When it comes to travel, they say getting there is half the fun. Obviously this was before the advent of airports…

tsa-checkHow Is This Fun?!

Eventually you’ll get past this nightmare, arrive at your destination, and begin that dream vacation. You can visit wondrous places, eat out at exotic restaurants, or sometimes, just lie on the beach. Whatever you have planned, you want to make the most of it.

Unless this happens…

diarrThe runs come a callin’

If it’s happened to you, don’t feel bad. At one time, up to four-fifths of people who travelled to foreign destinations suffered from the mad dash to the toilet, better known as traveller’s diarrhea.

I received a question wondering why people fall victim to the sudden gastrointestinal rush. The person also wanted to know how the trouble could be prevented.

I actually talk quite extensively about this in The Germ Code so I won’t go into too much detail here. But there are two major reasons behind the call to the throne:

  1. Infection
  2. Acclimatization

The first one is pretty simple to explain. The quality of food and water in many places around the world is not all that great. This could expose you to a variety of common local infections and in turn send your gastrointestinal tract into a tizzy.

The second reason is a little more complex. Your immune system is really the one to blame. The body’s defense forces are constantly looking for new threats. The introduction of an unrecognized bacterium – even if it is not pathogenic – can set off the alarms and lead to gastrointestinal unhappiness.

Unlike infection, the symptoms can vary. Some may experience issues brought on by the byproducts of the bacteria…better known as gas. Others may have looser stool than normal. Then there’s the ultimate sign of immune annoyance…

dam I’m sure you get the idea…

Once your immune system gets used to the new microbial visitors, everything calms down and you can get back to normal. Unfortunately, that may take as long as three weeks, which could completely ruin a vacation.

So, what’s the best thing to do to stay safe?

keep-calm-and-don-t-drink-the-water(if it’s not filtered, boiled, or sterilized)

This rule actually applies to both infection and acclimatization. If you can avoid exposure, then you won’t have to deal with the troubles.

But avoidance encompasses more than water and ice cubes. Most fresh produce are washed in the same source so they may end up giving you grief. It’s why you should make sure to eat peeled fruits and always try to have cooked vegetables.

As I travel quite a bit, I do understand this may not always be possible. That’s why another option is to minimize the exposure levels to new bacteria in the gut. You can accomplish this by adding more friendly bacteria to balance out the population. This means…

probiotics(but not just any kind…)

To be sure you are doing yourself more good than harm, you need to be looking for only a few probiotic species in any one dose. They should also come from the same genus. For travel, the best is Lactobacillus because it happens to be in pretty much everywhere.

As for the amount, you’ll need quite a bit so aim for 30 to 50 billion per dose. This pales in comparison to the overall number of microbes in the gut, true. But during any one day, the number of microbes you are taking in – particularly if you are watching what you eat and drink – will be far less than the probiotic dose.

That’s essentially the goal – making sure to keep an even balance.

These tricks have definitely helped me and many other people prevent those runs when away from home. However, they are not perfect and sometimes problems do arise. I’ve had a few tense moments over the last few years albeit nothing compares to my experience in the Amazon…which also is in The Germ Code.

I do hope everyone can travel without the runs…

late-gate(or a need to run for a plane)

But, if you do find yourself in the uncomfortable position of needing a toilet, I pray you have access to a well plumbed facility open to the public. After all, there’s nothing worse than to find yourself on top of a ticking time bomb and be faced with this…

restroom(Almost as bad as “Patrons Only”)

or this…

turkish-toiletThe Turkish Toilet!

Safe travels!