Three days into a dream vacation, and your GI tract has turned against you. What gives? It’s not bad timing; it’s travel that’s to blame, says Dawn Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap. “Stomach issues tend to happen any time we’re out of our routine,” she says. Which, unfortunately, means your yoga retreat and backpacking adventure are prime targets for an intestinal temper tantrum.
But rather than spend the rest of your vacay holed up in your hotel bathroom, you can get your GI tract back on track and go see the sights—without forgoing the local flavor.
Keep reading for the quick fixes you need for the most common traveler tummy woes.
If you can’t go...swap that pina colada for a water bottle and a walk
Sipping frozen slushies by the pool or grapes at the vineyard is fine (in moderation!), as long as you’re still drinking enough water. If not, you could wind up dehydrated (and…cue the constipation). “Almost everyone gets dehydrated when they travel,” says Blatner, both because frilly drinks just seem more fun than downing plain water and because we’re not in our usual water-drinking routine (like making three trips to the water cooler to break up the afternoon at work).
Quick fix: If doubling down on your water intake doesn’t get things moving, try going for a walk. Exercise—even low-impact activities, like yoga and walking—stimulates the gut, which means food has less time to sit in the large intestine, where water gets reabsorbed back into the body, drying out your waste. Gross, but true!
If you have traveler’s trots...focus on fiber
Americans aren’t used to the waterborne bacteria in other countries, so if you’re traveling abroad and diarrhea strikes, a glass of tap water may be the culprit. “But Turista or Traveler’s Diarrhea is really only a condition we get abroad,” says Blatner. “So if it strikes closer to home, it means you’re probably eating too much fat and not enough fiber.” A mega-dose of fat (like having queso fundido instead of your usual quinoa salad for lunch) speeds food through the large intestine, so there’s less time for water to get reabsorbed and your stool stays watery. But fiber slows gastric motility, and will help slow the trots.
Quick fix: Soluble fiber should be your new BFF throughout the day, but Blatner recommends it especially at breakfast, when your options are probably more basic (and less tempting) anyway. Berries and avocados are both surprisingly high in fiber, and they pair well with fiber-rich oatmeal and whole wheat bread. And for some over-the-counter relief, reach for Imodium or its generic equivalent. “Some people have a more sensitive stomach than others, and you can take Imodium for a really long time without worry,” says Yuri Saito, MD, a professor of gastroenterology at the Mayo Clinic.
If you have bikini bloat...try the "plus one" rule
Okay, you probably haven’t gained 10 pounds within days of stepping off the plane, but the combination of overindulging and dietary changes can be a one-two punch for your waistline. Salty and dairy-rich foods can increase gas and water retention, says Blatner, while feasting with abandon can just make you feel gross. “When we’re on vacation, we tend to throw our usual routine out the window and go for it all,” she says.
Quick fix: If you’re lactose intolerant, know that your enzymes won’t change just because you crossed time zones or zip codes. Stick to your usual dairy avoidance regimen (or pack the Beano, says Dr. Saito, which has enzymes that break down dairy in the digestive tract so it won’t cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea). And to help rein yourself in without feeling like you’re missing out, employ a “plus one” mentality. “At the start of the meal, ask yourself what you want to add to your entree: a drink, an appetizer, or a dessert,” says Blatner. Noshing on all three will have you loosening your belt by the car ride home, but if you pick just one, you can let loose without feeling like a blimp afterward.
If you're hangry about your options...make a plan!
Maybe you’re looking forward to a six-state road trip, but dread the idea of living on fast food for a week. Or you’re headed to Italy but worry you’ll chase a non-stop carb-fest with a serving of balloon-sized bloat (and more gelato). You could dig your heels into denial and hope that the perfect, healthy choice materializes—but you’re probably setting yourself up for frustration. “Some of the worst choices we make are when we’re starving and don’t have our go-to options available,” says Blatner.
Quick fix: Before you hit the road or the airport, hit the grocery store for some portable snacks. Roast chickpeas, almonds, and low-sodium jerky all get Blatner’s seal of approval—and if you pair those protein-rich eats with a piece of produce, you’ll be satiated for a few hours at least (and can avoid the hotel vending machines entirely). Also, carve out the time to research healthy(ish) eating options. “Your game plan may not be perfect, but planning even one meal a day gives you the freedom to make more important decisions during your adventures,” she says. In other words, less time fretting over where to eat—more time savoring each bite.
And did you know, you actually can find nutritious foods at the gas station? Plus, here's what nutritionists always snack on.
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