Holiday Sickness: 5 Golden Rules to Avoid Getting Ill Abroad

This is a collaborative post. The content of the post should not be considered as strict medical advice; for information on how to prevent holiday sickness while travelling, please consult with your local GP.

I’ll never forget the time I got holiday sickness in Portugal after eating a dodgy tuna steak. I was constantly throwing up, my stomach was in agony and I was exhausted. It rendered me unable to leave the hotel room for around three days, wiping out most of my holiday. Since then, I’ve been more wary when it comes to the food and drink I consume while travelling.

So, as someone who makes a full-time income from writing about food and travel, how do I manage to explore everything that a cuisine has to offer, while also taking care to ensure I don’t upset my tummy? Here are the golden rules I follow to avoid holiday sickness when it comes to eating out when travelling:

5 golden rules to avoid holiday sickness or food poisoning while abroad, from drinking bottled water, to asking the local for recommendations. #holidaysickness #foodpoisioning #foodhygiene #food

1. Be extra careful about eating street food

Street eats at Notting Hill Carnival, London

Credit: Skye Class, SkyeTravels

Exploring the street food scene is one of the best ways to experience the authentic cuisine of any destination, enabling you to eat like a local and taste foods that may not be available in restaurants.

However, it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to eating street food while travelling. Although lots of street food is safe to eat and freshly cooked, perhaps even while you watch, the conditions that street food is often prepared in can pave the way for holiday sickness or food poisoning.

I also take note of whether street food is being freshly prepared, or whether it was prepared earlier on in the day. If it has previously been cooked and it’s going to be reheated for you to eat, make sure it’s heated to a core temperature of at least 60ºC to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present – ideally, the vendor should be using a probe to check the temperature.

To find out what else to look out for when eating street food while abroad, check out my post on how to eat street food with dietary concerns. Dependent on where you are going for your holiday, you might wish to apply the same standards to dining out at restaurants too – just because a venue is high-end, doesn’t mean you can trust the food it dishes up.

2. Consider ditching tap water for bottled water

Many people prefer to drink bottled water as opposed to tap water while on holiday. In some developing countries, the tap water supply contains microorganisms which could cause an upset tummy for those who aren’t used to drinking it.

In general, it’s advised that you avoid drinking tap water when visiting developing countries such as India, Africa, South America, Mexico and parts of Asia.

As well as ensuring you only drink water from sealed water bottles, you’ll need to avoid asking for ice cubes in your drinks. I made the mistake of forgetting this rule one night at a wedding in Delhi, and within ten minutes, I was heading back to the hotel in a taxi, with a stomach full of razor blades. Luckily, the pain passed by the morning but I’ve been more mindful of refusing ice cubes in my drinks when travelling to certain countries ever since.

Bottled water being poured into a glass. Drinking bottled water is a good idea if you want to avoid holiday sickness when travelling to certain developing countries.

3. Seek medical advice 

Don’t take this blog post as gospel when it comes to deciding what you should or shouldn’t eat while travelling. I’m no doctor; I’m simply letting you in on the general rules I follow myself when it comes to eating out around the world.

When you visit your GP doctor to enquire about vaccinations before you travel, they should be able to offer you reliable medical advice on which foods to avoid when travelling to a particular destination in order to reduce the risk of holiday sickness, as well as letting you know whether the tap water supply is safe to drink.

If you do happen to feel unwell when travelling, whether this is due to something you’ve eaten, drank or another matter altogether, consult with a local doctor as soon as possible. Many hotels and resorts have an on-site doctor or nurse who you can speak to in these circumstances, and they can refer you on to another medical professional if necessary. In my experience, medical advice and/or treatment abroad is often just as good than it is back home, but if you have any doubts about the quality of care you’ve received, you may wish to seek legal advice  regarding medical negligence.

A flatlay of a doctor's desk, complete with a stethoscope.

4. Ask locals where they like to eat

Chatting to the locals to find out where they prefer to eat is one of the best tips I can give you if you want to make the most of your travel experience. Not only will this ensure that you get to taste the highest quality, most authentic food a destination has to offer, but it will also help you to reduce the risk of getting holiday sickness while abroad.

