Over the last four years of consecutive full-time travel, I’ve been fortunate to have only a few battles with traveler’s belly in India, Myanmar, and Morocco. Nothing can ruin a travel experience like having the runs–especially when you’re far away from the comfort of a western-style toilet. My memories of Agra aren’t of the Taj Mahal, but of the luxurious toilet at the ITC Mughal–I’ve never been more grateful for a porcelain throne.
WHAT IS TRAVELER’S BELLY
Traveler’s belly is also referred to as traveler’s diarrhea, Bali Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, Delhi Belly, and Tourist Trot. You know the dreaded symptoms–diarrhea, fever, cramps, and drowsiness that seems like it will never end. To make matters worse, most of us get severely dehydrated when we have traveler’s belly as it can be nearly impossible to keep down liquids.
Up to 50% of travelers suffer from traveler’s diarrhea, according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Consuming food or drinks contaminated with E. coli is the most common cause of traveler’s belly.
HOW TO PREVENT TRAVELER’S BELLY
Never travel without preventative Travelan in your pack!
When the dreaded stomach ailment has hit me, it’s left me feeling like I was circling the drain of doom. I tend to use local remedies when my body retaliates to something terrible it’s ingested–from salt rehydration packs to activated charcoal pills. But, until recently I had never considered that all this pain and suffering could easily be avoided with preventative medicine.
Recently, I’ve met travelers who raved about Travelan–a scientifically proven prevention for traveler’s belly. Travelan is an all-natural preventative over-the-counter medicine that stops diarrhea in its tracks before it has the chance to ruin your holiday. Through clinical studies, the U.S. Department of Defense research demonstrated that Travelan is cross-reactive to Campylobacter, Salmonella and Shigella bacteria. The natural supplement reduces the risk of infection and protects the digestive tract. Australians can purchase Travelan over the counter at pharmacies across Australia while US shoppers can purchase Travelan at Passport Health and through Amazon for $30 for a 10-day packet.
Travelan contains naturally occurring antibodies, the proteins that prevent and fight infection, that may support gastrointestinal function. Take one Travelan caplet before each meal. The antibodies will stay establish themselves in the gastrointestinal tract and will target and neutralize diarrhea-causing bacteria, preventing you from getting sick.
EXPERT TIPS ON AVOIDING TRAVELER’S BELLY
Illness in a foreign land is one of the most painful rites of passage for travelers and the most common sickness is diarrhea. Once you’ve got your preventative antibodies in order from Travelan you’ll also want to follow these tips from experienced travelers.
I don’t follow each and everyone one of these myself–I brush my teeth with tap water and eat at many questionable buffets–but perhaps I shouldn’t. A tip I see missing is to always bring your own reusable utensils as the cutlery used at street food stalls can actually be a greater risk of germs than the food itself.
Cheers to happier tummies on your future travels!
INSURANCE FOR EMERGENCIES IS A MUST
I’ve had the unfortunate luck of being violently ill twice overseas. On my first trip to Asia, I traveled solo to Mongolia. I ended up getting extremely ill in the hostel. It was so bad that a fellow traveler had to call the embassy on my behalf and they opened the hospital for me even though I didn’t have insurance.
Now, I always carry travel insurance, because you truly never know. Recently, on a trip to Belize, traveler’s stomach struck again but it was far less violent than in Mongolia. I didn’t need hospitalization but it was good to know I had insurance just in case.
On our flight leaving Belize, my partner fell ill. He got sick on me–it was the worst flight of our lives. The strangest part is that we ate different foods on that trip. Not all stomach bugs are created equal, some are contagious. If you’ve got the traveler’s tummy, treat it like a cold, no physical contact and wash up often.
–Meg of Fox in the Forest
FIGHTING MOTION SICKNESS
Another common traveler’s belly problem is motion sickness. I’ve gotten sea-sick and car-sick countless times while traveling abroad–it is not fun. I’ve always been prone to motion sickness. When it comes to having your stomach turned upside down while traveling, it’s really never too late to learn a thing or two about avoiding the dreaded paper baggie.
If you’re prone to motion sickness and plan to travel always carry over-the-counter motion sickness tablets with you. Take one 30-minutes prior to a bot ride, windy/bumpy car or bus ride, or any other mode of transport that has gives you motion sickness. Carry a small bottle of peppermint essential oil with you. The smell of peppermint is really helpful in quelling nausea. Keep some ginger candy handy o hand. Ginger is great for relieving nausea–be sure the candies actually contain ginger and aren’t just ginger flavored.
GET A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE WITH A FILTER SYSTEM
GRAYL water bottle in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica.
I’m a huge foodie and never want to worry about getting food poisoning while traveling, it can totally ruin a trip and knock off precious days from my memorable experience overseas. My boyfriend recently got traveler’s belly in Bali and it totally threw off the vibe of the trip. These days I make sure that I am prepared before I travel with my GRAYL bottle. It’s a pretty killer tool, especially if you are traveling way off-the-beaten-path and don’t have access to trusted food and water sources.
