How to improve your digestion when travelling
Whilst, for some, going on holiday means that some everyday symptoms start to disappear, for others, digestive flare-ups can be a concern. Here, I outline 8 tips for supporting your system during this time:
- Prepare in advance
- Get enough shut-eye
- Employ healthy habits
- Play it safe & protect against pathogens
- Don't overdo it - sensible treats only!
- Get fibre in without a fuss
- Keep moving
I also explain some of the pitfalls, including stress and a greater exposure to bugs that could be causing you some of the trouble to start with. Plus, I outline some of my top picks when it comes to remedies which you should have handy for protection and peace of mind.
The problem: A shock to the system
When jetting off on holiday, it's common for almost everything in your environment to change. This means your daily routines, your eating habits, being thrown into different temperatures - plus, being exposed to different bugs both on the plane and when you reach your destination. It's no surprise you can be left with some symptoms to deal with when you have to contend with all of that!
Whilst some of these areas are harder to avoid, there are some within your control that you can work on minimising.
1. Prepare in advance
Planning is key to keeping your digestion on your side. Whilst your routines will naturally change slightly, it really helps to plan ahead as much as possible. Aim to have regular wake-up times and meals around the same time you normally would at home. Then, if you're out and about, try and plan some snacks and/or meals ahead of time so you aren't caught off guard. Always have plenty of water on hand to help avoid dehydration and go to the loo when you have the opportunity.
Another tip is to prep your digestive system ahead of time, even before setting off. I find supporting your system with a course of prebiotics such as Molkosan ahead of time is helpful, then packing a course of travel probiotics in your toilet bag can help to protect against any surprise symptoms.
The problem: Stress
While most of us are going on holiday in a bid to relax, the whole process can actually be quite stressful. From getting to the airport, travelling itself, finding your bearings when you arrive and keeping up with day trips, for some - it can all get too much!
Our stomach is very much in tune with our nervous system, therefore a nervous tum can easily crop up if you're feeling under pressure.
Proper planning is, again, one of the best ways to ensure you stay relaxed. Have a folder with all of your travel documents and any other information you'll need handy, and do some research ahead of time into all the restaurants and local attractions you'd like to visit.
When it comes to packing, ensure you get organised a few days before the big departure, and aim to head off in plenty of time. This means you'll have the opportunity to chill out with a good book and some music at the airport, and your tummy will thank you for it. If you need a little something extra to settle your nerves (and tummy), Tormentil can do the trick. Calming for both body and mind, it can help to stop a nervous tummy in its tracks.
The problem: Changing sleep habits
Depending on flight times, transfers, plus time differences when you actually arrive, your sleep pattern can easily be thrown off whilst embarking on your trip. Critically, our digestive system needs sufficient sleep and rest to function optimally. It's busy working away when your parasympathetic system (or 'rest and digest' system) is active – hence the name! It's therefore able to work properly when you're at rest, rather than when you're rushed or feeling stressed.
3. Get enough shut-eye
Although slightly later nights might be part and parcel of enjoying yourself on holiday, at least make sure that you prepare by getting some decent sleep in the nights leading up to your holiday. Certainly don't be left feeling unprepared and end up getting caught out eating into your sleep time whilst frantically trying to pack some last minute holiday essentials!
Then, when you arrive, ensure you don't burn the candle at both ends with continuous late nights and early starts. Plus, catching a snooze on a sunbed (in the shade!) is allowed too – especially if it allows you to wake up feeling refreshed!
The problem: Resisting the urge
Resisting the urge to go to the loo can be temping, especially if you're out travelling or by the pool relaxing. However, this can end up doing more harm than good and can risk throwing off your routine and contributing to constipation.
With constipation comes discomfort, bloating and, in some cases, it could encourage alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhoea – definitely something we don't want to encourage on holiday!
4. Employ healthy habits
Healthy habits are a must. My usual advice of chewing properly can help get your digestion off to the best start, but this also applies to setting the right toilet habits.
Go to the loo as soon as you need and don't resist this urge; also, if you're setting off on a longer day trip, be sure to pay a visit to the loo before heading off.
