Urgh, traveller’s tummy is the worst.
Stomach and digestive problems affect so many travellers because of the change in diet and upturned schedule. So many people suffer from some kind of health issues when they’re travelling, but NO ONE ever likes to discuss it.
What is it?
If you have ever had IBS or have been backpacking and felt that your stomach hated every minute of it then you will know what I mean. Travellers tummy is the worst part of travelling. As soon as I ditch the routine and head off on a new adventure I feel happiness! But my stomach feels the exact opposite. You never think about it before you leave for your trip, therefore you are often not prepared for the pain that is to come – nausea, bloating, cramps…and all the rest of it.
It is easy to forget once you are home and well, but at the time, believe me, it is all you can think about.
If you haven’t ever suffered from it, you are lucky! But if you have I bet you are wincing at the thought of it right now!
It started on my first ever trip to Costa Rica aged 18.
I was there for 8 months, and over my time there I discovered beer and a whole host of new foods. I don’t remember how I felt when I was there, your memory tends to forget the bad bits, but I do remember being really ill with a terrible stomach bug towards the end of my trip that lasted for a week or more, and since then my stomach was never the same again.
Back home I suffered terrible stomach aches, nausea, the works, and was diagnosed with IBS. This would be something that I would suffer from for my whole life. The great thing about IBS (yes, there is a good bit) is that it comes and goes. And over the course of my adult life I have suffered from it for a few months at a time, and then with the right diet and (gasp!) a routine, I have been able to combat it and live perfectly normally.
Back when I returned from Costa Rica, my insides felt awful.
I took medication for IBS, and researched it none-stop, cutting out bread, white carbs, beer, and all the things that seemed to worsen it. But I was a uni student by this time, which meant, need I say more; my diet was pretty awful (and consisting of predominantly alco-pops and super noodles).
Shortly after I got my act together over the course of my university life, I noticed a change, and then like magic my IBS disappeared and I was perfectly well again!
But that wasn’t the end.
I can pin-point the times in my life when my IBS has come back in full force or I have suffered symptoms, such as moving to Spain, backpacking around South America, and living in the Caribbean; all times when I was either submerged in a new environment, drinking more alcohol and eating differently, or my routine was completely out. I realized early on that medication was not the answer. How could it be? IBS is an illness that is triggered by diet; therefore the answer to the problem must come from the same place.
I am now much more aware of what my body needs (and doesn’t need!) to be well.
I know that I am not intolerant to gluten, and therefore I can eat bread and drink beer, but I just need to be aware of when I feel well enough to do so, how much to limit myself to, and when to give it a miss. Although I am still learning, I know my triggers, and I also know what soothes my insides. This has made travelling much more of a pleasant experience all round, and now I feel much more in control of how my stomach feels. Sure, there are still times that I get stomach cramps and feel like I have eaten a brick; there will always be new triggers and new foods that don’t agree with me, but I plan on trying them all, enjoying them, and living my life without traveller’s tummy being the centre of it!
My advice for beating travellers tummy
Here are the elements in my diet that have been my travel tummy saviors. Because, it isn’t just people with IBS that will suffer from some kind of stomach issues.
For me, it has been a journey of trial and error, but I have established what helps and what significantly reduces symptoms of travel tummy.
This is my personal advice, and I am not a doctor or nutritionist, however I strongly recommend the below and I hope you find that they work for you too!
Before you go
Visit your doctor
If you have ever suffered from IBS or traveller’s tummy before, it is probably a good idea to visit your doctor and stock up on medication that you know works for you. I now try to avoid medication for IBS, but having used it several times over the past ten years before I really knew anything about travel tummy and nutrition, I know it can help. The hardest part about backpacking is that you don’t always know what food is going to be available so I recommend having some medication available so that if you do get ill you can control your IBS even when you can’t control your diet.
