Traveler’s trots. Montezuma’s Revenge. The squits. No matter what people joking call it, traveler’s diarrhea is no laughing matter. If you have ever fallen victim to the curse, you will know the pain of feeling like the entire world is falling out of your arse. Too crude? More than likely if you are reading this article, you are the latest victim of traveler’s diarrhea and you are looking for some assistance and help. I hear you.
While I’m not exactly a medical expert, or a person with a formal qualification in the workings of traveler’s diarrhea (is there such a monstrosity?), I’ve experienced it enough times to understand how uncomfortable it is to go through. Most recently, I spent most of last month in Malaysia being incredibly sick in this way. Perhaps not helped by the fact I already have IBS.
Traveler’s diarrhea is the side of travel that you never see on those perfectly preened Instagram accounts.So what do you do? How do you cope?
What to Do When Traveler’s Diarrhea Strikes
#1 Don’t Hesitate to Take Time Out to Rest
If you’re anything like me, you may find that when you are travelling you feel really guilty to spend a day or two doing nothing. You feel that way even if you are sick AF, and even if you are in the midst of a trip that lasts weeks/months. Don’t!
Honestly, if you find yourself contending with a particularly nasty bout of traveler’s diarrhea and you keep pushing yourself to keep exploring or go wandering around some archaeological ruin in 40 degree heat, you are only going to delay your recovery time.
More than that though, you run the risk of putting yourself in a position of having a bathroom emergency when you’re out. This was me last month in Malaysia – forcing myself to go hiking up Mount Brinchang while I was in the Cameron Highlands then realising halfway through the jungle that I really had to go immediately and my body wasn’t prepared to wait. Not pleasant!
#2 Consider Moving into a Private Room
As I’ve gotten older, I no longer stay in dorm rooms or shared accommodation when I travel. However, I have stayed in plenty of hostels in the past and understand that it can make things feel infinitely worse when you need to go, but you have to wait in line for the bathroom, OR you are lying in your dorm bed feeling sorry for yourself and your roommates are being rowdy.
Consider moving to a private room with a private bathroom while you deal with your bowel troubles. I understand that that seems incredibly annoying when you are travelling on a tight budget, but private rooms in a hostel or a spare bedroom in an airbnb are pretty cheap and will make you feel much more comfortable. I am sure that you can re-shuffle your budget around a little to accommodate the extra expense.
#3 Never Trust a Fart
That’s right: Never trust a fart. In all honesty I can’t believe that I even just typed that but it is absolutely true, especially where traveler’s diarrhea is concerned. Don’t wait to find out what I mean by that, just trust that if you feel a fart coming on during a period that you are contending with traveler’s diarrhea, clench your bum together like there’s no tomorrow. Clench until you cannot clench anymore!
What may seem to be just an innocent little need to pass gas is often a wolf in sheep’s clothing and is instead a violent bout of liquid poop. I feel like there is now more than an acceptable amount of toilet humour in this article, but don’t say you haven’t been warned if you feel a fart a-brewing.
#4 Drink Plenty of Water
You probably knew this already. It’s probably something your mum told you constantly as a kid when you had the runs. It’s important though, as diarrhea can lead to dehydration. This is especially the case if you are travelling in a hot country. Seriously guys, rehydrate.
#5 Restore Your Electrolytes
Restoring your electrolytes doesn’t necessarily stop diarrhea, but it stops the dehydration associated with it. Drinks like vitamin water, Powerade, Lucozade and Gatorade are all packed with electrolytes. These drinks basically restore the essential salts that your body loses when you have diarrhea.
#6 Talk About it and Don’t Be Embarrassed
Honestly it’s not the most comfortable or pleasant thing to talk about your bowel movements but in all honesty: we’ve all been there. Fellow travelers especially, will be able to relate. People can’t help you if they don’t know, but if they do, they may be able to offer advice and support. If you’re travelling alone, this can be very helpful. When I was poorly in Ipoh,Malaysia, the guy at my hotel bought me some tea and a local friend offered to bring me some supplies – a godsend in situations when you feel like you cannot even stand up from your bed!