The problem: More exposure to pathogens
When you jet off on holiday, it's safe to say your immune system may be put to the test. From the journeys on public transport, to more exposure to bugs via foods and drinks, plus, the nice moist air in which bugs tend to thrive - it's no surprise that illnesses often aren't far away.
Interestingly, up to 80% of your immune cells exist in your gut so, if your digestive function was already a little under par before setting off, this could put you at an even greater risk.
5. Play it safe & protect against pathogens
As much as it's important to stay hydrated, remember to stick to bottled water only when abroad, and don't let options like ice in drinks (which may have been made from fresh water) catch you out. When it comes to foods, watch out for riskier options such as street vendors or BBQs; the food hygiene standards here may not be quite what we're used to and it could set off a more sensitive tum. If in doubt, stick with what you know is safe.
If you do suspect your tummy is feeling a little delicate, have a bottle of Silicol® Gel to hand in your toilet bag. This can help to scoop up any lingering pathogens and soothes and calms any inflammation throughout your system as it goes.
The problem: Treats galore
Whilst some treats on holiday are inevitable, some of the ones to watch are as follows:
- Sugar – Sugar is one of the most well-known inflammatory foods and you will only risk exacerbating digestive troubles and upsetting your balance of bacteria if you go overboard; this means overloading on the sweet stuff could give rise to a whole host of problems, from bloating to a bout of holiday cystitis.
- Fats – Fats are particularly taxing on your liver and could leave you feeling quite full and uncomfortable if you overindulge.
- Alcohol – Although it's tempting to have a drink to relax on holiday, just try not to go overboard. Too much alcohol can risk irritating a sensitive tummy and, especially in the heat, can leave you dehydrated for days to come, which will risk scuppering your toilet habits.
6. Don't overdo it - be sensible with your treats!
Sugar is hidden everywhere: it can usually be found in copious amounts in processed foods (even savoury options), meaning that breads, pastries, desserts and colourful drinks will be packed full of it. Try to stick to whole foods and homemade options as much as possible.
Next, when it comes to fat, you want to avoid overdoing it. High fat options which are readily found on holiday include lots of meat-based options, baked goods, plus fried options. Try to limit red and processed meats and don't indulge in too many fried foods; opt for some extra veggie options instead - at least some of the time! The variety may even be a pleasant surprise. Finally, when it comes to alcohol, limit yourself to certain times of the day and remember to alternate your drinks with some bottled water.
The problem: Too little of the good stuff
Whilst one half of the story is overindulging on some not-so-helpful options, your tummy can also be left feeling a little worse for wear if you don't eat enough of the good stuff too.
Fibre, in particular, is one component which is often left by the wayside on holiday and, without it, (especially in combination with dehydration), you can be left feeling bloating, bagged up and wondering when your next trip to the loo might be.
7. Get fibre in without a fuss
The best way to up your fibre intake on holiday, and with minimal effort, is to make the most of the amazing array of fresh, local fruit and vegetables on offer.
With the warmer temperatures and glorious sunshine, fruit and veg abroad is at its happiest – it's often super ripe and bursting with nutritional goodness, not to mention the fabulous fibre content. Satisfy your sweets cravings with the natural sugars from some exotic fruits, such as pineapple, papaya, mango and guava. These all contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes to support your stomach, whilst the fibre content will encourage things to keep moving. Wash down with plenty of water, but just remember to top up between meals rather than with food.
The problem: Getting lazy
Of course, it's tempting to sit back and relax whilst on holiday (which I would most definitely encourage) but just beware that switching to a very sedentary regime if you've been used to being much busier back home can be a shock to the system.
Interestingly, when we're exercising, our working muscles help to gently massage our digestive tract into action and, therefore, help to keep things moving along.
8. Keep moving
Whilst holidays are well deserved breaks that call for some good quality relaxation time, lying in the one spot for a whole week isn't necessarily the best way to go about it.
Even very gentle exercises such as walking through some nice tropical scenery, going for a relaxing swim or playing a touch of badminton in the sunshine can still allow you to be super relaxed, but help to keep your system ticking along at the same time. Again, remember to keep hydrated at all times as you'll sweat more whilst taking part in these activities.