You've earned your vacation and you won't let anything stop you from enjoying it. While travelling, though, you may experience some health problems, including something as unpleasant as diarrhea.

Some of the causes of diarrhea include:

  • infection caused by bacteria, virus, or parasite, which is common while travelling in developing countries (usually due to contaminated food or water)
  • medical conditions such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome
  • food intolerances such as lactose intolerance or Celiac disease
  • certain medications such as antibiotics

Diarrhea causes loose and watery stools, and you may also experience other symptoms including cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and urgency to go to the bathroom.

To avoid diarrhea that may be caused by contaminated food, avoid unpasteurized milk and fruit juice, eat hot foods while they're hot and cold foods while they're cold, and avoid raw or undercooked meat, fish, and poultry. Don't eat fresh vegetables, unpeeled fruits, salads, and food from street vendors.

If you do get diarrhea, you can take care of yourself by staying hydrated to replace the fluids you are losing, and by washing your hands frequently (especially before eating and after going to the bathroom).

Before you head off, visit your local pharmacy to stock up on some items you may need to stay healthy on vacation:

  • medication for diarrhea relief such as bismuth subsalicylate or other products containing attapulgite or loperamide
  • any prescription medications you are taking
  • medication for nausea and motion sickness, such as dimenhydrinate
  • pain relievers containing acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • antihistamine for allergic reactions such as those containing diphenhydramine, cetirizine or loratadine
  • sunscreen
  • hand sanitizer
  • insect repellent
  • antibacterial cream or ointment
  • bandages and gauze
  • oral rehydration solution (to prevent dehydration if you have diarrhea)

Some travel tips:

  • Don't pack your medications in your checked luggage. Bring them with you in your carry-on bag.
  • Always bring enough medication for the duration of your trip plus a few days extra, just in case you are not able to come home on time.
  • Drink only bottled water and avoid drinks with ice in it.

Diarrhea can generally be treated without seeing the doctor. However, you should seek medical advice if you have a fever, have bloody or black tarry stools (keep in mind that bismuth subsalicylate can cause dark stools), are dehydrated (symptoms include thirst, decreased urination, dark yellow urine, dry mouth or tongue, and feeling weak or lightheaded), are vomiting so much that you can't keep fluid down, have had diarrhea for more than 3 days, or have extensive cramping.

These tips are intended for adults. Diarrhea can be much more serious for a baby or child because they are more likely to get dehydrated. If your baby or child has diarrhea, get medical advice.