everyday life. 

A ridiculously hot day in Melbourne: It’s not shocking that Melbourne was dealing with searingly-hot temperatures when I touched down in Australia, but man, I had somehow managed to forget how hot this city can get. On Friday, we had plans to hit up the Australian Open with Dave’s cousin, but when it was 36°C at 9 a.m., causing us to flag a morning walk to St Kilda, and then 43°C when we were thinking about heading to the tennis, we decided to sit in the pub instead. 

Cancelling so many planned trips: I was so traumatised by my rabies experience that I ended up cancelling my South Pacific island-hopping adventure and my planned road trip around Western Australia. The new coronavirus also led to me delaying my return to Southeast Asia — I want to monitor the situation there a little longer before jumping on a plane to Thailand or Vietnam. 

I had so many exciting exploits planned for this three-month trip around the world, and I’ve had to skip out on quite a few of them. 

Incidents of the Month

Feeling like a paranoid loon on my flight: Is anyone really going to be surprised if I confess that potential pandemics freak me the hell out? Fortunately, Dave and I still had our N95 masks from our three weeks in Rajasthan, so when we needed to fly to Melbourne, I lathered us up with hand sanitiser and placed our masks over our faces.

We were definitely the only people doing so and it made me feel like I was being more than a little ludicrous. Still, better to be safe than sorry, right?

A night out at the Ashburton Rotary Club: When Dave’s dad sent us a message to tell us he was giving a presentation at the local Rotary club and asked if we wanted to go, I knew we couldn’t say no. When we entered the room and were greeted by a sea of grey hair and trifles, I realised was the youngest person there by about forty years. And yet, it was quite possibly the most wholesome evening I’ve had for a long time. 

I kept my disposable underwear: My rabies scare shook me up and as I was facing down death, I found myself thinking about all the time I’d wasted worrying about things that didn’t matter; all the things I had been too scared to do; all the time I’d spent hating myself. It was a huge wake-up call to make a change in my life, and I wanted to ensure I didn’t immediately slip back into old habits.

I therefore decided to collect a bunch of souvenirs from my hospitalisation in the hope that keeping them close to me would prove to be a vital reminder not to sweat the small stuff. So yes, I am currently carrying around the disposable underwear the hospital gave me.

My Next Steps

Last month, I had no idea where I would be heading in January, and I’m feeling much the same about February. 

I wouldn’t say that I’m freaking out about the new coronavirus but… it seems like a smart idea not to make any travel plans right now in case things get a little more intense. 

My original plans were to spend time in Da Nang and Hue, in Vietnam, hit up some brand new islands in Thailand, then check out Goa and Kerala in South India — or some combination of those. I think I’m going to wait and see what happens before booking my flights out of Australia. 

So now, I’ll unexpectedly be in Melbourne for the vast majority of February. I’m making a concerted effort to do as much as possible while I’m here. 

I’m currently staying in Port Melbourne, but I have tons of plans to explore as many neighbourhoods in the city. I’ll be hopping around to check out Collingwood, Carlton, Williamstown, Richmond… basically spending 3-4 days in each spot in order to get a feel for the best areas to visit in the city. 

What do you have planned for February?


  1. February 2, 2020

    I was going to respond that I don’t have any plans for February, but that’s not the case. I don’t have any travel plans for February, but I will be moving to a new city and state in Mexico. Eek!

    I hope you have a great February. I still can’t get over your rabies scare. I didn’t know all of that information about rabies. I don’t typically touch the street dogs here, but I want to pet them! At least I know it’s for the best.

    • February 3, 2020

      Oh, that’s so exciting! Where are you moving to?

  2. Kaylin
    February 2, 2020

    I live in Hong Kong and was originally supposed to be working as normal in February, post-Chinese New year. But I’m currently packing to head back to the US for several weeks in hopes to avoid the corona virus and inevitable shut down of flights out of here (that alone freaks me out). There’s not many cases in HK at the moment, but they are expecting it to rise as people return from China from their CNY holidays. My housemates are all leaving too, one is on the way to the airport now and another is flying at 9am. I’m flying at noon. It’ll be my first time back in the US in over 18 months, and I’m not sure how to feel about it, but it’ll be good to see my mom again.

