Nothing can ruin a vacation like an upset stomach, but it’s a common occurrence for many travelers. We asked a doctor what causes digestive issues (like nausea, heartburn, bloating, and diarrhea) while traveling—and how to prevent it from happening.
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Find out if the Water Is Safe
It’s important to find out if the water is safe to drink at your destination before you travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a Traveler’s Health page for every country that you can check to find out the potability of the water.
If the water is not safe, you’ll need to change both your drinking and eating habits. Follow the popular adage: “peel it, boil it, cook it, or forget it” to stay healthy.
- Drink only sealed, bottled water
- Avoid ice in drinks
- Use bottled water to brush your teeth
- Avoid fruit juices that may be mixed with tap water
- Only eat fruit that you can peel or wash in clean water
- Skip salads and fresh vegetables that have been washed in tap water
- Avoid food that is served at room temperature (rather than cold or hot)
Eat and Drink in Moderation
When you overindulge on rich foods and alcohol at home, you don’t feel well, so you shouldn’t be surprised if deviating from your normal moderate diet while traveling causes you to suffer bloating, heartburn, nausea, or other symptoms.
Of course, sampling all of the local delicacies is an essential part of travel, but you’ll feel better if you taste things in small portions—and add in plenty of water, fruits, and vegetables.
Alcohol in particular can upset your stomach. Dr. Bill Miller, a biologist, infectious disease expert, and author of Bioverse: How the Cellular World Contains the Secrets to Life’s Biggest Questions, tells SmarterTravel, “Watch how much alcohol you consume since this can undermine your gut microbiome.”
Although most traveler’s stomach issues go away within a few days, it’s possible that you could contract something more serious via food or drink. Check the CDC’s recommendations for vaccinations for your destination before you travel.
Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations are commonly recommended for many destinations, and both diseases can cause severe stomach problems along with other health issues.
Wash Your Hands
Oftentimes, digestive ailments while traveling are blamed on unfamiliar foods, but in reality, they can commonly be caused by bad hand hygiene. To stay healthy while traveling (and at home) always wash your hands thoroughly before eating and after using the restroom.
Dr. Miller recommends packing Pepto-Bismol when you travel. “Reports indicate that bismuth subsalicylate (the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol and its competitors) can effectively help to treat mild traveler’s diarrhea and also prevent it.” Dr. Miller advises taking Pepto-Bismol as a preventative measure before and during your trip to help ward off any symptoms of traveler’s stomach.
A probiotic can be another helpful prophylaxis to prevent symptoms before they start. Dr. Miller recommends looking for “a well-formulated probiotic with multiple strains.” Align’s probiotic is highly recommended by many doctors, and doesn’t require refrigeration.
If your preventative measures fail, Dr. Miller advises packing an antimotility drug such as Imodium, which can help with symptoms.
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