Travel Fear #1: Shitting Yourself Abroad (a.k.a Traveller’s Diarrhoea)

There were a whole string of reasons why I was originally scared to travel. Most of them revolved around my own untimely end but that isn’t all there is to worry about. Public image is something to consider too. What if something really embarrassing happened to you in front of a crowd of people, like shitting yourself?

Now I realise, for most of us, we may be lucky enough that this isn’t a worry that plights us in our day to day life. In fact, you probably get through months and even years without this thought ever worrying you in your hometown. However, travel has a very distinct way of turning things on its head. [toc]

Shitting yourself abroad: The struggle is real

I was on a Peruvian tour bus the first time that I thought I was going to shit myself in public. We were headed to Kuélap fortress, one of the most popular attractions in the north of the country and the bus was jam-packed. After the first uncomfortable stomach cramp had passed, I tried to reassure myself that it would all be okay. Ten minutes later, it became very quickly apparent that okay was a million miles away from my current position. 

Sadly for me, there was no loo break planned any time soon and it didn’t even seem worth asking the driver to stop and pull over. We were on the main road and everywhere was exposed. Sure, he could stop but I would still be shitting in front of a busload of people. 

I decided my only option was to clench everything and try to soothe my panicked mind until we made it to the designated stop. The journey from hell couldn’t last much longer, right? Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. I spent nearly an hour having bowel contractions with nothing I could do other than aggressively squeezing Tim’s leg. I don’t know how I thought this was going to help but it made me feel marginally better at least. 

Girl needs loo in desert
It can be a nightmare needing the loo when you’re on the bus! (I didn’t look this happy at the time.)

When the bus finally came to a stop outside of the restaurant, I bolted from my seat and knocked on the door for them to let me out. I sprinted as fast as my legs could carry me and dived into the nearest loo. It was the men’s but I didn’t care. The feeling of relief is one I cannot explain and one you will probably never come to understand unless you have been unfortunate enough to be in the same position. 

It poured out of me like lava but even as the volcano went dormant, I knew this wasn’t the last uncomfortable event like this that would befall my travels. Since that nightmare journey, I have also nearly shit myself on a canoe in the Amazon, on an overnight bus, during a walking tour and in a dorm bed. South America was rough.

Why are you more likely to shit yourself abroad? 

Although you have probably fallen victim to diarrhoea in your home country, you are far more likely to get it when you travel. This is because you will be exposed to different levels of hygiene and cleanliness. Diarrhoea is usually spread through contaminated food or water. 

What is traveller’s diarrhoea?

I don’t want to get too graphic with you all here so I’ll give you a proper definition. This digestive tract disorder causes stomach cramps and loose stools. The NHS says that for it to be considered as traveller’s diarrhoea, you must have had 3 or more loose/watery bowel motions in 24 hours. The condition is not serious generally, however, this does not stop it from being very unpleasant. 

Toilet sign- journeys from hell
Traveller’s diarrhoea can affect anyone. No-one is safe. 

Where can you get it? 

You can get traveller’s diarrhoea anywhere, although it tends to be most prevalent in areas where hygiene and sanitisation standards are not as high as in western countries. If you are travelling through places such as Africa, Asia, the Middle East or Central and South America, you may find that you are more likely to be affected. 

What are the symptoms? 

The symptoms of traveller’s diarrhoea are really quite awful. They involve:

  • Cramping 
  • Feeling bloated
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea 
  • Loose and watery stools
  • Fatigue
  • Little to no warning when you need to use the bathroom
  • A desperate need to use the toilet
  • Fever – in extreme cases (also known as the shit sweats)

How can you treat traveller’s diarrhoea?

The main thing to remember if you come down with a bout of traveller’s diarrhoea is to stay hydrated. As well as guzzling plenty of water, rehydration solutions can help with this. It probably goes without saying but they should always be prepared with safe drinking water. It turns out that hydration sachets are not just useful for hangovers after all! 

Bottle of water
Staying hydrated is necessary to overcome traveller’s diarrhoea.

Medication for traveller’s diarrhoea

Antidiarrhoeal tablets may help but they will only stop you shitting and bung you up. They won’t get rid of any infections or viruses which are actually causing the traveller’s diarrhoea. However, they come highly recommended by yours truly if you have a long journey where a toilet may not be readily accessible. Trust me, you don’t want to be in a Kuélap tour bus kind of situation!

If you are finding blood or mucus in your stools, you should see a doctor immediately. Although antibiotics are rarely recommended for traveller’s diarrhoea, you could be advised to take them if you have pre-existing bowel problems or some other medical conditions. 

Natural remedies for traveller’s diarrhoea

The most recommended way to deal with traveller’s diarrhoea is to simply wait it out and allow it to pass. Unless you have a more serious case of diarrhoea, it will usually pass in a few days, assuming you stay hydrated. 

To aid your recovery without the use to diarrhoea medication, heed the following advice. 

  • Avoid caffeine and dairy products
  • Drink lots of water, sports drinks, clear soup and canned fruit juices to stay hydrated. 
  • Cut your diet to bland carbohydrates such as dry toast or salted crackers.
  • Return to your normal diet once you start feeling better. 
Toast in toaster
Dry toast is one of the best things you can eat if you are suffering from traveller’s diarrhoea.

How can you prevent it?

Good personal hygiene is always recommended when it comes to staying healthy on the road. Make sure you wash your hands before you eat and try to eat in establishments which look clean. I know that this is easier said than done!

If you are concerned about the cleanliness of eating utensils, put a little anti-bacterial gel on them before using them. This will kill off any existing nasty germs. 

Always check the water status in any country that you visit and make sure you avoid ice in countries where the tap water is not suitable. 

Fear conquered?

I won’t lie, even after much extensive research into traveller’s diarrhoea, the idea of getting it again still petrifies me. Although the physical side of things is undoubtedly unpleasant, it is more the embarrassment factor of something going wrong in public that really frightens me. 

Despite this, I am definitely more equipped to deal with traveller’s diarrhoea than I probably ever have been and this must surely be some comfort. I will continue to travel the world, only I will now be armed with my hand sanitiser at all times. 

Have you ever nearly shit yourself abroad?

Shitting yourself abroad

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2 thoughts on “Travel Fear #1: Shitting Yourself Abroad (a.k.a Traveller’s Diarrhoea)”

  1. Oh Sheree, you always have the best (i.e. worst) stories about incidents abroad!

    Not long after we moved to India as a kid I got bacteria poisoning from water that was meant to be boiled, but definitely was not. That was a miserable 10 days. Luckily I now seem to be fairly resistant to travel diarrhea. But I’ve heard Central and South America can actually be the worst for this, so at least I have that to look forward to… Do you think that’s true? I feel like a lot of your hellish journeys seem to take place there.

    Either way, I’ll be saving these tips, just in case…!

    Reply

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