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Tips for dealing with food poisoning while traveling

There are few things worse than getting sick while traveling.

TPG has collected tips from both medical experts and seasoned TPGers with firsthand experience to help you minimize your chances of getting food poisoning. We’ve also collected advice on what to do if you find yourself ill while on vacation.

Here are 13 things to remember if you get food poisoning while traveling.

What can increase the risk of food poisoning?

Understandably, travelers with dietary restrictions and chronic conditions may find themselves at higher risk for foodborne illnesses. They should be more mindful of where and what they eat, particularly when dining at street stands or night markets.

“Individuals have different tolerances,” Dr. Jenny Yu, a medical advisor at Healthline, said. “It’s best to understand what one can tolerate while considering food choices.”

Yu also advised travelers to stick to drinking bottled water and be wary of raw food such as fruit and vegetables if they’re unsure how the produce was washed.

It’s difficult to ensure that all of the food you eat while traveling has been prepared safely and won’t give you food poisoning. However, there are other precautions you can take to lessen your chances of getting sick.

“Precautions such as hand washing and wiping down of eating surfaces are the things a traveler can control,” Yu said. “Dependent on travel destination, traveling with portable utensils may be advised.”

Before your trip

Secure travel meds and remedies


If you have time before you travel, consider making an appointment at a private doctor or travel medicine clinic, such as Passport Health. It provides travel immunizations, vaccines and medicines, such as anti-nausea and traveler’s diarrhea meds.

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“If it’s a big trip, I make an appointment with Passport Health well in advance,” TPG senior product manager Gabe Travers said.

Gabe also always travels with over-the-counter and prescription medications that were shipped directly to his door via Duration Health. Duration makes a personalized kit for users following a doctor consultation. If you cannot make an appointment at a clinic, try CVS Minute Clinic.

If you can’t get a prescription, throw some Tums, Pepto Bismol or other anti-diarrhea medicine into your suitcase just in case. However, make sure any remedies you take are the right ones to address your illness. “While anti-diarrheal medications can be useful for symptom control, if a fever is present, anti-diarrheal medications may not be the best option,” Yu noted.

As we’ve previously reported, just be sure to double-check local laws regarding medication.

“I know Immodium is illegal in at least one or two countries since it acts on opioid receptors,” TPG senior aviation reporter David Slotnick noted. “That’s just a good practice in general with any prescription and OTC meds when traveling abroad since even things like diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl, Advil and Tylenol PM, are banned in some countries, like Japan.”

Those with dietary restrictions know that eating while traveling can often lead to accidentally ingesting problematic food.

“As a vegan, accidentally drinking milk one time in Asia was real fun,” photo editor Emilia Wronski said. “Now I travel with lactaid or generic dairy relief.”

Consider travel insurance

Use a credit card with medical assistance coverage policies

You may not need separate travel insurance if you have a credit card that covers most of your expenses and medical insurance with adequate coverage abroad.

For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express covers up to $250,000 for emergency medical services. Be sure to check your travel rewards credit card before booking to determine your coverage amount.

Travel insurance packages

If your medical insurance doesn’t cover your desired destination, or you don’t want to be on the hook for medical evacuation bills or a last-minute flight home, consider purchasing travel insurance. Buying an annual multi-trip policy may be worth it if you travel frequently.

Although there are several options with various forms of coverage, pay attention to whether the plan covers a single trip or multiple trips annually. Also, note whether preexisting conditions are covered and how much the price varies based on travel destination and trip length.

Additionally, check whether the plan offers any add-ons, such as the ability to cancel a trip for any reason and a specific reimbursement amount. See whether you can tack on children for coverage and get specific bundles for certain items, such as baggage or pets.

During your trip

Know when to avoid certain food

When visiting a country where the tap water is unsafe to drink, avoid having drinks with ice and fruit without peels or skin, TPG senior editor Christine Gallipeau said.

One of the most common fish poisonings is scombroid, which occurs in both temperate and tropical waters, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Fish typically associated with this food poisoning include mahi mahi, sardines and tuna.

“I love seafood, but I’ve learned the hard way that if you’re traveling to an area with warm ocean waters, it’s best to avoid eating shellfish,” TPG associate editor Mae Hamilton said.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, warming ocean temperatures make certain marine foods — such as oysters, shrimp, clams and others — more susceptible to contamination.

Know local emergency medical numbers

According to the U.S. State Department, travelers should know the local equivalent number for 911 wherever they travel. For example, in the Bahamas and Jamaica (and many other places), it’s also 911; in the European Union, the emergency number is 112.

Apps that can be used to see doctors abroad

Apps such as Doctorsa, Doctor on Demand or Air Doctor can easily and quickly help users locate a doctor when traveling.