#7 Carry Spare Toilet Paper
If you are travelling in developing countries or places like Southeast Asia, India, Africa, etc, you will probably get used to not seeing toilet paper in the toilets. To be honest, you will probably even start becoming startled when you do see toilet paper. Don’t put yourself through any stress or worry about this. Do yourself a favour and buy a cheap roll from 7/11 or wherever and just keep it in your bag.
#8 Take Appropriate Meds
Imodium (loperamide) is a lifesaver where traveler’s diarrhea is concerned, especially if you have a long journey ahead. Take 2 tablets when you first start seeing symptoms, and one more after every subsequent bowel movement. By the way, be cautious not to take more than eight of these in 24 hours. By the way, don’t just keep taking and taking imodium, remember that this is not something that should be taken daily or longer term.
If you develop a fever alongside your traveler’s diarrhea then you should not take Imodium, as this points to you having an infection. Instead, go and see a doctor.
#9 Know When it’s Time to See a Doctor
I know that when you have a particularly aggressive bout of traveler’s diarrhea it feels like the world is going to end. “I’m not going to make it… go on without me!” you wail dramatically to your travel buddies. Honestly, even though traveler’s diarrhea can be really painful and horrible to go through, it is usually nothing to worry about. That said, it should be out of your system within 3-4 days maximum. If nothing seems to help, you develop a fever, or you feel more unwell, you should consider seeing a doctor as it could be something more serious (parasites etc).
#10 Eat Comfort Foods
Bland foods are the gentlest on your tummy during times of stomach pains and violent bowel movements. Sometimes you just want to eat western food or comfort food and that’s okay. When I was sick in Malaysia, I kept going to this same place to eat french toast and full English breakfasts everyday. It probably made me look like a super ignorant tourist since I was always in there, but I know it made me feel much better!
Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea Before it Starts
Prevention is always better than a cure, especially where something as unpleasant as traveler’s diarrhea is concerned. To be honest, you can be as careful as could be and STILL get sick, but there are ways to minimise your chances.
You don’t have to be a complete paranoid and avoid all street food, fresh fruit and local plumbing, but try and be a little careful.
Understand the Local Water Situation
In some countries, you can drink the water, others you cannot. Check the travel advice for that specific country before visiting. You should also be mindful that in some cases, it is stated that you can drink the water but because it contains different salts and minerals than what you are used to, your body may not adjust well. Consider buying a water bottle with a built-in filter to cleanse the water before you drink it, or travel with a steripen.
Depending where you are, you may want to consider using filtered water even for brushing your teeth, just to further minimise the risk of getting sick.
Be Fussier About Street Food Stores
By all means, dabble in the local cuisines and street foods when you travel, but just be a little fussier about where you choose to dine. The locals may be eating there, sure, but did you just see a cockroach scuttle under the drain? How long has that tandoori chicken been randomly hanging in front of the window? Are meats and fruits/vegetables sitting out? Assess your surroundings before you sit down to eat.
Traveler’s Diarrhea: Always Be Prepared
As mentioned, you could be really careful about what and where you eat and still get very unlucky and fall ill. Afterall, you could just as easily get food poisoning in the restaurant of a five star hotel somewhere as you could at a street food stand. Make sure that your backpack/medikit is prepared for all possible scenarios.
- Rehydration sachets
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Wet Wipes
- OTC Painkillers
Have you had to tackle traveler’s diarrhea? Did you survive? Have a funny travel poop story? Feel free to reach out to me via the comments below!
Disclaimer: I am not a Medical Professional or a Doctor and none of the above information should be used as a substitute for actual medical advice or for seeing a licenced Medical Professional. This is an article based on my own experiences through full time travel, and is intended for informational purposes only. It does not contain medical advice, a diagnosis, a professional opinion, or suggest I provide medical services.