Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sun February 21 2016

Avoiding Digestive Problems While Traveling: The Basics

Features & Advice | Will Hatton | February 21, 2016

Avoiding Digestive Problems While Traveling: The Basics

Illustration courtesy of Thinkstock

Let’s be honest: every backpacker will get sick at least once during the trip (sorry guys, but it’s better that you learn this now than find out on your first long distance mountain trek with no toilet). The most common backpacker bug is Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD), affectionately known as Delhi/Bali Belly, which can range from mildly-irritating-but hardly-debilitating to a seemingly endless, uncontrollable exit stampede of everything you have ever eaten from every possible orifice. Either way, it’s not exactly pleasant.

But there are ways to minimize the chances of Delhi getting into your belly, and it comes down to being really careful with what you put in your stomach, such as:

1) Water

Don’t drink the tap water, or ice that’s been made from the tap water, unless you’re visiting a country that’s known for having a pristine water supply (Scotland, for example). One ice cube in your fruit shake could be the difference between you and typhoid. That said, a lot of countries on the diarrhea trail use factory-made ice, which is perfectly safe — just do your research (because you wouldn’t want to miss out on a Thai fruit shake).

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2) Dairy

You could have an adverse reaction to dairy products because a lot of countries don’t pasteurize their milk in the same way as Western ones do. If you’re feeling cautious, avoid. 

3) Salad and fruit

That water you’re not meant to drink has probably been used to wash all your raw fruits and veggies (or maybe they haven’t been washed at all). Do your own research though, because this doesn’t apply everywhere, and avoid fruit you can’t peel.

4) Spice

If you go to Thailand or India and order every meal “spicy” (which means it’ll be about 50 million times hotter than the Western definition of spicy) then of course you’re going to spend a very extended, and painful, time in the bathroom the next day. Ease yourself in.

5) The Rest

Food poisoning from meat and fish can happen anywhere. To avoid the likelihood of it happening to you, choose your eatery with common sense. Avoid street stalls or restaurants that look dirty. If there are flies buzzing around the food, don’t eat there. Conversely, if there are lots of locals sitting enjoying a meal, chances are it’s probably safe.

It’s also a huge dirty myth that street food is dodgier than restaurant food. Think about it: you can see your street food being prepared right in front of you.

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But don’t take this as encouragement to eat packaged dry food for your whole trip — eating is one of the most quintessential activities of any trip abroad and you should always try to go as local as possible — just don’t drink the water, and avoid the milk and the unpeelables. Otherwise, dive right into a world of the potentially delicious, the potentially disgusting and the plain weird.


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