Know what to avoid
It is a good idea to keep track of what you eat and what triggers any symptoms relating to IBS before you jet off on your travels. You might think you feel perfectly healthy now, but even by tracking things like occasional bloating, discomfort or other issues and what might trigger these symptoms can really help down the line. Triggers are different for everyone, but things like wine, beer, bread (sometimes wholegrain can be a worse trigger than white so be sure to pay attention), pasta, wholegrains, courgette and cucumber skin, onion etc. can all be triggers. So you will see from this list that it can be a variety of things.
Stock up on…
I cannot recommend Udo’s Choice Ultimate Oil Blend enough. It really made a huge difference for me when I was travelling, and I now make it a part of my every day diet. I have sent bottles to my family to try and everyone always feels some kind of benefit. The capsules are really good for travel situations, however with the amount that it is recommended to take I find the bottled oil better. I would recommend stocking up on both, in order to be able to take it consistently, which is really important to feel the benefits and to avoid traveller’s tummy.
Probiotics are the saviors that will guide you along the way and help you avoid getting traveller’s tummy completely. I like getting my probiotics from natural sources, such as live yogurt, however this is nearly impossible when you are backpacking. If you are not sure what they are, probiotics are the good bacteria your body needs to ward off bad bacteria and help your digestive system run smoothly. I really recommend trialing them at home before you leave, and researching different types rather than just buying off the shelf; I have bought them abroad before and found them far too strong. I highly recommend Udo’s Choice Super-8 High Count.
Whilst you’re there
One thing that really affects the stomach is acidic foods. Acidic foods can cause havoc and are a lot of the reason IBS symptoms occur. In a nutshell, our bodies are pH neutral, and many foods, such as coffee, alcohol, sugar, dairy and ready meat are very acidic. This alters the balance of your body. Alkaline foods, such as vegetable juices, sweet potato, ginger and papaya will reset your pH level and ensures that the environment within your stomach promotes good health and helps your system to rid your body of bad bacteria. Read more about alkaline and acidic foods here and keep it in mind when you are travelling.
Hot water and lemon
Strangely lemon has an alkaline effect on your body and actually regulates the acid. I swear by lemon and hot water every morning. It is super easy to keep up with when you are travelling, as lemons are generally readily available. When you wake up, always start your day with a cup of hot water and a few slices of lemon. I promise you, this could be all you need to regulate your stomach acids and keep you feeling good. The lemon is cleansing and hot water is a gentle way to wake up your stomach, rather than shocking it with cold water. I still drink coffee, but save it for after my lemon water and breakfast.
Smoothies and Juices
I have recently bought a Nutribullet and it is the best thing that I ever invested in. If you are road tripping, or traveling for a long period of time, I would recommend packing a blender. Of course, for a backpacker this is never going to be possible, but if you are doing a gap year or suffer from bad IBS this would be worth the carriage. You can buy travel ones, however I would make the extra space for the Nutribullet if you are serious about taking one with you.
Fresh produce is usually something you will find ample of when backpacking. I always love trying all the fruits that I have never even heard of before! Wizzing up a stomach friendly, alkaline smoothie can really make a big difference to your health. I have noticed a HUGE difference since I have started having one for breakfast every day.
You might find that you can buy juices and smoothies on the road anyway, as many cafes and fruit stands will make them. Be sure to add papaya and ginger where possible, and if you aren’t a juice fan or can’t get your hands on a blender, add these to your diet anyway; both are excellent ingredients for combating travel tummy, and here’s why…
The first time I tried Papaya I hated it. Although the taste is still not my favourite thing in the world, I still absolutely love it for many reasons. When I was traveling in Colombia, we were staying in Medellin, and as usual I was suffering from travel tummy symptoms. There was a little fruit stand outside the hostel, and the guy would blitz up whatever you fancied into a delicious juice for you. I started having papaya and mango smoothies every morning, and soon noticed a huge difference to how I felt. Since then I had papaya juice wherever I could, and would feel myself actually craving it!
