Travel-insurance for your tum
Heading off on holiday this summer? Support your digestion with some self-administered travel-care.
Summer spells sun-drenched holidays, and (if you’re lucky!) travel to far-flung destinations. As delightful as summer holidays are, they can leave your digestive system feeling, well, kinda funky. Eating and drinking different foods, sleeping at odd times, air-travel, jet lag and a change in routine can all lead to digestive troubles, including constipation and bloating. But with a little forward thinking, you can keep your digestion on an even keel.
Before you go…
Protect against traveller’s tum
Fan of overseas travel? If so, you’ve probably experienced traveller’s tum (aka traveller’s diarrhoea) at some point. It’s the most common travel-related illness, affecting up to 60% of tourists.
Not only is a bout of diarrhoea (and the nausea, cramps and sickness that accompany it) pretty miserable, it can disrupt your holiday plans. The risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is also greater post-episode, making prevention a priority.
The most common cause is contaminated food or water, making good food hygiene and frequent hand washing with soap a must, especially in high-risk areas like Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. If you’re unsure of the safety of the water, drink bottled water, avoid ice, and peel fruit and vegetables where possible.
You can also prepare in the weeks leading up to your trip with a probiotic–several strains have been shown to be helpful in protecting against traveller’s tum. A probiotic can also offset the dip in good bacteria that can occur with a change in diet (the less fresh food and more packaged food type of change).
Pack digestive-friendly essentials
Constipation is a common holiday complaint, which is often down to a lack of fibre and fluid. If you’re used to eating plenty of fibre at home, keep up the habit by packing fibre-rich snacks like oatcakes, nuts, seeds, peanut butter squeeze packs and dried fruit bars.
Packing snacks is also smart if you have dietary restrictions– examples being a gluten-free or low FODMAP diet. This will avoid you getting caught short if there aren’t any suitable breakfast or snack foods. If you’re doing a road trip, you can also pack fresh fruits and plenty of liquids. Individually sealed bags of your favourite herbal tea (like peppermint) can help soothe bloating and indigestion.
Lastly, make room in your bag for a hand sanitizer, and, in case of traveller’s tum, a few re-hydration sachets and a packet of Imodium.
Binge-watching in-flight movies, napping and daydreaming of your beach destination is a fun way to start your holiday, but the effects of air-travel on your gut are arguably less enjoyable.
Cabin air-pressure has the same effects on the body as being at high altitude, causing a build up of gas in your digestive system. This explains why you end up feeling bloated and windy in flight – a phenomenon affectionately known as the ‘altitude toots’. If you suffer with IBS, you’ll likely be more sensitive to this increase in gas, which can cause tummy pain.
Air travel can also cause dehydration, as water loss rises thanks to dry cabin air and an increase in breathing rate. Since dehydration leads to problems pooping (as well as headaches and a fuzzy head), your best bet is to stay hydrated by drinking lots of non-boozy non-caffeinated fluids – buy a large bottle of water before boarding the plane, sip regularly and get it refilled. Alcohol dehydrates your body further, so steer clear if you can.
Food wise, opt for light meals, avoid notoriously gassy foods in the run up to the flight (sugar free gum, broccoli, cabbage, pulses, garlic, onion and raw veggies) and keep a stash of your own snacks handy, so you can side-step the salty processed ones on offer.
During your holiday
Get on the local time zone
Your circadian rhythm (your internal body clock) regulates everything from sleep to digestive function, and can be reset by artificial light, temperature and food. When you travel, sleep cycles are often cut short or disrupted, which can have a knock on effect on your gut function. To minimise the effects, set your watch to the time of your destination at the beginning of your journey and get on board with the local time schedule (eating and sleeping) as soon as possible. If you feel sleepy when you arrive and it’s still daylight, take a walk – exercise can help to reset your body clock.
Holidays are a prime time to C-H-I-L-L-A-X but working in some gentle movement will help to keep your digestive system happy. This doesn’t have to mean you take up running (though if this is your jam, go for it) – a daily walk on the beach or in nature will keep things moving, reducing pooping problems.
You can also up your chill out vibes by putting your beach towel to good use with a few digestive–friendly yoga moves – this gentle flow is ideal.
Eat (and drink) smart
Hot temperatures mean dehydration is more likely, so if you are in warmer climes, drink plenty of bottled water and fluids and go easy on alcohol, which can irritate sensitive tummies.
Reduce the risk of an upset tummy by avoiding raw or undercooked meats and seafood, and steering clear of food that’s been sat out for hours – think food vendors. Take the opportunity to try different foods, but make sure they’re cooked properly.
Rest + restore
Getting to your destination can be stressful, so once you have arrived, turn off distractions (phone, email), find a quiet spot and BREATHE – anxiety and frazzled nerves can make digestive troubles worse, so focus on letting go of any home or work-related stress and be present with your new surroundings.