Learn how to prevent digestive problems while travelling

PHOTO: Learn how to prevent digestive problems while travelling

Travelling can be really fun and exciting for both families and individuals. However, it can also mean hectic schedules and over-indulgent eating.

With all the changes in routine, weather, and rushing through meals, one could end up with some unpleasant gastrointestinal (GI) problems.

And there are few things that can upset travel plans, or make a trip more miserable, than a malfunctioning digestive system.

Tummy troubles

Diarrhoea and food poisoning

The temptation to try different foods, especially street food, could potentially lead to diarrhoea.

This may happen as a result of contaminated food and drinks, which have not been prepared hygienically. These foods may contain bacteria, viruses, toxins or parasites, which give rise to GI infections and causes diarrhoea.

It is important to be aware that severe diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, and can be life-threatening for young children and the elderly.

Severe diarrhoea occurs if one has repeated diarrhoea lasting more than three days; blood and mucus in the stool (also known as dysentery); inability to feed, with repeated vomiting episodes lasting more than two days; reduced urine output; and high fever in excess of 38°C.

One must seek medical advice when this occurs.


Constipation is infrequent bowel movement, sometimes associated with straining and the passage of pellet-like stools.

Constipation could be caused by a lack of fibre in your diet, as you may not be taking the necessary amount of vegetables and/or fruits while travelling.

The inability to move your bowels can be both painful and frustrating. If your constipation is prolonged, seek medical help as soon as possible.


Heartburn is another painful and unpleasant condition that causes a burning or warm, unpleasant sensation in your chest.

This happens when gastric acid travels from the stomach and into the oesophagus (acid reflux), resulting in heartburn.

This occurs when one overeats, consumes excess alcohol, eats oily, spicy and acidic foods, or takes certain medications (commonly painkillers, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, eg Ibuprofen etc).


Do you feel bloated after eating?

This is indigestion, which is caused by excessive stomach acid, or eating too quickly, which is very uncomfortable.

Symptoms may range from the bloated feeling of mild indigestion to more severe pain with nausea and vomiting. You may also experience pain or discomfort in the stomach and under the ribs.

If these symptoms are severe or prolonged, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Protect yourself

While many GI problems can occur while travelling, there are also precautions you can take to avoid these unpleasant experiences.

Keep up your regular eating routine

If you are following a tour, the meal times could be very different from what you are used to.

Try to stick to your regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner times as much as possible so that your body does not get thrown off from the changes of your daily routine.

If this is not possible, then be sure to bring along your own supply of food to stave off hunger pangs.

Drink plenty of fluids

It is important to stay hydrated while travelling in order to prevent both diarrhoea and constipation.

Avoid drinking water directly from the tap, and unpasteurised drinks. Buy bottled water, but make sure the seal is intact before you drink.

If you have to drink or cook with water from the tap in your hotel room, make sure that you boil it first to kill off any germs.

Try to avoid ice cubes, as they may be made from tap water, which is contaminated.

Don't overindulge on food

Avoid piling up on huge portions of food and eating a diet high in calories, as these can lead to indigestion, heartburn and diarrhoea.

Eat at a leisurely pace, as eating too quickly may lead to indigestion and heartburn.

Avoid certain foods

Stay away from raw foods, and make sure that any meat you eat is well-cooked as meats, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables can be contaminated with bacteria.

Peel any fruits and vegetables that you may want to eat, and be cautious when it comes to picking foods. Select those that are made with fresh ingredients and prepared hygienically.

Healthy snacks and wet wipes

Be sure to bring some food of your own along in case you get hungry.

Foods like granola bars, dried fruit and foods high in fibre, are good for snacking, and they don't spoil easily.

Wet wipes are useful to maintain your hygiene, and you can use them to clean the rim of any glasses, bottles, cans or bowls that you use.

Take some probiotics

Yoghurts and cultured milk are good sources of probiotics. They will help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your digestive system, and prevent any germs from attacking and causing problems.

In the event that you do develop stomach problems while travelling, you should seek immediate medical attention if you are in danger of dehydration, or in prolonged pain.

While travelling, be smart about what you eat and drink as you do not want digestive/GI problems to spoil your trip.

Put your health and nutrition first to keep digestive problems at bay. Happy travelling!

Quick tips

·If you are travelling to areas with known disease outbreaks, get yourself vaccinated before going.

·To manage/prevent heartburn, do not take large meals before going to bed, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Also, keep your head raised when sleeping (use two pillows if necessary).

·High-fibre foods (in moderation) are good to prevent constipation.

·Avoid eating greasy foods that are high in fat and fibre when having diarrhoea.

·Don't forget to pack your medications.

Dr KC Wong is a consultant physician (internal medicine) and member of the Digestive Health Advisory Board. The author is not associated with, and does not endorse, any brands or products. For a free digestive health info guide or more information, please contact 03-56211408.