How To Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea: Lessons Learned

by The Runaway Guide on June 29, 2011

Diarrhea, the squirts, the runs, geri, splitskas, layseh mogen, or anal leakage; what ever you call it, it rarely makes for a pleasant afternoon.  In all seriousness though, for the traveler, diarrhea is one of the most common and potentially life threatening ailments that can occur. And if you’re going backpacking in a developing country, It is less a question of if you will get diarrhea, but rather when and how severe.

Fortunately, the chances of getting life altering diarrhea can be abated. Unfortunately for me, a stubborn and careless runaway, I had to find out how the hard way. The hard way being days and days of unprecedented, blood draining, ass quivering diarrhea. Forgive the description.

So for the sake of your rectum, your trip and your life, I encourage you to capitalize on my diarretic misfortunes and learn from the following mistakes.

Lesson One: If it smells like poop, and tastes like poop, it may very well have been mistakenly marinated in poop.

After a 40 mile bicycle rickshaw ride we finally arrived at the western most border town of Mahendranga, Nepal. I had heard that unlike veggie India, Nepal was carnivorous. So after two months of no meat, all I could think about was stuffing my face with a savory piece of chicken, beef or pork.

There, on the corner of this wild west looking town, is where I spotted it. Hanging from a string, swaying in the breeze, a single squer of chicken beckoned to come. Though it was covered in flies and looked as though it had been hanging there for days, its beauty mesmerized me, and I obliged its request without question.

Chicken! I said to the waiter while pointing at it with my finger. He obediently scurried over, cut it down, and served it to me on an aluminum plate. I praised him for his quickness and his beautiful piece of chicken.

The first bite was heavenly. The second bite was also nice. But by the third bite, my blind adoration for this chicken was beginning to wane. I began to smell something strange and so I sniffed it. Is that? Could that be? “This chicken smells just like poop,” I exclaimed. Then I took another bite to confirm. “It tastes like poop too,” I declared.

Over the course of the following week my bowels underwent a trauma that words cannot describe. 5 to 10 times a day I frantically rushed to the hole in our jungle hut. I had a high fever and nausea. The culmination of which produced bright orange projectile vomit. Lesson learned.

Lesson Two: Some ice creams will make you scream.

We decided to head to Pokara Nepal by bus. Since the seats were small and crowded, we opted to sit on the roof. Before departing, I spotted an ice cream vendor and bought one from him. It was truly delicious. It was creamy, cold and full of Indian spices. Everything I needed on this overcast yet roasting afternoon.

Though I had been warned not to eat ice cream because the melting and refreezing could produce bacteria in already bactria ridden milk, I didn’t care. It was so satisfying that I even bought another. Unsurprisingly, for an entire month, I turned every clean bathroom I entered into a war zone. Don’t worry though, as we left each hotel, I tipped the maids appropriately. Lesson learned.

Lesson Three: Leave the leftovers for the dogs.

In a bus side hotel in Jordan, I was forced to work for one month to pay off the one night I couldn’t afford. As I had no money, eating was a rarity, and I was beginning to resemble a holocaust victim. One day, outside the African women’s door, I found a tray with left over chicken on it. Famished, I rushed over to the tray and ferociously began to eat. This time the chicken didn’t taste like poop. On the contrary, it was juicy and perfectly cooked. It was just what I needed to regain my strength.

However, just as I was finishing my shift, I made my first run to the toilette. Little did I know at the time but it would be the first of many. For two weeks straight, I hit the toilette and then cleaned the toilettes. I was in the bathroom at least ten times a day. On top of it all, the other employees didn’t believe I was sick. And they constantly walked in on me while on the pot, yelling, work work! Yala yala!

Moral of the story, don’t eat half eaten chicken if it has been sitting on the floor for an unknown amount of time in a hot and filthy Jordanian hotel. Lesson learned.

Although diarrhea is sometimes funny to joke about, it is no laughing matter when you begin to bleed from the …. So I hope that you will learn from my mistakes and be cautious if you ever come across poopy chicken, refrozen ice cream, or aging leftovers.

