Safety overseas is a major preoccupation with American travelers. Being sick in a strange land can cause anxiety. I can offer some advice for what used to be the most worrisome part of travel back in the “good old days”-diarrhea.
Some, perhaps most, U.S. travelers would be surprised to learn that foreigners who come to the U.S. often experience stomach disorders.
Water is often blamed as the likely culprit. Obviosuly, water is the easiest conduit for the introduction of unfamiliar microbes into our systems. But my travels have lead me to conclude that other factors contribute to the incidence of dietary tract disorders.
Before a trip to Egypt, I sought the advice of three doctors, the health unit at a university, the county disease control hot line, and Banana Republic. I read several travel books that had various recommendations and cautions. I glanced at the Internet and decided I’d still be reading long past my return from my vacation. Sometimes we can have too much information.
Here’s what I did on my trip. I offer it because it worked. First, I took two chewableï¿½ anti-diarrhea tablets morning, noon, and evening before each meal. I reduced this to four tablets a day after a week. As one doctor told me, “That’s enough to constipate a horse.”
I avoided all tap water, ice, salads, and uncooked fruit and vegetables. I didn’t drink the tap water primarily because a local told me that it was heavily chlorinated and didn’t taste too good. I even brushed my teeth with bottled water.
I drank a pint of water each hour, rested as much as possible, avoided excessive alcohol and exposure to the sun, and I didn’t overeat. These last precautions are crucial to staying healthy in an unfamiliar hot climate; perhaps more important than avoiding the water.
The average tourist will become tired and susceptible to fatigue-induced minor stomach problems. It is easy to dehydrate in a hot climate, especially when you drink alcohol. People on vacation tend to push themselves and overdo everything including drinking and eating large quantities of unfamiliar foods.
So, on the average trip, you have got someone who is dehydrated, tired, drunk, stuffed on spicy food, and on a timetable nine hours ahead or behind the body’s biological clock. No wonder the stomach is unset! I’m getting queasy just thinking about it.
Here’s my formula for reducing the likelihood of serious stomach disorders.
1. Drink only bottled water.
2. Try to drink one pint of water per hour.
3. Have only one alcoholic drink per day.
4. Rest when you are tired, no matter the schedule.
5. Wear a hat in the sun.
6. Avoid salads, fresh vegetables, and fruit you can’t peel.
7. Avoid ice.
8. Eat in moderation.
9. Take two chewable anti-diarrhea tablets three times a day before each meal. Reduce this after a week or earlier if you’re feeling fine.
10. Don’t worry.
The last bit of advice may be the most important. You get sick at home and there’s no way you can totally avoid the possibility of illness while traveling. If you do get sick, accept it. Don’t panic. In a couple of days, it’ll pass. But if you follow my advice, chances are you’ll have a safe and healthy vacation. If not, you may end up with an adventure like I had in a small Italian hill town trying to explain my infected toe to a pharmacist who spoke no English and I had a Rick Steve’s Italian phrase book in my hands while balancing one foot on the counter. But that’s another story.