How to Keep your Tummy Safe & Happy During Travel
I was sick.
Why do tropical insects have to bother you when you’re already feeling lousy?!
I was lying in my hammock, looking at the beautiful Central American landscape.
Too weak to go swimming, too scared to stray too far from the bathroom.
What had gone wrong? I had been cooking all my food and I was only drinking bottled water!
But I knew what had gone wrong. I hadn’t wanted to admit it to myself initially, because I felt so stupid. I'd been warned: Don't brush your teeth with the tap water! But I was a young and cocky traveler, and I thought I knew better.
And it wasn’t like I was swallowing the water when I brushed my teeth! How bad could it be??
It was BAD.
I’ll spare you the details of my illness and eventual return to health, but the journey was neither quick nor easy.
But quick and easy?
Looking back, I don’t regret my poor decision. The digestive problems I acquired and journey back to health are key pieces of my story of becoming a naturopathic doctor.
I'd love to spare you the discomfort I went through! Read on for my best info on how to keep your digestion healthy when traveling to developing countries…
Stage 1: The Prep
The main supplement to take before you even embark on your trip is a good quality, high dose probiotic. Probiotics are good bacteria that live in your intestines.
You're going to be encountering lots of foreign little beasties while you're away, so you'll need extra good guys on board. It’s all about the balance!
You're going to want a “shelf-stable” probiotic, meaning it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. I recommend taking one that offers at least 30 billion per day. (Do some research or ask for some guidance at your local health food or vitamin store to find the right one.)
Start taking it a couple weeks before your trip. Get those good populations up!
The other important part of Stage 1 is to do research on the water and food conditions of the place you're visiting.
Where are you going? Will there be stores to buy bottled water? Do you need a filter or iodine tablets?
There are lots of good travel resources and blogs for info like this. I’ve always liked the travel forum Thorn Tree by Lonely Planet. (No affiliation.)
Stage 2: The Trip
We’ve already covered my favorite travel tip for a healthy gut…
Don’t brush your teeth with the tap water!
If you can’t drink it, don’t put it in your mouth at all. Bottled water to brush your teeth and mouth closed in the shower! This is easy to forget if you’re not used to it!
A few other tips related to water…
Always make sure that your bottle of water is sealed. Most people in the world are very fair and nice but occasionally you find someone who is truly destitute and desperate...
Desperate people sometimes fill bottles of water with tap water and sell them to tourists. Get into the habit of doing a quick check.
Be careful of ice. In many tourists areas the ice is fine. The further off the beaten path you are, the more you will be at risk of tap (or river!) water ice cubes. Learn how to ask in the local language if the ice is from purified water. When in doubt, skip it.
If you're cooking your own food and doing dishes, make sure that the dishes you're eating off of are dry.
Eat only cooked veggies. Raw veggies are often contaminated with the same bacteria as the water. Once again, this will depend a lot on where you are and how much they cater to tourists. Talk to other travellers and use your judgment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
I know you’re going on vacation, but try to go easy on the alcohol. Drinking alcohol, usually with a bunch of sugar, is not so good for the gut.
All this stuff above I call good traveller hygiene.
There are also certain supplements and natural medicines that you can take with you to improve your chances of coming back healthy. Here’s the complete protocol that I recommend when travelling. This is exactly what I do for myself!
Dr. Rebecca’s Healthy Gut Travel Kit:
Probiotics: Take 10 billion minimum daily. 30-50 billion in times of need.
Garlic capsules with meals: To preventively kill bad beasties that make their way in.
Activated charcoal: This is for if you do get sick. It may help you get over your illness quicker by binding up toxins and moving them out.
Homeopathic arsenicum album: This is the most common homeopathic for food poisoning, especially if it involves burning stomach pains or burning diarrhea. Take the pellets when you start to get sick. Stop if it makes things worse.
Ginger capsules: Use as needed for nausea. You can open capsules and dissolve the powder in some water for faster effect.
FYI: You can actually purchase all of these above products (and many more!) from trustworthy doctor brands from my online medicinary at http://www.npscript.com/drrebeccaprincipe. The products in the Healthy Gut Travel Kit are easily found in the featured products at the bottom of the page! Use the following access code to get 15% off everything on the site: DR REBECCA
A few other tips if you do get sick…
Stay hydrated! Water, water, water! Electrolyte drinks, broth, CLEAN WATER!
Don’t force yourself to eat. If you’re hungry then definitely eat. But if not, you will be ok if you fast for a day or 2. If it’s more than that, seek medical attention.
Avoid taking Imodium unless you absolutely have to – like you need to get on a bus to get the heck out of Dodge!
**Always seek medical attention if you have a high fever, can’t keep water down, have blood in your diarrhea or vomit, or your illness lasts more than a few days.**
Stage 3: The Reset
Continue taking your probiotics for 2-4 weeks after you get back.
If you got sick while away and/or still aren’t feeling well, see your doctor – you may need some testing or treatment.
Go easy reintroducing foods you haven’t eaten in awhile. We have a lot of very rich and very sweet foods in our culture. If you’ve been eating simpler while you were away then you may want to stick with simple when you first get back.