Good luck and diarrhea free travels,
Leif

P.s. While diarrhea is a concern for the traveler, it is life threatening for millions of children from developing countries. According to UNICEF, every day 24,000 children under the age of 5 die due to diarrhea resulting from unsanitary drinking water. 24,000 every day. If you would like to help, you can make a donation directly to UNICEF. Additionally, if you prefer a smaller non for profit organization, I highly recommend Planet Water. Planet Water has developed a cost effective yet efficient water filtration system and constructs them in schools and rural communities across South East Asia. To learn more or make a donation, please click on the following link, Planet Water.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Melody April 8, 2013 at 8:27 am

I have discovered the cure!!! After the first time you go (gotta get the bacteria out of you right?), or at the first sign of upset stomach (if you’re about to attempt a long bus ride…), take a couple garlic pills! I won’t travel without a bottle now. It has saved me a few times this trip :)

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The Runaway Guide April 16, 2013 at 7:11 pm

O nice! Yea, garlic works great for everything it seems. Forget about antibiotics and stuff just eat raw garlic.

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Anthony February 9, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I’d like to suggest an article about parasites if it hasn’t been written?

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The Runaway Guide February 9, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Hey Anthony, I’m sure I have had them but I haven’t really looked into the medical treatments and such, I have always just ridden them out.Not sure if I could write about it specifically. Sorry about that.

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Shanna December 11, 2012 at 12:23 am

Hey everyone!
You can prepare against this kind of stuff beforehand. Just don’t eat so hygienic as most 1st world countries do nowadays.

Eat that half-bad food(make sure to cook it though, especially if you’re not used to it!) EAT the thing you dropped on the floor (the 3/5/10 sec rule doesn’t work!), DON’T wash your hands and pick your teeth with your nails or pick your nails with your teeth. And a good thing to train your bowels is to fry your meat only hot and quick on the outside -that’s where the harmful bacteria are- and to leave the inside RAW. Guaranteed you’ll have cramps the first few times, but the bacteria in your intestines will get used to it and make you stronger. Better to have a few days of cramp in your cozy home than on the street! Maybe you can think of something else yourself.

This might sound disgusting to you, but I’ve never gotten really sick from food (except lactose intolerance), seen all kinds of people around me get sick and am famous for eating everything I can lay my hands on. Including stuff from the famous bowel-pain-stalls, bad fish, ice-tea with big clumps of mold in it, sour veggies, sour milk, long-forgotten food in the fridge, days old meat from outside the fridge, you get the picture.

Except…
NEVER, EVER take your chances with chicken! Leif, you’ve been there, done that and know how DANGEROUS it is; It CAN KILL YOU. If you really need to eat it, make sure it’s cooked where you stand, and it’s cooked/ baked/ fried HOT enough and long enough to kill everything!
Another good tip not to get sick is to cook/ bake food you don’t trust trough and trough, with that you’ll kill almost if not all bacteria that make you ill. If you’re lucky enough to have a microwave handy, just nuke it and all the buggers will be killed as well. (Microwaves kill all bacteria and are used to sterilize stuff! So if you want to build your immune system don’t stick your normal food in there!)

Good luck, and have fun,
Shanna

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The Runaway Guide December 11, 2012 at 7:20 pm

These is some really good knowledge. So chicken really is the killer then. I will be sure to steer clear.
Haha, I think I will cook my meet abroad very well done, not gonna chance it with any raw-ness.
Microwaves kill bacteria, that’s great to know.
Thanks for posting this comment! Really helpful.

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bil July 29, 2012 at 1:41 am

Advice – JUST like in India, if you go to Pakistan, DO NOT drink anything with ice or a slush! I had something similar to what you had when you were in Nepal….oh dear lord….my **** came out a lovely Teal colour =\ and it lasted over a week…I could not stand up, my head felt like a knife was driven through the top of it, I was constantly nauseated, and if I remember correctly, I don’t think I even ate during that week!!!! definitely my worst illness (I would like to name the culprit café where I bought the slush, but I don’t want to slander their name on a blog lols!!!)

