To some of us, exotic travel destinations immediately bring to mind relaxing on a glorious sun-kissed beach stretched out on white sands under coconut palms contemplating the azure blue sea.
Perhaps it’s an all-inclusive holiday resort miles from the stress and strains of the work-a-day life. There’s an enticing lunch buffet by the pool and now a waiter’s approaching with a refreshing ice-chilled drink. What could possibly go wrong?
Perhaps we’re backpacking through congested towns and cities or trekking through far flung mountainous or jungle terrain. Local street vendors or villagers are selling freshly peeled fruit and lush-looking salads.
You want to taste these marvellous colours and flavours and eagerly dip in. Manna from heaven, right? Surely this is only going to enhance your experience and well being? Experience, yes. Gut health… potentially not so much!
Last week at Gut Geek we looked at three strategies for ensuring you keep your gut in top gear while travelling, particularly on long or frequent journeys.
And now we’ve got three more health-strengthening tips for when you’re visiting both relatively safe destinations and more exotic and hazardous ones.
Safe To Travel?
One of the great things about travel is the sense of freedom and adventure, but we only truly feel free and enjoy the journey if we stay healthy.
For those of us with gut issues, the idea of travel can be very daunting. Will we immediately fall sick when we arrive and stay sick for the entire trip? Will the trip make our condition worse?
Whether you play it safe in your choice of travel destination or go for something more exotic, these strategies will maximise your chances of staying fit and healthy.
If you’re going somewhere more exotic, don’t forget to consult your doctor before you travel about the necessary jabs to protect you from diseases like yellow fever and hepatitis B.
1. Go Self-Catering
The best gut-friendly option when choosing accommodation is self-catering.
This could be anything from a hostel to a villa or condo to staying in someone’s home while they’re away using a service like AirBnB.
You might be thinking ‘But I’m on holiday and the last thing I want to do is buy groceries and cook food every day!’
Sure. I totally get the lure of kicking back and relaxing at catered resorts where waiters bring you food or where you help yourself to buffets any time of the day.
But let’s break it down. You’re committed to looking after yourself and staying healthy, right?
So this isn’t a good option because you’ve got no control over:
- The quality of ingredients used such as the meat, vegetables and oils
- Whether ingredients you may be intolerant to (like wheat, eggs, nuts), are genuinely kept out of dishes
- The standard of kitchen hygiene
On the other hand, if you’re staying in villa-type, self-catering accommodation where you have a kitchen, you have total control over your own food.
When you’re staying in a hotel where all the food is prepared for you, you really don’t know anything about the standards of food hygiene in the kitchen.
If you’re heading out to places in Asia or Latin America for example, hygiene standards vary widely.
If you’re staying at a well-known international chain of hotels, you might be tempted to think you’re fine. However you still don’t know what’s going on back there in the kitchen!
Even if you ask the waiter whether a particular dish contains wheat because you have a wheat intolerance, will they genuinely know? Will they tell the truth or just fob you off? Can you risk it? There can also be a language barrier and miscommunication.
But if you’re cooking in your own kitchen you have total control over the food you consume, because you carefully choose each ingredient and do the cooking yourself (perhaps with a little help from your travelling companions).
So yes it’s going to be a bit more work but it can be fun! What better way to get to know a place than by visiting local markets, sourcing fresh ingredients and checking out all the weird and wonderful produce on offer?
The extra effort of self-catering is worth it if it means you can eat clean and stay healthy throughout your trip, rather than wasting days in bed feeling awful with travellers diarrhea or salmonella
And cooking brings people together! You can share the workload with friends, family or people you meet on your travels.
2. Avoid the local water
This advice particularly applies if you’re travelling somewhere far-flung and exotic.
If in the country you’re visiting they throw toilet paper into a waste bin rather than into the toilet, this means that the sewage system is pretty basic and you should NOT drink the tap water.
Now, lots of you may be thinking that this is pretty obvious, right? Sure! But when I’ve been travelling I’ve seen lots of travellers completely ignore this advice, often paying the price by falling sick.
Watch out for indirect consumption of water in salads and fruit prepared in restaurants. If the fruit or salad has been washed at all, it’s been washed in local unsafe water.
That tempting ice, jiggling about and cooling your drink on a hot and humid day, is also probably made from the same tap water as well. So, refuse ice in drinks unless you’ve made the ice yourself from safe, bottled water.
And, as tempting as it may seem, an ice cream or ice lolly, particularly from street vendors is also off the menu. In the vast majority of cases, these have also been made with local water and are likely contaminated with bugs that are going to be hazardous for your gut.
Disinfecting Risky Food
Food that you cook is made safe from bacteria and other nasties by the heating process. However foods that you eat raw, like lettuce or fruit salad, are a breeding ground for the pathogens that can make you sick when you’re travelling.
You need to make them safe before you eat them, and washing them in the local water might just make them worse!
When you get desperate for some salad, this is where self-catering comes in handy because you take the ingredients back to your kitchen where there are ways to disinfect them safely
There are products you can use for disinfection, for example:-
Here’s how you do it:
– Fill up a basin with safe, bottled water
– Add around 5-10 drops of disinfectant, but this depends on the concentration of the product so follow manufacturer’s guidelines
– Add food that needs disinfecting, such as lettuce leaves or fruit that isn’t peeled (like strawberries)
– leave to soaked for 5 to 10 minutes
– remove food from basin, shake to remove excess water
This will reduce the amount of harmful bacteria covering the surfaces of salads and fruits enough to make the food safe to eat.
3. Keep Your Friendly Bacteria Topped Up
So if you keep your microbiome healthy while you’re travelling, you’ll give your immune system a boost to fight off those nasty bugs that are always lurking when you’re visiting somewhere new.
Here are three ways to do that:
a) Bring a probiotic with you.
If you have a long journey, you may want to choose a brand of probiotic that doesn’t need refrigeration. There are lots out there but I recommend BioKult.
b) Eat fermented food.
A couple of the most widely available fermented foods around the world in my experience are yoghurt and kefir.
Particularly good is natural plain yogurt which is available in many countries. You want to go for the unflavoured variety because it has a much higher quantity of live cultures in it.
You can add some fruit that you have peeled or washed yourself to make a nice tasty dessert.
You can also have it with savoury food like spicy curries where its is a nice accompaniment on the side. It can help take the heat out of fiery dishes, while simultaneously boosting your gut bugs.
I hope these tips have reassured you that it really is possible to remain gut-healthy wherever you choose to venture!
Good luck, and stay healthy! The Gut Geek team