Knock on Wood — After 84 countries and over 40 years of travel, I am pleased to say I have really only had stomach trouble once while traveling (twice if you count a few uncomfortable hours in Hong Kong recently). Some of this has to be chalked up to good luck, an iron stomach and the fact that I am not the most adventurous eater. But I am also careful and live by some core rules.
- Don’t drink the water. This means don’t drink the water! Don’t use it to brush your teeth. Don’t use ice. Don’t use it to mix flavored drinks.
So what do you do instead? Buying bottled water is always an option. But frankly this gets expensive and it bad for the environment. If you have to purchase bottled water then opt for a big bottle (less plastic / more water) or then reuse that bottle later. However, there are better solutions out there.
Because of the environmental concerns of plastic, many hotels now offer water stations to refill your bottle. I always travel with a reusable bottle. I was recently surprised to find that every hotel I stayed in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia offered a water station. Now sometimes it was only offered at breakfast so I had to think ahead and fill up for the day (multiple bottles) but it was worth it.
Most rooms or hostels also have a kettle. Boiling water is always a safe option. I especially do this for water to brush my teeth. I boil water in the morning to have at night and then boil water at night to have in the morning (give it a chance to cool).
Bring your own filter or iodine. I love my Steripen and use it for both hiking and traveling. But bring your own bottle so you have a wide enough top to use the pen. A water bottle with a lifestraw or its own filter are also wonderful options.
- Make sure hot food is hot and cold food is cold. This is hopefully self-explanatory.
- Only eat uncooked fruits and vegetables that you can peel. I rarely eat salad or raw vegetables. For fruit I stick to bananas, citrus, melons, pineapple instead of apples or berries.
- Be careful of street food. Make sure it is freshly cooked and has not been sitting out in the sun or bugs.
- Be careful of meat. Make sure it is cooked thoroughly. See #4.
- Stay hydrated. My basic rule is 64 ounces a day or 4 ounces an hour. I strongly believe your body is always more efficient and resistant to infection when it is hydrated.
- Get enough sleep and exercise. Again, similar to tip #6, your body is stronger and more resistant to foreign objects when you take care of it. Make sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise. And exercise does not have to mean a 30 minute workout at the gym. Walking around the city and taking the stairs are just as effective.