Dealing With Stomach Problems When Travelling

Stomach Problems: Breakfast buffet in France
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The dreaded words: stomach problems, constipation, traveller’s diarrhea

Nobody wants to talk about them.

Many people get them, especially when travelling.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical practitioner and am providing information only. I am not providing medical advice. I am sharing things I do to prevent or deal with health problems when travelling. Please consult with your doctor or other qualified health care professional before trying something or using any product that I mention in this post. Only they can determine if an action or product is appropriate for you. Please refer to my Terms and Conditions/Disclaimer  for more information.

The more I travel, the more I take preventative actions to ensure I have a safe and healthy trip. During my recent trips to France and Bhutan, I was very fortunate to have escaped getting any stomach issues like constipation and traveller’s diarrhea. 

Stomach Problem #1: Constipation

When I met with a friend recently, she was describing the constipation that she and her friends encountered when they were in France. But she talked in a whisper. Nobody really wants to talk about stomach and digestive problems and bodily functions because it’s so personal. Yet, it’s a pain (literally) when you get constipated: the bloating and uncomfortable feeling and you’re NOT pregnant!

When I travel to France I do these things to “help” me avoid getting constipated, which often happens when you have not moved around a lot on a plane and your whole meal times are off schedule.

  1. I take probiotics —good bacteria used to keep the gut healthy and help with digestion.
  2. I drink a lot of water

    Stomach problems?: eat Bran Buds
    Bran Buds
  3. The one thing I always pack are Bran Buds. They’re a bran cereal containing psyllium  fibre but much crunchier than bran flakes. I sprinkle them on my cereal and get extra fibre this way.
  4. The following foods have helped me avoid constipation: pears, plums, apples, raspberries, prunes, corn, grains, beans, sweet potatoes, veggies like broccoli, and anything with fibre. Just be sure the addition of fibre is gradual. Your system can’t suddenly take on a lot and you can feel bloated and gassy.
  5. I actually find that coffee helps too. Some people however, become constipated with caffeine. So it can be hit or miss.
  6. Move around on the plane. Go running or get some exercise in the first few days of arrival and get enough sleep. Your system needs to get back into a routine, particularly when you are in a different time zone.

Stomach Problem #2: Traveller’s Diarrhea

Stomach problems: the infamous drink in Morocco
The infamous drink in Morocco

I have never gotten traveller’s diarrhea in France and have not had problems drinking the tap water in France. When I am at a restaurant in France I will always order “une carafe d’eau“ (pitcher of water), “d’eau ordinaire” or “d’eau plate”. All of these are  tap water (flat, as opposed to sparkling water which is “d’eau gazeuse”).

If you ask for a bottle of water, you could end up with water for which you have to pay 3 Euros or more and this really isn’t necessary as the water in France is great. If you want a San Pellegrino or Evian, then by all means.

In Morocco, however, I did get traveller’s diarrhea. I think (but will never know for sure) that I had gotten careless: I had a drink with ice in it. So yes, constant diarrhea but added to this a fever, chills, vomiting and loss of appetite. I barely ate for half of the trip.

Some other possible culprits of getting traveller’s diarrhea? Foods not cooked with proper safe food handling, foods washed with possibly unsafe water, such as salads, and raw fruits and vegetables unless they have been personally cleaned and peeled.

Dukoral

The sad part was that I had taken Dukoral, a vaccine prescribed to me that protects the gut against certain bacteria, especially E. coli but obviously the strain that I got wasn’t covered by Dukoral. I also did not take loperamide (Imodium A-D) as it provides temporary relief. It will basically decrease the frequency of you getting diarrhea and this can be good if you have a long journey ahead. I guess I just wanted all the bacteria out of my system.

Combatting Diarrhea

To combat this, I ate very bland food (cheese and bread) and lots of water. I was also given some powdered oral rehydration salts in a small package (ie. electrolytes) to add to my water as I was getting dehydrated. Our tour guide also suggested taking 1 teaspoon of cumin in a cup of water to help with the diarrhea. Did it help? Maybe a little.

Trip To Asia

So, I was paranoid about getting traveller’s diarrhea in Thailand and Bhutan and went to the travel health clinic, got a prescription for Dukoral and was told that if I got diarrhea, I should:

  • drink plenty of fluids
  • take Immodium
  • if I continue to have diarrhea after 3 days, I was to take Azithromycin, an antibiotic
  • if I continued to have diarrhea after 3 days I was to seek medical assistance

I was so grateful I did NOT get traveller’s diarrhea! The probiotics perhaps helped but I was extremely cautious, by:

  1. eating at “safe” places where I believed they had good, safe food handling practices and standards.
  2. drinking only boiled or bottled water and even brushing my teeth with bottled/boiled water. I also did not have any fruit juice (unless bottled) and nothing with ice in the drink.
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18 Comments

  1. Thanks for being brave enough to tackle this common yet least talked about problem. We take probiotics every day that way our gut is in good shape no matter where we travel. I always travel with a prescribed antibiotic from my doctor just in case anything comes up. I suffered travelers diarrhea sometimes call Delhi belly in India it was horrible.

  2. I have had the stomach problems on our travels, so aptly described in your post and one thing I carry now is ‘stool softeners’ and have recommended it in previous posts on our blog simply because sometimes ‘shit doesn’t happen’ but this over-the-counter wizard in a bottle can change that! Great post!

  3. Had quite an adventure due to a bout of Constipation in Italy. David trying to obtain an enema at a Roman pharmacy turned into quite a pantomime in front of the entire store. Great tips, would want to repeat that scene.

  4. All great tips, I’ve only gotten sick once on food poisoning while going to Italy on a food tour and had to eat bland and boring food the entire week – it was very depressing especially for a food tour experience in Italy

  5. Sometimes I think whether you get sick or not just comes down to luck. That is not to say you shouldn’t be careful but you probably need a bit of luck too. With all the precautions in the world there is nothing to save you from sitting next to someone on the plane who has something contagious.

    1. Yes, that’s true. During my last trip someone on my tour got incredibly sick and she believes she caught a cold from someone on the plane. Hard to avoid some germs, particularly on a plane.

  6. Great post, Jan, and great comments from everyone. I am fortunate that my stomach usually holds up to any challenges put before it. But I agree with the comment that airplanes are usually more of a threat to our health when travelling. I try to take echinacea before I leave (for about 2 weeks), while I’m away, and continue it for at least a week after I return home and that usually protects me from whatever germs may come my way.

    1. I’ve had inconsistent results with echinacea, but glad it’s been good for you. So far, other than a few bad bouts (outside of France!) I’ve been OK.

  7. All helpful hints, Jan. However, I’m very fussy about drinking bottled water when I travel because although tap water my be perfectly healthy, most of the time, you can never be sure about the mineral composition, etc. FWIW!:-)

  8. I never leave home without Immodium. It is a trip-saver. It stops things up so you can get through a flight or bus ride, and generally for me it has also completely stopped the problem. I also make sure my immediate fellow travelers know I have extra–enough for them.

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