avoid getting sick while traveling
Health Topics

Don’t let travel tummy ruin your vacation


May 10, 2019

Prevent the dreaded diarrhea, constipation, heartburn and nausea that can tank your trip.


Don’t spend your epic vacation in agony in the bathroom. Whether you’re just driving to the beach or taking an overseas flight, your stomach could have major disagreements with your travel plans. However, if you take our recommendations below, you can reduce your chance of getting sick while traveling.

“In general, you should expect your GI tract to respond to being out of your routine,” says Reid Ness, M.D., MPH, a gastroenterologist in the Vanderbilt Digestive Disease Center. “Even though you look forward to doing certain things on a vacation, your body craves regularity. When you deprive it of regularity, it often punishes you.”



Loose stools can occur for a number of reasons, including eating foods you aren’t used to. The main concern regarding traveler’s diarrhea is the possibility of an infection (i.e. E. coli) from having consumed contaminated water or food while visiting a developing country. “You don’t know if the same cleanliness standards followed at home are going to be followed in the country you’re in,” Ness says.

If you do get severe or bloody diarrhea, talk to your doctor or seek medical treatment immediately; infections can lead to serious illnesses, and an antibiotic may be required. Have loperamide (Imodium) on hand for mild cases that may result from overindulgence or stress.



“A lot of times people are going into high-end restaurants and eating fairly low-fiber foods or they’re eating fast food while traveling,” Ness says, “and when they do that, they can become constipated, especially if they’re not walking a lot.”

Those extended car, bus, train or plane rides can add to the problem. The same goes for that business trip. “If someone goes to a meeting, and they’re sitting down all day and they’re eating rich food, they’re just more likely to have altered bowel function,” Ness adds.

Schedule time to relax each day, rather than booking yourself solid, and make sure to exercise. Ness recommends packing some MiraLAX or something similar.


Heartburn and nausea

As if diarrhea and constipation woes aren’t enough, heartburn can sneak up on a traveler, too. “You’re more likely to have reflux when you’ve eaten fatty meals, especially if you drink alcohol, which causes lower esophageal sphincter relaxation,” Ness says. And, of course, there’s the dreaded queasiness from motion sickness, but nausea may also be a result of heartburn.

Ness recommends taking over-the-counter meds for heartburn and talking to your doctor prior to travel about the best motion-sickness remedies if you are prone to this problem.