Papaya is packed full of vitamins, and contains the digestive enzyme, papain, which is just the stomach savior you need for travel tummy. I love blending it with banana and natural yogurt to really help your tummy out. Read my article all about the wonder of papaya here.
As mentioned above, ginger is a great alkaline treat for your stomach. It is an almost instant aid for IBS symptoms such as heartburn and indigestion. It helps stimulate stomach acid production (we like this kind of acid!) to aid in digestion. It helps with bloating, stomach gases, calms your intestines by relaxing the muscles, and simulates the process of digestion helping your food pass through more easily. It basically an stomach’s dream! I recommend carrying ginger tea with you. Try Yogi Ginger Tea, and having a cup before a big meal, or straight after.
If you are suffering from heartburn or nasty indigestion, before you reach for the Tum Tums or Rennie, try fresh ginger in warm water or chew it as is. (Read an interesting article on ginger over medication here)
I really recommend buying some good tea bags to carry with you when you travel. Of course, drink fresh where you can, however tea bags are zero carriage and there is usually a way to access hot water and a cup! Along with ginger as mentioned above, I really recommend the following for digestive aids and to help combat symptoms of travel tummy:
- Mint tea
And in an absolute worst-case scenario, try Senna as a natural laxative…
Three Ballerina Tea
If you are still reading it is a safe bet to assume you have been through the worst pains and symptoms of traveller’s tummy like I have.
It’s horrible, right?
Well as a last resort, I found this little gem in a supermarket whilst backpacking and gave it a try. It is meant as a slimming tea, made up of Senna which is an extremely strong natural laxative, and works better than anything you will get from the pharmacy. I am not going to divulge, but if you want to know more read this. If you are someone who has suffered from travel tummy and its many, many forms in the past, I would carry a few bags with you… just in case!
As well as being just all round amazing for your health in general, bee pollen is a great aid for digestive health. It can really work wonders for problems such as indigestion, inflammation of the stomach, gastritis, constipation and chronic diarrhea to name a few. It helps strengthen the stomach lining and muscles, and promotes food digestion.
It helps the elimination process of the food to be as smooth as possible, leaving the stomach clean and functional. Whilst being a difficult thing to carry with you when backpacking, I would keep an eye out for it, and if you find a local honey producer that sells bee pollen on your travels it is definitely worth picking up a jar!
Apple Cider Vinegar
Having a tablespoon of ACV in water daily can do wonders for your digestive health. If I know I am going to be drinking alcohol I make sure to drink it: in the morning, before I go out, AND the morning after. It makes a massive difference to regulating your stomach acid, and I can promise you, will alleviate any discomfort you might normally have! Read all about the benefit of ACV here.
I recommend carrying a bottle with you when you are traveling. Make sure you buy an organic ACD which contains “the mother”, I recommend Bragg ACD.
It is amazing how you can forget to drink as much water as you should when backpacking. When you are in a country where it isn’t safe to drink the tap water and you are relying on bottled water you can quickly reduce the amount you consume. Don’t! Buy a two-litre bottle, and ensure you drink it over the course of the day. I always carry a Nalgene water bottle with me and fill it up at the hostel. Pay attention to how much you drink, and make it a priority.
It might sound obvious, but not moving enough can really slow down your digestive system. Exercising when you are backpacking is not always easy, but try to make time each day to do something active. Go for a run, a brisk walk, even skinny dipping counts!
Combating travellers tummy is really a game of trial and error. I really recommend preparing for it before you go.
If you have a stomach of iron and you don’t get ill then lucky you! But it is likely that somewhere down the line you will suffer some form of stomach issues when backpacking.
My advice is to listen to your body. Be wise with what you eat and drink, and try to adopt a routine as best you can. Even if that just be taking hot water with lemon and a probiotic every morning! You will definitely feel the benefits.
If you have any advice to add or something that worked for you please comment below.
Wishing you happy, healthy travels!
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Thanks for reading!