One of the best things about travelling the world is visiting different countries and enjoying their local cuisine. From Mexican dishes to Spanish to Asian delights, discovering local foods can make for a great holiday, but it can also break your holiday. Unfortunately, without knowing, a meal can make you sick. Yep, one of the most common sicknesses travellers get while travelling is Bali belly or traveller’s diarrhoea and it isn’t pleasant if you get it. Some people get very sick from it and it can derail your entire trip. Having had it a couple of times myself while travelling I have put together this post on Bali belly – what it is, how to avoid it and what to do if you get it.
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TIP: You never know when you may get sick, so ensure you take out travel insurance. For long-term travel I use SafetyWing or WorldNomads. Get a quote for your holiday here.
What is Bali Belly (Traveller’s Diarrhoea)?
Bali Belly is a term many travellers use when they become ill after eating or drinking contaminated food or water while travelling. Unfortunately, we don’t always see or taste the harmful bacteria that can be in some foods and drink. If this bacteria is consumed it can cause havoc in your guts as your body tries to fight it. It fights the bacteria by trying to get rid of it and this is why diarrhoea and/or vomiting occurs.
Why is Traveller’s Diarrhoea called Bali Belly?
It has been labeled Bali Belly mainly because many people catch it on holiday in Bali. However, it can be caught in other countries and while at home.
Other Names for Bali Belly
Bali Belly is a popular name for travellers diarrhoea, food poisoning and gastro but it is can be called by other names, particular in countries where travellers try spicy and different foods to what they are use to eating. Names you may also here are Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge and Rangoon Runs.
How Common is Bali Belly?
Bali Belly is ironically very common. It can occur anytime in any place. You don’t have to be travelling in another country to get it.
What are Bali Belly Symptoms?
Bali belly symptoms can vary from being mild to severe and they usually come on fast. Initially you may feel unease before vomiting and/or diarrhoea sets in. But you know you have it if you have any of the following:
- Abdominal cramps and pain with loose stools (diarrheoa) causing you to frequent the toilet often.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Dizziness and weakness.
- Loss of appetite.
- Mild fever.
How long does Bali Belly Last?
The thing about Bali belly is really about how sick you get. Depending on the severity of your Bali Belly, it can last 24 hours with more severe cases lasting a couple of days. If you are affected longer than a few days, go and see a doctor. While Bali belly is no fun, it is the fatigue and dehydration that comes with it that can be even worse. And receiving treatment from a doctor maybe the only way to move on from it.
How to Help Prevent Bali Belly
Be careful eating street food on your travels
Unfortunately there are no foolproof methods to stop Bali belly however, there are ways to combat it. The first way to prevent Bali belly would be to not consume food or drink with harmful bacteria in it. Not happening, as we all like to taste the local cuisines. It is also tricky to prevent as you cannot see it or taste it so you mostly don’t know you are consuming harmful bacteria until it is too late! There are things you can do to help prevent it from occurring and everything you can do to avoid Bali belly will be a blessing. After all, prevention is the best method!
- Eat Cooked Food. Be very wary of what you are eating. That doesn’t mean consume only dry biscuits and filtered water. But know what you are eating. Since the bugs can be in the food, ensure your food is cooked to kill any bacteria.
- Be Cautious when Eating Street Food. Street food is some of my favourite food yet, it can also be dangerous. One of the wisest tips I ever received while travelling was to check out where the street food is being cooked. Have a look to see the vendor has a good garbage system. What I mean is, where are the dirty plates being washing? Is the rubbish away from the cooking area? Trust me, these checks can help you choose food from a ‘clean’ street vendor. I would be extra cautious when it rains. Rain water can carry contaminants making the hygiene of street vendors premises not so good. I usually avoid eating at roadside food vendors when it rains.
- Don’t drink tap water. As frugal travellers, we often carry a water bottle. Be wary when filling up your water bottle as not all tap water is safe to drink. Most people buy bottled water as they travel and fill their water bottle up with that. Also consider travelling with a water bottle with a built-in filter or travel with water purifying tables.
- Be wary of the Ice. If the water is contaminated, more than likely so is the ice. I suggest forgoing ice in your drinks in some countries.
- Wash your fruits and vegetables well before eating them. Many fruits and vegetables are very tempting but unwashed fruit and veggies can have nasty bugs living on them. Make sure you wash them properly before you eat them. I like to add a little vinegar to the water I wash my fruit and veggies – this is just added protection for me to help kill any bugs. If I can’t wash them thoroughly I try to eat things I can de-skin, like a banana.
- Take medications such as Travelan and Gastro Stop Tablets. These tables when consumed before you eat a meal, line your gastrointestinal tract with bacteria-fighting antibodies so if you happen to consume the nasties things, they will fight them to prevent you from being sick. You can purchase Travelan Tablets here.
- Avoid visiting some countries. Personally, I wouldn’t not visit a country because I was worried about getting Bali Belly. But there are some countries in Central and East Asia, the Middle East, South America and a few Caribbean islands I would suggest you would want to take more precautions in than others.
Products to help Prevent and Treat Bali Belly
How to Treat Bali Belly if You Get It
If you unfortunately find yourself with Bali belly the good news is it often resolves itself on its own. However, there are things you can consume as soon as you get symptoms to help alleviate them. These include:
- Eat an Apple without the skin. Apples have soluble fibre and when consumed form a gel-like consistency in your stool, thus helping to stop diarrhoea.
- Charcoal available from many pharmacies acts as a sponge, soaking up the harmful bacteria.
- Take a medication before or at onset of symptoms such as Gastro-Stop or Travelan Tabs. They say they can receive symptoms within 1-3 hours after taking.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can occur from the diarrhoea and vomiting. So consuming plenty of water and particularly drinks packed with electrolytes will help. My mum used to give me a glass of lemonade (sprite) and a packet of chips (crisps) to help me. These two things often helped me feel better. A little fruit juice can also help.
- Seek medical help. If the Bali belly is severe and you are unwell for more than a couple of days, seek medical help. One of my friends had Bali belly so bad the doctor gave her a shot in the bottom of something and it helped and a day or so later, she was much better. Very drained, but better. I suggest you seek medical help before you are incapable of moving because you are so sick. Get a friend or the hotel receptionist to help. This is when medical insurance comes in handy.
Are You Ready to Travel and Avoid Bali Belly?
Bali Belly has been an issue for travellers, and everyone really, for a long time. By being a little cautious about what you put in your mouth along with taking precautions such as Travelan tablets, hopefully you will avoid getting Bali Belly during your travels. Have you been unlucky enough to catch the bug? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.
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