Help stop dreaded travellers’ diarrhoea in its tracks with these simple steps…

Going on holiday overseas should be relaxing and fun. But for some, it can coincide with a case of ‘holiday tummy’, especially when visiting countries that have lower food hygiene standards, inadequate sanitation facilities and no access to clean water. A major inconvenience, travellers’ diarrhoea is one of the most common health issues experienced during travel.

Defined as three or more bouts of loose, watery poo in a 24-hour period, often accompanied by either nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps, travellers' diarrhoea is mainly caused by several different germs, bacteria, viruses and parasides which can be spread via eating and drinking contaminated food and water. It's defined as three or more bouts of loose, watery poo in a 24-hour period, often accompanied by either nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. It can also spread from person to person. Thankfully, most cases are mild and symptoms (which can also include vomiting and tummy pain, alongside diarrhoea) tend to subside in three to five days.  

To prevent holiday tummy from ruining your trip, here are several steps you can take to help lower the risk while you’re away.  

How to help avoid holiday tummy while you’re away 

From drinking bottled water to frequent hand washing – there are several small steps you can take while away to avoid getting ill. 

Wash your hands

‘It sounds obvious but washing your hands with soap and clean water is probably the simplest and most effective way of avoiding tummy upsets,’ says Vicky Pennington, a Boots nutritionist. Always wash your hands thoroughly before eating or handling food and after a visit to the toilet. 

‘No soap and water? Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser instead,’ suggests Vicky.  Try Cuticura Plus+ Anti Bacterial Hand Gel*, £5.49. As well as containing 77% alcohol, it’s enriched with aloe vera to leave hands feeling fresh and cared for. 

Use clean water

If you’re unsure about the safety of the local water, opt for bottled water instead of tap water. The NHS states that tap water should be avoided for drinking, preparing food, brushing teeth and making ice in countries that have lower levels of hygiene. 

And if bottled water isn’t available, boil the tap water for at least one minute before drinking or using it cool. This will help kill most types of germs.

Avoid ice

‘While an iced drink is lovely when it’s hot outside, if you have concerns about the local water, avoid ice cubes in bars and restaurants,’ says Vicky. ‘Instead, choose canned or bottled drinks that have been kept in the fridge or in a bowl of ice to keep cool.’ 

If you’re self-catering or have a fridge in your room, you can make your own ice cubes with bottled water. 

Avoid uncooked and raw foods

To be on the safe side, avoid raw fish and seafood, as well as any meat or poultry that has not been thoroughly cooked. NHS guidelines also advise against eating salads, uncooked vegetables and unpasteurised fruit juices if hygiene and sanitation are looking a little suss. 

Generally speaking, food that has been freshly prepared, is well-cooked and served piping hot should be fine. 

Resist the buffet

And while they’re tempting, it’s best to steer clear of buffets as the food may have been sitting there for a while and will no longer be piping hot. ‘If your hotel offers buffet meals, eat them soon after the food has been laid out and be choosy about what you eat,’ says Vicky. 

‘Uncooked meat, shellfish, eggs and unpasteurised dairy products are all particularly prone to causing upsets,’ she warns.

Pass on street food

‘Locals may well eat the food from street vendors with no problems, but trying something that’s cooked on the street corner, exposed to flies or unwashed hands could make you feel ill,’ says Vicky. 

What to do if you get poorly 

If you are struck down with a case of holiday tummy, rest assured that most cases are short-lived. You will usually get better with rest and without specific treatment, though you should make sure you don’t become dehydrated. To help ease the symptoms, the steps below may help. 

Drink plenty of water

‘The most important thing to remember is to drink plenty of fluids,’ says Vicky. You may wish to consider oral rehydration salt sachets and diluted fruit juices may also help. 

Consider taking an anti-diarrhoeal medicine

If holiday diarrhoea is getting in the way of your plans, but isn’t severe, you may wish to consider taking anti-diarrhoeal medicine, which can stop diarrhoea for a few hours. This type of medicine is for short-term use only, for example, when planning a day trip, during which you may not have easy access to toilet facilities. It’s only suitable for those aged 12 years and over. If you develop the following symptoms, you should not take anti-diarrhoeal medicine and should instead seek medical advice: blood or slime (mucous) in your diarrhoea, a high fever, severe pain in your stomach.

Seek medical attention

If symptoms are persistent and severe (eg, more than six episodes of diarrhoea in a 24-hour period and you cannot continue your normal activities) or you have passed blood or mucous in your diarrhoea, keep vomiting, have a high fever or severe tummy pain, or are concerned about anything else, seek medical attention.

Find out more answers to your most-searched travel health queries (from easing travel sickness to soothing insect bites) in our expert Q&A.

Your travellers' diarrhoea toolkit
​​*Use biocides safely. Always read the label and product information before use.