No Wrong Turns: Protect yourself from food poisoning

You know that feeling: the one where the contents in your stomach churn and before you can say “I think I ate something bad,” you are already running for the bathroom. Fun, right?

Every time you get on the plane, bus or (in our case) in the car and travel to another country you expose yourself to the likelihood of coming down with some sort of stomach illness. Call it what you like (and we all know there are some pretty descriptive names out there) but the experience is the same and it flat out stinks.

Last week I was unlucky enough to eat something disagreeable (I believe a locally made tamale was the culprit) and spent a rather uncomfortable and feverish 24 hours trying to recover. I have been pretty lucky in the past to avoid food poisoning but I knew I was in for a rough time as I was with Tom when he succumbed to food poisoning in India a few years ago. And it really did live up to it’s horrible nature.

Generally my rules to avoid food poisoning/unhappy stomach are as follows:

Does the stand or restaurant appear clean?
If it doesn’t I’ll choose to go elsewhere.

Does the eatery smell bad?
I think this question really explains itself.

How many black flies are there buzzing around?

Black flies can carry and transmit numerous diseases like cholera and typhoid. Do you want them sitting on your food? I didn’t think so. Click here to read more about how gross these flies really are.

Are the locals eating here?
This is a good indication of the caliber of the food as well as the cleanliness of the eatery. A full restaurant usually indicates good food and less chance of illness!

These rules tend to keep me feeling pretty healthy while traveling though Tom has broken a few rules (for instance eating in a place in India that smelled like a sewer exploded beside it). Getting sick is almost inevitable and a part of the adventure…or at least that is what they say to make you feel better when you get hammered with food poisoning, a parasite or some other infection.

So what do you do when you come down with a case of food poisoning?

Arm yourself with these basics

  • Find a comfortable, quiet room where you can rest even if it means forking over more money than you’d normally pay. Believe me, you are going to want a decent place to stay with your own bathroom. This way you can recover in peace without worrying about your dorm roommates waking up every time you have to excuse yourself (or run like hell) to the loo.
  • Tylenol is good to have on hand for fevers as well as the aches that are common with food poisoning.
  • Electrolyte drinks (or oral rehydration salts), are available at most markets here in Mexico. These are worth having on hand as they help to restore your glucose and salt levels caused by dehydration. If you don’t have the solution you can easily prepare one: add 6 tablespoons of sugar (or honey) and a half-teaspoon of salt to 1 liter of boiling water. You can try adding lemon or ginger to this mixture to make it easier to drink. Tom made some of this little concoction for me and I will tell you now that it tastes absolutely awful but I choked about half a cup down and felt fifty times better.
  • Eat plain starchy foods like crackers, bananas, boiled potatoes. If you don’t feel like eating don’t force yourself to, your body will let you know when it’s ready for food.

When to see a doctor

If you experience any of the following symptons

  • You can’t keep anything down due to vomiting for more than 24 hours
  • Your temperature is higher than 38 degrees Celsius
  • Your stomach issues keep up for more than 4 or 5 days

Of course there are many other abnormal symptoms that may occur so if you feel like you aren’t just dealing with food poisoning or travelers’ diarrhea try and see a doctor or get to a medical facility. Cabo San Lucas and La Paz both have decent medical care centers. If you need assistance in the Baja and are unsure of where to go contact Ameri-med for more assistance and western-style health-care.

“No Wrong Turns”
chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.