Traveller's tummy 101 and how to avoid it

September 16, 2023

Miserable doesn’t quite cut it when describing my state on a night bus travelling at full speed through the Andes while sick with parasites. To my misfortune, what was inside my body now seemed to be in a rush to find its way out. There are not enough plastic bags that can handle a situation like this and a small bus bathroom is unfortunately inadequate when you need to ejaculate your innards through both ends. This is as graphic as it gets folks. Promise.

Travelling is an amazing life-changing experience. I adore meeting new people in unique hostels, getting outside of my comfort zone, and living closer to the present moment. I’ve been an avid backpacker all of my life and when travelling with a budget-oriented mindset, it’s only natural to sometimes make spontaneous food decisions. This incident on the night bus was one of those cases of adventurous eating gone wrong when the Ecuadorian almuerzo that the friendly rafting guide invited me to suddenly derailed evening travel plans. In the form of diarrhea and vomit.

Let’s face it: what traveller or adventure seeker hasn’t read about travel belly? It’s a symptom of the thrilling experience of trying new foods while abroad. Oftentimes, you try new dishes in an effort to be polite, sample a part of the culture, or make friends in a strange place. It’s fun and normal to want to experience the local cuisine. However, with this experience in mind, there’s now a certain protocol I now like to follow in order to prepare my sensitive innards for the exhilarating experience of tasting new local delicacies. As a holistic nutritionist I endeavor to be brave when it comes to food choices but at the same time it’s essential to maintain healthy digestion.

Electrolytes are your friends.

I like to travel with several packets of powdered electrolytes in my backpack because sometimes hydrating is a challenge—especially on a seven-hour night bus ride. They keep you hydrated, it prevents constipation, and in the case of food poisoning or parasites, they’re absolutely necessary.

Candied dried ginger is a game changer.

It gives you fresh breath and soothes your tummy. If you’re travelling somewhere mountainous, you’ll be better able to handle those mountain curves, which for some reason are almost always a signal for the drivers to speed up rather than slow down. I have a hunch that they make bets off of how many foreigners will vomit on the rides but that’s another story. Don’t make the mistake of travelling without a barf bag, dried ginger, electrolytes, and some of your own filtered water. Trust me, you’ll be so happy you have these things on hand and in your pack just in case.

Of course not all bus rides are miserable and not all drivers are crazy maniacs, but in my food poisoning despair, I found myself cursing everyone I could name while trying to hang on for dear life inside the small mobile bathroom that didn’t have a working door. Yes, some acrobatics were definitely executed as I attempted not to moon the entire back of the bus, in order to keep the bathroom door closed with my foot.


Pack probiotics before travelling.

Ask your doctor for a recommendation or check out your nearest natural health store before you leave on your trip. Thirty days of probiotics before travelling is a great way to strengthen your gut for all of the exciting new local dishes that you’re likely to try. It would be a mistake not to try the food. Food is part of culture. It is a way for people to connect, to come together, to celebrate, and share their stories. Food is fabulous. The exotic ingredients and local market places are some of the most stimulating things you’ll come across when travelling to a new county. In South America, the variety of fruits and vegetables is enviable. You don’t want to miss out on eating new things.

Stick to an eating schedule.

Another little tip for healthy digestion while on the road is to find regular eating times. Stick to what the locals do and eat your meals when they do. Trust me, you’ll be eating food that’s better prepared and you’ll be embracing the cultural experience of day-to-day life. Frequent restaurants that have great reviews and do your research, but leave room for spontaneity as well, because part of travelling is letting go and embracing the mystery.

Get cooking.

I also love to make some meals myself when I get the chance because something familiar in all of the strangeness is not only comforting, but also grounding. A lot of hostels have community kitchens and you can always make a good simple meal that’s easy on the stomach (like oatmeal and fruit for breakfast). Cooking meals that are part of your culture is another way to share with others in community spaces. Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten on the road have been a hodgepodge of dishes from around the world cooked by fellow travellers. Again, food connects us all. Just don’t make the mistake of letting it become your worst enemy on a night bus.

I learned my lesson and now I stand firmly by my travel essentials to avoid travel belly. Filtered water, electrolyte packets, candied ginger for bubbly stomachs, and making sure that some of your meals are plain, simple food cooked by yours truly. Avoid the travel belly by being prepared and open-minded.

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