6 Travel Tips For Your Stomach

An excerpt from A Deat Bat In Paraguay:

[In Tupiza, Bolivia] I did some research on the internet while waiting a day for my tour to the Southwest to begin. (How I could make it four days without constant access to toilet I wasn’t sure.) I learned that Bolivia is the poorest country in the continent by GDP per capita. If you include Central America, it’s second behind only Haiti, a place so sad and impoverished that the worst off subsist on cookies made from mud.

I thought about all the countries I was now “qualified” to visit, places I would most likely survive with only somewhat serious intestinal problems. But it’s doubtful I’d enjoy myself. Even Bolivia’s rough, pink-colored toilet paper was getting to me. After a few days it began to feel like someone was trying to jam jagged rocks up my butt with every wipe, and after extended walks I began to notice an odd, unpleasant itch in sensitive areas too embarrassing to discuss with other gringos. How I sorely missed the luxurious softness of American toilet paper! It didn’t help matters that the pink color made it hard to tell when I was done cleaning or not. I theorize that Bolivians have dirty asses because of this.

If you’re going to South America for an extended period you need a survival strategy for your ass. Here are six tips:

1. Don’t use the hostel toilet paper. They are one grade above newspaper and will give you the abraded anus if you have to go often due to diarrhea. Go to the supermarket and buy the most expensive toilet paper they have, which won’t be expensive at all. Your ass is important so don’t skimp on this, even though I know you will.

2. Take probiotics. If you’re going to a poor country with an already sensitive stomach, I recommend you take probiotics, which are “good” bacteria for your stomach that is supported by scientific research. Two you can try that don’t require refrigeration are Jarrow Bourlardii and Jarrow Dophilus. If you need something heavy duty to repair damage then go with Kirkman Pro-Bio Defense. If your stomach is beyond fucked yet a doctor insists nothing is wrong with you, go with the most concentrated probiotic you can legally buy: VSL3. For much lighter concentrations buy yogurt like Activa, which you can find everywhere. Honestly I don’t think one serving a day of Activa will make a significant difference, but it doesn’t hurt.

3. Lay off caffeine. I know you like coffee and soda but caffeine is a gut stimulant that is like cocaine on digestive muscle. When you’re taking long bus rides or hikes you don’t want to have to go unexpectedly, and holding your shit in for hours at a time is really uncomfortable. Trust me when I say it’s better to be constipated while traveling than going too often, but if you’re too constipated then slowly ramp up fiber intake starting with one apple a day. Or have a double espresso in the vicinity of a toilet.

4. Fight the sludge. After a while in a poor country the consistency of your shit may turn into gooey sludge. This is probably because you eat a lot of outside food that isn’t handled in the most sanitary way. Here’s my anti-sludge diet:

Breakfast: Sandwich of cheese and deli meat, apple, yogurt.

Lunch: Nutella or peanut butter sandwich, banana, pear, exotic fruit (papaya in Brazil, avocado in Colombia)

Snack: Crackers

Dinner: Rice-based meal with chicken and veggies (carrots, green peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes)

Use white bread and rice first because the anti-sludge diet has a lot of fiber which you don’t want to overload on and get mushy craps (though I argue that mushy is far better than sludgy). It takes about 3-4 days to eliminate the sludge.

5. Take something for the gas. Gas decreases your overall quality of life (along with your confidence when it comes time to mack), and seems to increase dramatically during travel. Simply travel with GasX (simethicone). Pop two, wait 20 minutes for a big explosion, and then you’re gas free for several hours. Foreign pharmacies sell simethicone as well. (I find that Argentine dulce de leche gives me awesome gas, probably due to the potent mix of sugar and dairy. In fact anything with dairy causes problems for me, so I only eat things like rich chocolate cake when I’m going to stay in for the next half day.) One thing I like about simethicone is that it doesn’t get absorbed into your bloodstream so you don’t need to worry about long-term effects.

6. Peppermint. If your stomach in an angry bear like mine then you need something to settle it down. I recommend peppermint pills, a natural gut relaxant (try either Pepogest or Heather’s Tummy Tamers). I pop one before eating meals that I know will cause me trouble. Only side effect is having minty burps afterwards. I pushed these on my sister recently who told me the other day that they’re “like crack.”

A chunk of A Dead Bat In Paraguay was about my intestinal adventures, which I enjoyed sharing in detail. Click here to read up to 20% of the book on Google Books.

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