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Traveler’s Diarrhea: Avoiding Stomach Problems on Vacation


Summer is here! Hot sunny weather is upon us and the kids are off for three months. Time to hit the road! And 20 different rest stops and gas stations along the way… Unfortunately, travel isn’t always so agreeable to our digestive systems. Often termed “traveler’s diarrhea,” many vacationers struggle with gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, indigestion and constipation due to changes in their routine, stress and exposure to bacteria. For a healthier, more comfortable trip, be sure to follow a few essential travel tips.

What Causes Traveler’s Diarrhea?

Stress: Vacation is a bit of an ironic thing, isn’t it? You take one to relax, have fun and escape the stress of work and everyday life, yet it often comes with its own stresses. From the initial planning and budgeting, navigating highways and construction or rushing to catch a connecting flight, to being prepared for any little mishap, traveling puts a lot on your mind.

This stress can affect your health in multiple ways. For starters, stress is a common cause of indigestion and gastrointestinal discomfort. Secondly, stress can cause your immune system to be weakened, making you more susceptible to bacteria that could cause stomach problems.

Change in Routine: Our gastrointestinal system is a system of habit. From day to average day, we eat a lot of the same foods at around the same time and our bodies quickly learn the steps they need to take to process it. When we travel, those habits often fall by the wayside. We get up and go to sleep at unusual times, we eat a lot of different foods and our activity patterns change. When life is irregular, so is your digestion.

Different Foods: The biggest culprit associated with the change in routine when we travel is the different foods we eat. We go into vacation mode and want to have fun, so we often splurge on things we wouldn’t ordinarily eat. Sometimes it’s a matter of not having access to things typically part of our everyday diet. The balance of nutrients gets thrown off and our bodies can have trouble adjusting to the sudden change.

New Bacteria: Just like every city has different people, each new place you travel to has different bacteria. This can make a lot of work for your immune system, and sometimes it just becomes overwhelmed as it tries to deal with invaders it hasn’t faced before.

Controlling Traveler’s Diarrhea

There’s no guaranteed way to keep your digestion running smoothly, but there are definitely steps you can take to lessen your chance of suffering from various gastrointestinal issues while you’re on the road.

1. Stay Hydrated

Good advice anytime, it’s especially important when you’re dealing with digestion issues. Lack of water could lead to discomfort and constipation. And if you do end up with diarrhea, you’ll definitely need to make sure you’re getting enough fluids.

2. Stay on Schedule

While the point of taking a vacation is to break away from the routine, if you find you’ve faced digestion issues in the past with fluctuations in your life, try to keep some things as close to normal as possible. Try maintaining a fairly regular sleep and eating schedule and try to not go too exotic with your food choices.

3. Choose Food Carefully

When traveling you should always be aware of your food sensitivities. For me, it was always preservatives and artificial flavor enhancers like MSG, so I learned to avoid foods likely to contain a lot of them, like fresh greens and sauces. Think about contamination and bacteria risks and make sure foods are thoroughly cooked and hot when eating out. Avoid the buffet.

If you’re already dealing with diarrhea, be sure to avoid foods that could worsen it, including foods that are greasy and high in fat, high in fiber or sugary. Also avoid caffeine and dairy.

4. Wash Your Hands

Remember, when you’re traveling, you’re exposing yourself to lots of new bacteria, and often the easiest way for that bacteria to get into your body is from your hands to your mouth or nose. Keep hands clean by washing them before you eat. You might even consider keeping a hand sanitizer handy. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps makes a lavender-scented one and All Terrain makes one with added aloe and vitamin E for moisturizing germ-killing.

5. Pack Snacks

Don’t get stuck eating something you know you’ll regret. Be prepared with healthy, filling snacks you know won’t upset your stomach.

enzymedica-digest-basic-plus-probiotics-90-capsules6. Take Probiotics

An extra dose of some good bacteria and beneficial enzymes can go a long way in helping your digestive system stay on track. Try Digest Basic + Probiotics from Enzymedica. It has eight strains of good bacteria as well as enzymes to help  digest food. It’s shelf-stable (no refrigeration needed) and really reasonably priced.

For best results, start taking them before you leave for vacation to get a good colony of beneficial bacteria established.

7. Don’t Stress

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Easier said than done, but staying calm and relaxed can take a lot of pressure off your digestion. A big help is getting enough sleep, which, again, can be difficult when traveling – especially if you’re changing time zones. For extra help, try I Travel Well from Banyan Botanicals. This herbal formula helps you calm your mind for better sleep and a more energized body, and also supports your immune system.

Traveling Outside the Country

Traveling abroad presents a whole slew of new challenges, most notably, much more unfamiliar bacteria. Here are a few extra tips for your special circumstances:

1. Drink Bottled Water

It may not be very eco-friendly, but sticking to bottled water during your travels could save you a lot of misery. Local tap and well water can contain bacteria your body isn’t used to, which could result in some serious diarrhea or other ailments. Remember to avoid ice, too, unless you know it was made with bottled water.

2. Avoid Raw Foods

While eating lots of fruits and vegetables is great for your health normally, when you’re in a foreign country those items are another prime source of unfamiliar bacteria. If you’re really craving some fresh, uncooked produce, pick things that you can peel yourself.

terry-naturally_para-safe-60_main_225x2253. Take MORE Probiotics

Probiotics become even more beneficial when you’re in a whole new country with a bunch of whole new bacteria. You may even want to consider some other gastrointestinal aids like Para-Safe from Terry Naturally. With several balancing, soothing herbs, it can help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal environment so your natural bacteria can do its job.

Extra Help

For an enjoyable trip, be prepared. Consider packing some supplements to deal with any stomach issues that may arise.

Diarrhea: Try D4 from Dynamic Nutritional, a homeopathic way to relieve symptoms.

If homeopathy is your preferred medicinal method, check out this Homeopathic Traveling Kit from Boiron.

Indigestion: Try GastroZyme from Transformation Enzyme.

Constipation: Go with Cape Aloe from Douglas Labs. Users say it works great without causing cramping or making you have to run for the bathroom.


How do you stay healthy when traveling? Let us know in the comments section!