HOWEVER, despite that, I ate raw egg, raw tuna, raw squid and raw salmon all in Japan….but I guess Japan is a lot better with hygiene than Pakistan haha! Whatever doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger eh? x

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The Runaway Guide August 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Oi Vey! Sorry to hear it. I can totally feel your pain. Yea, Japan is awesome, never been sick there. Thanks for the comment! :)

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Ryan Mach l Pinoy Wandering Boy April 9, 2012 at 2:55 am

I watch what I eat so I have no diarrhea story to tell. ;p But experiences like this make traveling much more fun! Lol

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Cole @ Four Jandals March 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Don’t kiss the snakes in Marrakech. I had a snake thrown around my neck by a crafty bugger and then he made me bless it by kissing it. Sick for a month and lost 2 kgs!

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The Runaway Guide March 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

You don’t have to tell me. No way I’m kissing a snake. This might be a good weight loss scheme for celebrities though.

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soloflightEd March 26, 2012 at 10:52 am

ahh, watching what you eat is the first lesson that i learned on my first month of my backpacking jaunt.
anal leakage? just heard about the term right now, sounds really cool. haha.

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The Runaway Guide March 28, 2012 at 2:59 pm

“sounds really cool” hahahaha

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Ilyssa March 15, 2012 at 9:32 am

Jesus, ten times?!!? Glad you pulled through that…And I’m really glad I looked at this, I’m gonna start backpacking this summer and I’ll be roughin’ it for three months :D going to pretty much everywhere I can in Europe :D

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The Runaway Guide March 20, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Yea, me too! That sounds awesome, have a good trip. Maybe check out some euro festivals, they are some of the best in the world. Im going to write an article about the best three shortly.
Best,
Leif

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Tessa March 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Wow. Going to the toilet 10 times a day. Good thing you survived that. O_O

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The Runaway Guide March 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Yea, it was pretty rough

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Melissa - The Mellyboo Project March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm

At some point on my road trip between Adelaide and Melbourne I ate some sort of contaminated meat, and wound up in the hospital for 5 days with Campylobacter Enteritis (worse than salmonella) – had the shits like it was going out of style! And let me tell you, the drop dead gorgeous Aussie doctor didn’t make me feel at all better – just absolutely mortified. Guess what I’m trying to say, is that it can happen even in 1st world countries. Dear god I hope I fair better when I got o Africa and SE Asia in a few months!

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The Runaway Guide March 14, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Campylobacter Enteritis just the sound of it makes me need to hit the pot. Holy moly, that sounds like it was an absolutely awful experience. I bet your stomach is super strong now though. So your saying there is a high code red diarrhea threat level in third world countries and Australia. Good to know ;)

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Gerard ~ GQ trippin September 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm

So was the ice cream in India worth it or no? =)

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The Runaway Guide September 17, 2011 at 7:29 am

hahah, it was definitely worth it. I mean, that ice cream was really unique really delicious. Would I do it again? Nope.

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Nomadic Samuel July 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm

I wish I had of read this before I went to India :P I was literally sick nearly half the time. I think now I’ve developed some kind of super immune system because from that point on I wasn’t sick for an entire 9 months of backpacking.

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The Runaway Guide July 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I hear ya, I think I have an amazing immune system now. It paid off lol.

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Megan July 6, 2011 at 7:06 am

Oh my! Your poor intestines. I always err on the side of overly cautious – helps avoid the situations you outline above (most of the time – should not have eaten meat in the Aleppan restaurant that smelled just like rotting flesh…!!) but also means I miss out on some potentially great meals, which is the downside.

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The Runaway Guide July 6, 2011 at 8:56 am

You can say that again. I am going to be overly cautious like you from now on. Meat that smells like rotting flesh, yikes. Glad you pulled through.

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Micamyx|Senyorita June 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Diarrhea might sound funny, but it really painful and embarrassing if you’re in a group. I have a friend who has a weak stomach and i lost count on how many times we did a ‘comfort room hopping’ when we are travelling out of town. It’s ok to spend minimal on food especially when you have limited budget, but if you’re health is at risk, it is indeed a different story. Hospital bills are more expensive!

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Ginny June 28, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Don’t eat fish on a stick from an open air market in Luang Prabang…

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