GRAYL offers one-touch water purification. It goes well above and beyond the average water filtration device, protecting against dangerous bacteria, viruses, chemicals, and bacteria. It takes less than 15 seconds to purify water from anywhere, from a shifty hostel to a sketchy river. Even when I am not traveling, I feel safe having the GRAYL in my home as it is a necessary tool for providing safe water in case of a natural disaster. As a bonus, 1% of all sales of GRAYL are given back to the Conservation Alliance, which works to preserve and restore the environment. I totally recommend it!
–Kalia of Nylon Pink
BE WARY OF NON POTABLE WATER
One of the easiest ways to get sick when you travel is to drink tap water in places that don’t have filtered water. Many travelers often forget about other ways in which we consume water. Ice has water in it and isn’t always made from water.
Somewhere else water lurks? Salads. Lettuce is almost always washed under the faucet. This includes fruit salads as the fruit has probably been rinsed with regular water. Another common source of potentially unsafe water is brushing your teeth. I always use filtered water to brush my teeth when I’m traveling in areas where the tap water may make me sick. I swear by these tips and hope they help you too!
–James at Travel Collecting
ONLY EAT COOKED FOODS
As a traveler, visiting destinations of different sanitary standards of my home, getting sick is a cruel right of passage. It’s hard not to ever get sick on the road but eating only well-cooked foods greatly reduce the chances.
Both times I’ve been sick overseas is due to improperly cooked food. Both times I could’ve avoided it if I’d known what to look out for. Ensuring your meal is well cooked is an obvious–but sometimes overlooked–tip. In Nepal, I sat down at a quiet restaurant to enjoy momos. I didn’t know it at the time, but a surprisingly a large amount of handwork is involved in creating these little dumplings. A combination of questionable sanitary conditions and undercooked food gave me an unforgettable traveler’s belly experience.
While traveling, I’m also wary of raw foods. Even salads or fruit can be risky. Raw food obviously isn’t cooked so bacteria can thrive and make you very sick, very fast. Keeping healthy while traveling is important, and fruit and vegetables are a great option, just try to get properly cleaned items from the dirty dozen list or produce with removable peels such as bananas. The peel will usually protect the edible inside from germs.
Avoiding traveler’s belly on the road isn’t always easy. By taking a little extra care, you can prevent a lot of tummy mishaps.
–Ben of Horizon Unknown
DON’T EAT AT BUFFETS
A buffet of Indian food that looks delicious but could be deceiving.
Avoiding getting sick while traveling seems to be a lesson that I’m forced to learn the hard way. On one of my recent travels, to the island of Sri Lanka, I was once again struck down with food poisoning, this time by consuming food at a buffet.
I was staying at an Airbnb and wanted to go out for lunch so I asked our host to recommend the most authentic restaurant in the town. He kindly drove us to a local restaurant where they had a buffet. We arrived shortly before closing time meaning that the food would have potentially been left out for hours. However, this thought didn’t occur to me at the time. We were served a little bit of everything on the buffet from fish to chicken to mango to pork. I noticed that the food was lukewarm, an indication of how long it had been left out.
It wasn’t until that night that we noticed the errors of our ways. We woke up with crippling stomach cramps and spent the next day struck down with a fever, as well as having the usual food poisoning symptoms. The hard lesson we learned was to be careful about buffets as the food could have potentially been left out for hours.
Chicken and fish are definitely poor choices in these conditions. Buffets are a haven for bacteria and who knows what insects may have been on the food while it’s sitting been out? Of course, there are exceptions and plenty of sanitary buffets, so use your best judgment. If the food is covered and has heat under it constantly, this minimizes contamination issues.
–Ella of Ella in Wanderlust
EAT WHERE LOCALS EAT
A spread of Vietnamese food.
I lived in Southeast Asia for three years and only fell ill from food a handful of times. The fail-safe rule I always stick to is to eat where locals eat. It can be tempting to go for the comfort food option or the tourist-friendly restaurant with the English menu, especially if you’re traveling long-term. But in my experience, these places are usually the riskiest. When I first moved to Cambodia, I happily ate street food with no complaints only to get terribly sick after eating a hamburger.
I have a couple of practical tips for finding safe food options in Southeast Asia. Asking local people for recommendations on where to eat is a great start–ask where they’d eat lunch. Use Google Maps to find restaurants with high star ratings and lots of reviews in the local language. This works much better than TripAdvisor if it’s local food you’re after.
If all else fails, I just go out on foot and choose a place that’s busy. For this to work, you’ll first want to figure out the local meal times (do people eat lunch late or dinner early?) so you can properly time your search. When I was living in Hanoi, I noticed that some of the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants only served the lunch rush. Anything coming out of the kitchen after about 1:30 p.m. was not fresh nor the best quality.
–Emily of Wander-Lush
BE SMART ABOUT STREET FOOD
The only time I’ve gotten sick via food while traveling came as a total surprise since I don’t eat meat (the culprit in many food-poisoning crimes), and have an infamous steel stomach. I naively ate an early dinner from a night market in Laos on my first visit to the country. Later that night and early into the next day I was totally confined to the toilet.
