Skip to Content

A Foodie’s Guide to Travelling with a Digestive Condition

A Foodie’s Guide to Travelling with a Digestive Condition

Food Fun Travel is supported by its readers. If you purchase through our links, we might earn a commission. Thanks for your support!

A Food Fun Travel Guest Post

It’s one thing every food lover dreads. One day you’re happily sampling every culinary delight on offer, tucking into your favourite dishes with relish, going out of your way to find tantalising new taste experiences at every opportunity.

The next, you’re sat in your doctor’s surgery having undergone tests for a nagging complaint that won’t go away, and they are giving you the news you really don’t want to hear – it’s a digestive issue, one part of your gut or another isn’t functioning the way it should do. It is manageable, but you are going to have to take a lot of care over what you eat.

The range of conditions that falls under the gastrointestinal or digestive category is very broad indeed. It covers the likes of Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), colitis, acid reflux, peptic ulcers, Celiac Disease and much more. They vary in severity from annoying to severely life-limiting, impacting your ability to eat, to work, to carry out a normal everyday existence.

So, what about travel? Travelling can have a notoriously detrimental impact on digestive health, whether you have a pre-existing condition or not. Exposure to new food stuffs, to different bacteria and other microflora, variations in sanitation, even the climate can all contribute to cases of the famous ‘traveller’s belly’, with bouts of stomach upset and diarrhoea ruining many a holiday.

For those who do have a long-term digestive condition, such episodes can go far, far beyond purely annoying and into the realms of the frighteningly dangerous. So, the first priority for anyone travelling with a gastrointestinal condition is – take no chances. But does that mean you have to give up all prospects of enjoying the cuisine any chosen destination has to offer?

Not at all. The key is to be vigilant and prepared. Here’s a breakdown of the precautions to take.

Do all you can to avoid traveller’s belly

Most episodes of diarrhoea amongst travellers are caused by exposure to infectious bacteria or parasites that colonise the gut and release toxins that make you feel pretty unwell for up to a week. If you have one of a number of pre-existing digestive conditions or are taking certain medications for them, you can be even more prone to picking up these unwelcome bugs, and the onus on prevention becomes even higher.

Particularly if you are travelling to less developed parts of the world, there are some standard pieces of advice you should follow to minimise the risks. Most should already be familiar – drink only bottled or very well boiled water, avoid raw fruits and vegetables, especially if the skin is still on, don’t take risks with meat or fish that might not be thoroughly cooked, observe the strictest standards of hand hygiene.

Although it spoils some of the experience for the most intrepid foodie travellers, one thing you can do to stack the odds in your favour in this regard is to steer away from ‘street food’ vendors and stick to higher-end establishments – especially those where you can see the state of the kitchen.

Do your research

Many long-term digestive issues are caused by food allergies and intolerances. Sufferers of these conditions often have to go through a painstaking process of learning what it is exactly that triggers their symptoms and, whether it is dairy, gluten, amines, fructose or whatever, working out how to eliminate them from their diet.

Things get much trickier when you travel. In a new country with different cuisine and perhaps facing a language barrier, it is not always easy to work out what contains dairy or milk or fruit derivatives and so on. The best protection is to do as much reading as you can on local food cultures before you set off. Learn the main ingredients in the most common dishes you are likely to encounter, and the names of the things you have an intolerance to in the local language so you can at least communicate some idea of what you don’t want.

Seek out appropriate travel insurance

Here’s one if you do get unlucky and pick up a bug or eat something that doesn’t agree with you. If you plan to travel with a pre-existing digestive disorder, you should always inform your travel insurance provider – or, better still, look for cover with a specialist provider who will give you a bespoke policy designed for your needs.

This is essential in case you do fall ill and need to claim medical costs against your insurance. Medical treatment abroad can be very expensive, and if you have taken out insurance without declaring your condition, you could find your cover is invalid.

If you do have a long-term digestive condition and want to get the right insurance for your requirements, find out more here.