If you get sick while traveling

Drink electrolytes

One thing that helped Christine when she fell ill during a visit to London was finding an electrolyte drink to help her rehydrate. Depending on your location, this may not always be easy, and certain products readily available at home may not be easily sourced abroad. They also might be sold under a different name. When in doubt, ask for advice at a local pharmacy.

“A tip, if you find yourself sick, is to remember to stay hydrated and look for Pedialyte (oral electrolyte solution to replace fluids and minerals) or the equivalent in whatever country you’re in,” she said. “My husband was grabbing stuff for me but didn’t know that Pedialyte is called Dioralyte in the U.K., so note that it might go by a different name wherever you are.”

Similarly, TPG managing editor Ellie Nan Storck searched high and low for the U.K. equivalent of Dramamine (an over-the-counter medication used to treat motion sickness and nausea) before a pharmacist told her they didn’t have it there.

“So now I travel everywhere with Dramamine,” she said. “If I’m going to a non-English speaking country, I’d advise looking up a few phrases related to getting sick before you go, such as ‘I have food poisoning, do you have medicine for that?’ or ‘Where is the closest pharmacy?'”

Eat bland food while you’re recovering

Once you start feeling better, jumping right back into the food you intended to eat on your trip may be tempting. However, based on her experience, Christine advises a slow, steady approach in the first few days.

“When you can keep food down, start slow and go for bland things like crackers, bananas, toast and rice,” she said. “You should be able to find more things with a quick Google search, but those are the main things I was aware of and that helped me when I was sick.”

According to Piedmont Health, eating bland foods or following a BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) diet can help you recover more quickly. Those foods are easier to digest and keep down.

Rest and don’t overextend yourself


Also, continue listening to your body first and foremost, even if that means missing out on your previously scheduled activities.

“Stay put and rest if that’s possible. I missed out on a paid tour of Windsor Castle, but getting that full day to just rest and be sick made the world of difference in helping me bounce back and feel well enough the next day to do touristy things again,” Christine said. “It’s easy to put pressure on yourself to just deal with it and do what you’d planned, especially if it’s a short trip, but it can prolong your recovery if you don’t listen to your body and take it easy.”

If you are sick in a hotel, TPG creative director Jill Bressler advises asking the staff to recommend a local doctor who can help, such as a mobile IV service.

“I had an IV doctor come to the hotel, which helped me feel better when I couldn’t keep anything down,” TPG senior PR manager Grace Farley said.

“I’d be forward in asking the front desk for what you need, especially if the hotel restaurant gave you food poisoning,” Ellie agreed. “I asked if they could send ginger ale, Gatorade and saltines up, and they just kept them coming.”

When to delay your flight home

The decision to fly home when sick is ultimately yours.

On the one hand, Yu warns that flying home when sick might make you feel worse.

“Being on a plane puts one at a precarious spot of not having facilities readily available if you are having gastrointestinal (GI) upset,” she said. The plane ride can also worsen symptoms of nausea, [so it’s] best to recover before boarding a plane.”

However, if you prefer to fly home, consider upgrading to a business-class flight, David said. He got food poisoning in the Maldives after an overnight stay in Abu Dhabi.

“The best advice I can give is to fly business class,” David said. He also noted that it helps to have a “flat bed with a blanket so you can sleep” and that “there are no lines for the bathrooms.”

Tips for flying home when sick

If you are sick and ultimately decide to fly home, keep these tips in mind:

  • Preselect an aisle seat. Many travelers opt for window seats on short-haul flights but aisle seats for long-haul travel simply because they offer more freedom of movement. Moving around every few hours also helps prevent blood clots.
  • Hydrate as much as possible, ideally in small sips every few minutes.
  • Keep a paper sickness bag handy.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask fellow passengers to let you cut the line to the bathroom if needed.

Once you get home

Again, this is recovery-dependent, but you may need to address your issues further after the trip.

“My story is an example of when it gets bad. It’s great to prep and bring OTC things, but sometimes, you need medical treatment after you get home,” David said. “I know you can find medical services abroad, but once I could tell I was legit sick, my number one objective was to just get home and see a doctor.”

Yu said that if you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s time to visit a medical professional:

  • Three days of diarrhea
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • A fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or above for 24 hours or more
  • The inability to tolerate liquids

Bottom line


Travel comes with inherent risks — there’s ultimately only so much you can do to prevent illness. Focus on what you can control. Come prepared with OTC medications, maintain proper hygiene, keep hydrated and get enough sleep.

Also, having the right credit card can help mitigate the consequences when things go awry.

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