There’s a lot of things that are bound to go wrong when it comes to traveling: flight delays, missed flights, getting lost, or even booking tours or attractions on the wrong day. We’ve experienced them all. We’ve also both experienced one of the most miserable things that can happen when you travel: getting traveler’s diarrhea.
In my opinion, there’s nothing worse when it comes to the nuisances that can happen during travel than being sick while away from the comforts of home. The CDC estimates that up to 70% of travelers will experience that horrible rumbling in your stomach and the need for a bathroom. That’s why we’ve partnered up with Travelan to bring you these tips for traveler’s diarrhea prevention.
I’m sure you’ve heard of traveler’s diarrhea before. Just about anyone that has traveled to India has experienced “Delhi belly”. But no matter what funny name you might know traveler’s diarrhea by, getting it most definitely is NOT fun.
Any number of things can cause traveler’s diarrhea, but most commonly it is caused by bacteria in food or water. Sometimes it can be simply from bacteria in food or water that you’re just not used to; other times it can be from poor hygiene practices of anyone that comes in contact with the food you consume and contaminates it with harmful bacteria.
Countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central America, South America and Mexico are all considered high risk when it comes to traveler’s diarrhea. And South Africa, countries in Eastern Europe and some of the Caribbean are considered a moderate risk.
I’ve actually only experienced traveler’s diarrhea twice and both times were in third world countries: traveling in Tanzania, where Tim and I both got it in Zanzibar and then I got it while trekking in Nepal.
It was bad enough the first time when both me and Tim got sick on the way home from Zanzibar. But getting it while trekking in Nepal was the worst. Once at higher altitudes, there aren’t really facilities to begin with. Not to mention that there’s no option of just tossing out the day’s schedule for a sick day.
Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea
One of the most sure fire ways to prevent traveler’s diarrhea is to head it off before it even has a chance to afflict you. Travelan is an over-the-counter medication you can purchase that has been clinically tested to protect you against major strains of E. coli, one of the most common causes of Traveler’s Diarrhea, by up to 90%.
You just take one Travelan caplet before each meal or snack with bottled water as a preventative traveler’s diarrhea treatment. It works to prevent traveler’s diarrhea by neutralizing any diarrhea-causing bacteria before it can make you sick.
It’s sold in packs with 30 caplets for $30, and if you take it as directed, one pack will last for a 10-day trip for one person or a 5-day trip for two people. Americans can purchase Travelan at Passport Health or order it on Amazon. Australians can purchase Travelan over-the-counter without a prescription at pharmacies across Australia.
2. Wash your hands
Honestly, who knows what you touch and pick up as you’re out and about. Countless other people each day touch things like ATMs, ticket machines for public transportation and in train stations, door handles and loads of other things you come in to contact with.
You should avoid touching your face and definitely avoid eating anything before washing your hands. At the very least, if there are no facilities around where you can wash your hands, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. You can even get individual travel size hand sanitizer packets that are easy to stash in your purse or pocket to more easily keep up with good hand hygiene.
3. Only use bottled water in certain destinations
You should check the CDC website and know if the tap water is safe to drink in the countries that you’re traveling to. Make sure that you only use sealed bottled water not only for drinking, but for brushing your teeth too in countries where tap water isn’t safe. And for that matter, you should use bottled water to wash anything that goes in your mouth, like a baby’s pacifier if you’re traveling with small children.
The same microbes that can make you sick if you drink the water can also make you sick even if they get on your toothbrush or anything that you put in to your mouth.
This means that you should also avoid having ice in your drink. Often ice isn’t made from bottled water and the freezing temperature won’t kill all microbes.
Some professional travelers, like Andrew Zimmerman, only consume bottled water as a rule of thumb. Even when the tap water is perfectly safe, our bodies just don’t always have immunity to things that might be in the local water and can make us mildly sick.
4. Don’t eat raw fruits or vegetables
I particularly love fruit, so this one is hard for me. But you should really avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables simply because you don’t know if they’ve been washed at all or washed in tap water. Choose fruits that you can peel yourself if you must have fruits in high risk and developing countries.
5. Only eat foods that have been cooked and served hot
Never eat anything room temperature. The food should be served hot and cooked through properly.
When it comes to eating from street food vendors, look around to see which ones all the locals are eating from. A busy vendor with a queue and a lot of locals is a good indication that this vendor is a safe (and tasty!) choice.
Treating Traveler’s Diarrhea
Following all of the above measures should prevent you from experiencing traveler’s diarrhea. But should it befall you, the best thing to do is to stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids and to take an over-the counter medication like Imodium to manage symptoms.
In the case you experience severe traveler’s diarrhea or it lasts more than a couple of days, you should seek out medical help.
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