After all, the locals will know all the best places to eat, and they wouldn’t send you somewhere that has a bad reputation for food hygiene or cleanliness.

The easiest way to strike up a conversation with the locals about where to eat out is to get chatting with resort or hotel staff, shop-keepers, bar staff, bus drivers or, if you’re feeling particularly confident, any passers-by who look like they know the area well.

5. Steer clear of foods linked to holiday sickness

If you really want to avoid getting holiday sickness while you’re away, there are a few foods to consider avoiding altogether, as they are often linked to cases of holiday sickness.

As a general rule, avoid raw foods. Salads, raw meat and uncooked seafood, in particular, are more likely to contain nasty bacteria that could make you ill. Always peel or cut up fresh fruit and veg, unless you can be confident they have been washed in safe water, and prepared by someone wearing gloves or with clean hands.

In addition, you might want to give buffet food a miss; you don’t know how long the food has been sitting in the containers, not to mention whose hands have touched it.

Pan-seared 'raw' tuna at Ichiban, Cardiff. You should avoid eating raw foods if you want to minimise your risk of holiday sickness.


What tips can you offer other readers on how to reduce the risk of holiday sickness? Please share your ideas in the comment box below.

5 golden rules to avoid holiday sickness or food poisoning while abroad, from drinking bottled water, to asking the local for recommendations. #holidaysickness #foodpoisioning #foodhygiene #food

This is a collaborative post. The content of the post should not be considered as strict medical advice; for information on how to prevent holiday sickness while travelling, please consult with your local GP.

18 Comments

  1. Helen
    July 13, 2018 / 5:43 am

    Great advice! I also like to be pretty cautious on holiday when it comes to drinking tap water and ordering food. I’ll try to stay away from ice in drinks, tap water, salads washed in tap water etc.

    • July 13, 2018 / 4:55 pm

      Good idea Helen. It’s often for the best.

  2. July 13, 2018 / 12:02 pm

    I think it’s so important that if anything doesn’t look 100% right when you’re eating don’t eat it just in case x

    • July 13, 2018 / 4:55 pm

      Definitely. Always a good idea to follow your tastebuds and sense of smell.

  3. July 13, 2018 / 4:45 pm

    we always go with bottled water to be safe, though some street for can be pretty tempting!!

    • July 13, 2018 / 4:52 pm

      I always find it so hard to say no to street food too!

  4. July 14, 2018 / 4:37 pm

    Amazing tips! I’ve always heard about people getting sick from eating street food, can always look so good but then you don’t know how long it’s been sitting there for!

    • July 16, 2018 / 12:09 pm

      I know what you mean. It was really hard for me to say no to street food in India at times, but I wasn’t there for long enough to risk it – if I’d got sick, it would have wiped out my holiday.

    • July 16, 2018 / 12:05 pm

      I tend to prefer it over tap water wherever I am to be honest, even at home in the UK.

  5. Yeah Lifestyle
    July 15, 2018 / 4:30 pm

    These are great tips! I remember when I was travelling to India we only drank bottled water and ate food from places recommended from our tour guide to stay healthy. Luckily neither of us had delly belly.

    • July 16, 2018 / 12:02 pm

      I stuck to bottled water there too. I also avoided the street food, which was torture at times, but as I was only there for two weeks, I didn’t want to ruin the short amount of time that I had there.

  6. July 16, 2018 / 3:51 am

    I always bring my own bottled water in case.and your advice are totally on point.

    • July 16, 2018 / 12:00 pm

      That’s a good idea. I like to take a reusable bottle to minimise plastic waste 🙂

  7. July 16, 2018 / 8:14 pm

    Oh gosh I am always scared I might get sick abroad but thankfully I follow all of these and more so tough on wood I continue staying safe.

    • July 17, 2018 / 12:43 pm

      That’s good to hear. Sometimes it is best to play it safe!

  8. iheartkatiecakes
    July 17, 2018 / 7:58 am

    Great advice. I’d hate to be sick on holiday. My BF got sick on our trip to New Orleans last year and it put a real dampener on the time we spent.

    Katie xoxo

    • July 17, 2018 / 12:42 pm

      Aww that’s a shame! It must suck to be ill while you’re away.

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