I have had IBS since I was about 19 and travelling can be difficult and at times really painful/ embarrassing! I have a couple of close friends with IBS who get very anxious about the prospect of even going on holiday somewhere in the UK let alone Asia or god forbid India.
India was definitely a new challenge for me. I have travelled quite extensively around Asia but India certainly felt like a different league for someone travelling with tummy issues.
My friend Emily and I went on an amazing two-week trip exploring the Golden Triangle and Goa in 2014 and I somehow managed to avoid the dreaded Delhi belly, which seemed like an absolute miracle.
I thought it might be handy for all of my bowel challenged friends to put together a survival guide with all of my tips on how to stay healthy and parasite free.
- Be prepared. Head to Boots and stock up on all of the usual first aid necessities including –Paracetamol (not ibuprofen as it isn’t great for sensitive tummies), Pepto-Bismol and Imodium as well as the usual plasters, antiseptic cream etc.
- I also bought a supply of Colpermin (peppermint pills that are often subscribed for IBS sufferers to be taken three times a day before every meal). I don’t usually take this in the UK but I took it daily whilst away.
- Take a trip to Holland & Barrett and stock up with some pro biotics (the strongest ones you can find) that don’t need to be refrigerated. Start taking these about 5-7 days before you go away and then daily throughout your trip.
Whilst in India…
- Do not drink tap water. Ever. Also only brush your teeth with bottled water and don’t open your mouth in the shower (think Charlotte from Sex in the City).
- When you are buying bottled water always check that it is properly sealed.
- Fizzy drinks and beer are always a good shout. The wine isn’t the best! I did drink quite a lot of gin down in Goa, which is pretty much the same price as bottled water.
- Don’t eat meat. I absolutely love meat but I gave it up whilst I was away. I know a lot of you will disagree with this but I think personally as someone who suffers a lot with their tummy I just didn’t want to take the risk and I’m glad I didn’t. India has some of the best veggie food in the world so it isn’t too painful to forego meat. Most people I know who have got severely ill In Asia it was down to either uncooked meat or contaminated water.
- Make sure whatever you are eating is piping hot. Street food is often ok as you can see the food being prepared right in front of you.
- Be wary of trusting all of the food in fancy hotels. Often, as they cooking for vast amount of people, food can lie around for ages in the kitchen.
- Try to avoid eating Western food. It won’t be as good as tasty local food and again it is more likely to not be fresh.
- Avoid salad at all costs. Even in fancy hotels. It will have been washed in water which is not clean.
- Don’t eat fruit which can’t be peeled and be wary of fruit juice. The only fruit I really trusted was bananas but as you might have already guessed I was being very cautious. My friend ate a lot more fruit than I did and she was completely fine. The main one to avoid is watermelon as it is grown in contaminated and dirty water and soaks it all up. Lovely!
- Be careful of eating with dirty cutlery and clean your hands with hand sanitizer before eating/ all the time!
- Avoid eating too much spicy food, which I found surprisingly easy to do. I love getting an Indian here in the UK but I am definitely a chicken korma kind of girl (much to Pete’s disgust).
- I tended to eat naan bread rather than rice…but I think that again was me being quite overly cautious as I was concerned that rice might have been reheated.
- Be careful drinking tea in shops, I avoided it quite a lot as I was concerned the water wasn’t piping hot and hadn’t been boiled properly. Again, my friend drank a lot of chai tea and was completely fine.
- I would suggest not eating seafood unless you are by the sea! In Goa we ate a lot of delicious fresh seafood but I wouldn’t touch a fish in Delhi!
- In Goa, I generally got a lot more relaxed and flexible with what I was eating. I think I even braved a fruit juice or too and had ice in my cocktails (after the bar staff assured me it is from filtered water).
I hope I haven’t come across as too much of an OCD food freak with this post. I fully believe that if I wasn’t careful and paid heed to these tips I would have got ill somewhere along the way. Believe me, I didn’t want to take the risk, especially on a two-day safari in the depths of a tiger-infested jungle. Instead, I had a fabulous trip and India lived up to all of my expectations. I came home with a completely untouched first-aid kit!