Travel. It’s not all glamorous jet-setting, stunning sunsets and mind-blowing experiences. As unpleasant as it is, sometimes travel leads to you feeling as though your insides are going to explode, and that you may die.
The curse of the traveller lies in often inevitable bouts of dodgy stomach, traveller’s diarrhea, Delhi belly, or the Aztec Two-Step. Whatever you call it, it’s no fun.
My philosophy is that it is well worth the horror. Although you may find yourself crouched over a hole in the ground as cramps spasm through you, or sweating profusely as you desperately try to figure how to flush a toilet that just will not flush, once the nightmarish ordeal is over, you will look back on it in an almost fond way, as the details fade, and all you remember of the ordeal is the stunning location where you nearly shit your pants.
If you are about to set off on a backpacking trip, you may be wondering;
Will I get the dreaded Delhi Belly?
Short answer, more than likely.
But, don’t panic. There are many, many people who manage to travel safely without ever having to deal with the dreaded problem. I am not one of them.
In order to minimise your chances of getting struck down you should ….
- Wash your hands often. If there’s no soap, use hand sanitiser, especially after using the bathroom.
- Use your judgement to weigh up the risks of having a salad or an iced drink.
- Stay hydrated- water flushes bad stuff out, so if you keep drinking water you may be able to get rid of the bastards quicker.
Other ‘rules’ for avoiding traveller’s diarrhea:
- They say you shouldn’t drink anything with ice.
- No salads or peeled fruit
- No street food.
- Keep your mouth closed in the shower (I don’t really get this one, as I never really shower with my mouth wide open!)
- Don’t use tap water to brush your teeth
These are rules I never really stick to. An icy fruit shake or lassi is absolutely amazing in a hot and humid country. Fruit is good for you, and fresh pineapple or watermelon from a street food stall is perfection on a hot day. Salad isn’t something I eat that much when in places like Asia, but when I do, nothing bad has happened. And in my opinion, visiting a country and not trying the street food is crazy. Don’t let the fear of a dodgy stomach make you miss the chance to sample street food!
In saying that, the actual culprit in these situations is often a mystery. One friend swore it was from eating way too many oranges in all the shakes we were having in Thailand, another said it was the ice.
When I got the really bad dose in India, which lasted for days, I was convinced it was from the cheese on a pizza. In Varanasi, we were craving a delicious pizza we had had a few nights before. The restaurant where we had eaten was closed and so we had to go to another. After eating the meal, my stomach felt strange. It was hard to explain, but I felt like the meal was sitting funny. Then the next day, hello hell!
In Vietnam, I had a really bad episode where I couldn’t keep anything down, even water was making me run to the bathroom.
I didn’t know what the cause was. By the time we had arrived in Vietnam, it had struck. I ruled out Vietnam and guessed it had to have happened in Cambodia, but I have no idea what it was from.
I am terrible when it comes to only rinsing your toothbrush with bottled water. I do try at first, but you just can’t rinse your toothbrush properly by trickling bottled water over it. I use bottled water to rinse my mouth out, but I think that a toothbrush needs a little more water pressure.
I often rinse the toothbrush with tap water, shake it off, and then pour some bottled water over it.
In India, I managed to be more careful, probably because of the fact that I had contracted the Delhi belly so early into the trip and didn’t want to a repeat situation.
How to Survive Delhi Belly
- Know that it will pass. Eventually.
- Drink lots of water.
- If possible, stay close to a toilet. In Varanasi, our guesthouse had a rooftop garden, and so when the tell-tale cramps kicked in, it was only a short flight of stairs down to our bathroom.
- If you are so ill that you can’t eat, well, try to eat anyway. You need to get some nutrients into you. Most places will serve bread, so nibble on that. Or rice.
- Coke etc can go both ways, literally. The sugar and taste may help keep you alive, but the fizziness may cause your stomach to rumble right up your throat.
- Drink Water. As much as you can. Delhi Belly is a sure-fire way to get dehydrated.
- Rehydration sachets are miracle makers- In all the pre-trip hysteria that travel nurses are prone to, the most important goodies to grab are the sachets.
I have no medical proof of this, but after 5-6 days of the worst case of Delhi belly in Vietnam, I was beginning to get scared. Even water wasn’t staying down, and I was worried it was something more serious.
I drank a congealing sachet I had been carrying around with me, and within a day, and three sachets, I was back to normal.
- Stoppers are your best friend.
I had never heard of these before, but when my sister was leaving to go to South America, her zealous travel nurse gave her a prescription for ‘stoppers’ which basically stop you needing to go.
In Australia, our nurse mentioned them, and I grabbed at them. My sister swore by them for those 24 hour bus journeys in South America.
And so, when we had to leave Varanasi on an overnight train to Agra, I wasn’t taking any chances. I took one and it worked like a charm.
The only thing is that it worked a bit too well and I had no need to go to the bathroom for a good 48 hours or so. But hey, I’d chose that over a dodgy stomach on an overnight train any day.
So, there you have it, my slightly too-revealing advice about all things Delhi Belly. I hope that you’re never cursed with it, but it’s all part of the travelling experience and in the grand scheme of things, so, so, so worth it!