Thursday, February 16, 2012

On how to avoid the (stomach) traveling blues

I wrote this for a travel magazine, but in the end they decided not to publish it, so here you go, enjoy my hard- earned "wisdom"

You might have already been there, or maybe you are planning a trip that is making you wonder if you are headed there. Stomach blues (to put it politely) is one of the most common hazards of off-the-beaten-track travel. The bottom line is that your body is stretched trying to overcome jet lag while doing a lot more hours of hiking, walking and bumpy roads than it is used to, as well as dealing with hot temperatures and unfamiliar foods. Doing all this while on toast and tea, or worse, adding god forsaken toilet visits to your guided tour is something you really want to avoid.

You are already familiar with the basics, which you can pick up in most travel guides:

  •  Don’t eat fruits and vegetables unless they are peeled or boiled (in a clean environment).
  • Avoid undercooked meat and fish like you life depends on it (seriously)
  •  Avoid dairies. Period (ok, some cheeses may be ok, but if you want to play it safe stay clear of those too)
  • Wash you hands regularly (take hand sanitizer and use it often)
  • Don’t drink water unless it is bottled, and preferably have them open the bottle in front of you (some cultures will do this as matter of fact, highlighting your need to ensure your bottle is not being recycled)

Here are some other interesting tips from the trenches you might not have heard of:
  1.      Remember, ice is also water. Also, if glasses are not clean try to drink straight from a bottle (cans are renown for being germ fests, so definitely avoid those).

    2.     take probiotic pills or products before and during your travel, it helps to strengthen the immune system and the healthy flora in your stomach

    3.     don’t bite your nails! Seriously what is the point of avoiding the unpeeled fruit if then you go around touching everything and sticking your dirty hands in your mouth, (same applies to your eyes)

    4.     take toilet paper and wipes with you wherever you go. Chances are that your stomach will have some degree of reaction to all the changes its experiencing, and you never know where the next toilet paper roll will be.

    5.     Wipe and sanitize gear you are often holding with your dirty hands like the camera or passport, it is collecting germs and you’ll have a tendency to consider it sanitized back in your hotel haven and forget to wash after handling it.

    6.     Consume local prepackaged and pasteurized yogurts as much as you can and as soon as you arrive. This is because every location has its own bacteria, if you can consume some of it safely it will help your body deal.

    7.     Lemon and lime are acids and natural disinfectants. Can’t hurt to use it to clean your glass, bottle top  or cutlery, and tastes great. You can also add it to your bottle of water, will cleanse and refresh.

    8.     If you can handle hot spice this is the time to do so. There is a reason why hot poor countries consume chili like there is no tomorrow. It is proven to prevent stomach cancers but also ward off disease, they are also apparently the ultimate decongestant.

    9.     When in doubt drink cold coke (as cold as you can get it, but NOT with ice). Coke started off as a stomach medicine and as many opponents will highlight, if you stick  a tooth in a glass of coke it will disappear. This  is a good thing when you are trying to get rid of stuff that should not be in your stomach.

    10. If there is local papaya eat it as often as possible. Another natural stomach strengthener used to make digestive supplements

The most serious stuff is the one that you need to get vaccinated for, so make sure you do this well in advance. Find out from the CDC what diseases are prevalent in the areas you are planning to visit. Often they will over pitch and invariably locals will assure you that some of them are no longer present, but if you don’t have access to reliable locals (emphasis on reliable, many locals are immune to stuff that will keep you down and out)  then better safe than sorry is my motto.

Remember, food is an essential part of the culture and its traditions, not only is fun to take part and try new things, but as far as I’m concerned it is kind of essential,  just do it wisely.