When the owner of the guesthouse I was staying in found out the only thing I had eaten the night before was food from the night market, she immediately inquired about what time I had eaten. I told her I’d grabbed an early dinner around 5:30 PM. That’s where I’d gone wrong!
Apparently, in countries like Laos where resources are incredibly limited, being the savvy business people they have to be means often saving unsold food from the night before to reheat and resell to unassuming customers the next night. What’s a smart business decision is not so sanitary and often leads to tourists eating during the early hours of the market getting food poisoning. This is common practice throughout the Southeast Asia region.
Also be wary of fried street foods that are likely made with gutter oil. Gutter oil is a commonly used term in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan that describes cooking oil that’s been recycled from places like slaughterhouses, grease traps, and sewers.
Consuming food cooked in gutter oil can leave you spending so much time on the toilet, vomiting, and defecating that you risk death by dehydration. Many food vendors save money by selling fried snacks cooked in oil they’ve reused from their own fryers time and time again. The oil becomes contaminated over time and can cause serious abdominal pain and diarrhea. It’s a safer bet to eat foods from the market that are cooked over a grill and avoid the fried goodies all together.
–Tara of Silly Little Kiwi
DINE AT BUSY EATERIES
One of the main pieces of advice I remember from research before my first backpacking trip was don’t eat street food! Well, what fun is backpacking on a budget if you can’t eat street food? Further research told me it is, in fact, alright to eat street food, you just have to be smart about it.
The key to safe street food is to pick a busy stall. This goes for restaurants, too. The busier, the better because you know the food is being made fresh to keep up with the customers. Not only will you know the food is freshest at the busiest places, but you can pretty much guarantee that you’re about to have a delicious meal.
When I visiting the night markets in Taiwan, this was a great way to decide which stalls to try when you can find a lot of similar dishes throughout the market. In Nicaragua, I had the best street meat at a popular stand in the middle of a town square. If I’ve learned one thing from my travels, it’s to not be afraid of street food and local hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
–Megan from Red Around the World
STICK WITH A FAMILIAR BREAKFAST
A balanced breakfast of fruit and fiber.
When it comes to experiencing new cultures, food plays a large role in expanding our horizons. Living in the midwest, I was born and raised on a very bland diet of meat and potatoes. Personally, I get sick sometimes when I eat food that is super spicy or is far richer than what I’m used to. Eating food outside of what is part of your regular diet can take a toll on your digestive system. I don’t want to spend my entire vacation confined to my bed. So, I turn towards controlling the amount of “foreign” foods that enter my system by always eating a familiar breakfast.
This for me often is oatmeal, yogurt, or eggs and toast. These foods are high in protein and keep me fueled throughout the morning as well keep my stomach calm and prepared for all the culturally rich foods I’ll be indulging in over the duration of my travels. Not only does this make for quick breakfasts in the mornings, I often feel more regulated and less likely to experience stomach pains while I’m exploring. I’ve utilized this trick on every international vacation I’ve been on in the past five years and it’s been a lifesaver.
Try to have a breakfast that is a normal part of your everyday diet. If you love to indulge in meats and cheeses in the morning, then be my guest. Whatever foods will make you feel full, satisfied, and at ease, are the foods that you should be starting your day with.
–Martha of Quirky Globe Trotter
BE SURE TO GET ENOUGH FIBER
Nothing robs you of the joy of travel quite like terrible stomach problems. While many people have issues with food poisoning and visiting the bathroom too frequently, I generally have the opposite problem and seem to have a hard time using the bathroom when I travel abroad
Several times, I’ve felt so bloated that I’ve had to visit pharmacists and get advice on remedying the issue–this happened when I spent 2 days in Edinburgh. Many health professionals have reassured me that nothing’s wrong and that this problem is relatively common.
Apparently, such traveler’s belly issues are the result of travel-induced stress that results from changes in sleep and eating patterns. This problem can be easily be remedied by drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of fiber.
I always make sure that I have a supply of fiber chews and my reusable water bottle. This way, no matter where I am or what my food choices are, I can guarantee that I will be getting enough water and enough fiber to keep my digestive system regular and healthy.
–Kelly of Girl With the Passport
GIVE LOCAL HOLISTIC REMEDIES A TRY
When we’re traveling and our stomachs are feeling less than awesome, we investigate local holistic health practices. For example, when traveling through Sri Lanka we’d regularly visit local Ayurvedic doctors anytime we didn’t feel well.
Ayurveda is an ancient form of natural medicine from India which uses herbs, diet, and lifestyle practices to cure illnesses, which are seen as “imbalances” in the body. We love that Ayurveda is holistic and looks at the whole person–mind, body, and spirit, rather than just treating symptoms. The natural herbs and tinctures Ayurvedic doctors gave us have always helped us to feel better quickly.
–Carrie of La Aventura Project
Have you ever had to deal with traveler’s diarrhea? How did you survive? Share your knowledge in the comments!
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