    • February 2, 2020

      Ah, that’s really scary, Kaylin, and I’d be doing the same as you. Safe travels back to the U.S. and hopefully things will start calming down in a month or so.

  3. How terrifying! I didn’t know that about rabies either. Glad you are okay now! It sounds like you had a great month of recovery at least – can’t think of many places better than New Zealand for that. Enjoy Melbourne, I love it there.

    • February 2, 2020

      Yes, I’m so happy to be feeling 100% now, and New Zealand was the perfect place to get me back on track :-)

  4. Miranda E.
    February 2, 2020

    Hi Lauren,

    Sorry to hear about your medical suffering, and glad to hear you have good news to report.

    It’s disheartening for me to read your blog. This might be the last time, because I don’t enjoy reading about your suffering. If someone were to ask me, I would say I am 99.9% sure that you have a limbic system disorder, and that if you so desire, that you can 100% recover by using the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS). Sounds crazy, I know. But your continued stories are pretty crazy, frankly.

    I know you have to come to that realization/decision yourself. I know you have a lot of fun traveling, and the medical adventures are dramatic to write about, but your suffering sure doesn’t sound like much fun.

    I promise I won’t bother you again with this unsolicited advice.

    Best wishes to you,

    • February 3, 2020

      Hmm, I’m not sure why you think that, to be honest. I found a self-assessment quiz for limbic system disorders on retrainingthebrain.com and ticked 3 of the 29 criteria. It really doesn’t sound like me at all, beyond having anxiety. And as I said in this post, that’s something I rarely have to deal with these days, anyway. It’s certainly not convinced me enough to sign up for a $4000 seminar in the U.S.

      But I’ll keep it in mind anyway, as something to look into if things get worse again. For now, I’m feeling healthy, happy, and enjoying life in Melbourne with no current health issues :-)

  5. Michael
    February 3, 2020

    Leo says Hi and he misses you two. Come visit us in Florida!

    • February 3, 2020

      The only dog I will allow myself to touch now, hahaha! We miss you guys, too! We were just talking about a trip to the U.S. for later this year and were saying how we’d have to include Florida so that we can come and visit :-)

  6. Pragnesh Vaishnav
    February 5, 2020

    Hey Louren, it is really sad to her about your suffering. This was something, which i dont wanted to happen with neither with you nor with any travellers. Take care. Thanks and Regards.

    • March 15, 2020

      Ah, thank you for your kind words. I’m doing a lot better now :-)

  7. Kalina
    February 12, 2020

    Hi Lauren,
    I’m glad to hear that you’re OK! Such a scare, I almost felt it in my bones when I read the story!

    I was also glad to hear that you finally discovered the beaches in Melbourne! I live here and I’ve been to hundreds of beaches in 5 different states in Australia and as a European, I can say that Melbourne has the BEST beaches! I’m sure that the Australians will laugh at that, but I don’t care – I like calm, swimable water with no living danger in it, and this is exactly what our beaches are like:)

    If you are in a mood to explore further my recommendations are:
    – Sandringham beach for a wild feeling just 15 km from the city
    – Half Moon Bay at Black Rock for shallow waters and cool vibe
    – The stretch of beach between Aspendale and Carrum – shallow water which in a sunny day is in turquoise colors, beautiful houses just on beach – honestly when you’re there you almost feel like you’re on an island
    – The best place to watch the sunset: Brighton beach gardens

    I hope you’ll have a great time in Melbourne!

    • March 15, 2020

      Thank you so, so much for this Kalina! I had a wonderful time in Melbourne and your tips for the best beaches really helped me out :-)

  8. Wanda
    February 16, 2020

    My search for information on Japan led me to your blog last year. It was so cool to read how you started your adventure of traveling and writing for a living. I’m so happy you’ve recovered from this rabies scare! Take care!!

    • March 15, 2020

      Ah, that’s so cool to hear! I’m glad you’re following along on my adventures :-) And yes, fortunately, I’m very much recovered from the rabies scare now!

  9. February 27, 2020

    OMG! If I were in your shoes I would be panicking like crazy. Glad to hear you are good now!

    • March 15, 2020

      Thank you! I’m definitely doing a lot better now :-)

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