“You got a parasite? You’re doing great, sweetie!”
I have been traveling for a few years now, and as I get older and broker (thanks to student loans), booking cheap adventures feels like a high. I often think, “If I can get to a destination cheaply, shouldn’t I be able to explore it cheaply?”
One of my go-tos for keeping the cost down while traveling is eating street food. Street food offers a glimpse of cultural authenticity. But depending on the location, it might also give you the shits. Most travelers are afraid to share these experiences out of embarrassment, but let’s keep it real: travel is not all glamour nor is it always perfect.
I almost died on two separate occasions.
Okay, maybe “almost died” is a bit of an exaggeration, but that is what it felt like.
I visited Anguilla, a tiny Caribbean island, for the first time in 2016 during Carnival season; I was working at a family friend’s boutique in exchange for free accommodation. In the middle of a Carnival celebration, the 90 degree weather and super thick humidity drained my energy and made me thirsty. I walked down a shattered, yet charming, cement road while vibrant, multi-colored costumes were sported with flamboyant flare.
I eventually found something to drink!
There was an older gentleman who took a boat from Dominica all the way to Anguilla for August Monday and other festivities. With him he brought mangoes and “fresh” mango juice. I paid for a mango juice and guzzled it. Warm mango pulp ran down my lower lip as I smiled at the vendor.
Moment passed and I went to the restroom. That’s what usually happens when someone chugs a drink… right?
While returning from the restroom, my tummy began to feel acidic again. I ran back and diarrhea soon followed. Not just once – four times.
Heat flashes were intensified by the humidity and I became irritable during the island’s biggest party of the year. After returning back to where I was staying, I rested in bed and did not move; any subtle movement felt like a hot, cat scratch on my bladder. My family friend simply laughed at me. Any decent human being would feel sympathy for someone with intestine-turning contractions and uncontrollable bodily fluids. But she is an avid traveler and her laughter was a way of saying, “Trust me, honey. I understand.”
Handing me two probiotics and some water she said, “I’m only laughing because the same thing happened to me in middle of the Sahara in Morocco. It happens to the best travelers; we all get bubble guts.”
RULE NUMBER 1: Think about where you’re getting your food from.
I’m an island boy at heart, so the idea of mango juice was lovely. The delivery of the mango juice was questionable. I respect the gentleman’s hustle (it’s hard out here, make your coins however you can – I feel ya!), but carrying juice purée on a three hour boat ride from island to island in 90 degree weather should have raised a red flag for me. It was too damn hot for food or drink to be chillin’ on a boat in the sun.
RULE NUMBER 2: You’re not a local. So your body will react differently to food.
Once again, I am an island boy at heart – but my immune system sure ain’t.
RULE NUMBER 3: Don’t be posh. Try something new… even if it seems questionable.
This sort of contradicts the last two rules, but sometimes you’ve gotta just go with the flow. Every “good” or experienced traveler will have a moment where their body will regret traveling to a destination. You got a parasite? You’re doing great, sweetie!
My second time having tummy issues was sort of my fault, but I’ll let y’all decide!
Two years ago, I made a friend at a vogue ball in New York. This friend happened to be from Germany. As most people kindly do when they meet a foreigner I said, “If I’m ever in Germany, I will pay you a visit.” Fast forward a year and I was making my way to Berlin.
The first thing I ate when I arrived in Berlin was a kebab, or kebap, as it is spelled in German. This delicious Turkish dish only costs 3 euros. So a kebab and soda cost 4 euros. I basically ate these every day in order to save money. In return, a balanced diet became a foreign concept to my tummy during this trip.
Between going to intense parties at The Berghain and barely sleeping, my body needed to rest and I should have listened to it.
RULE NUMBER 4: Always listen to your body.
Since I had neglected to sleep, I consumed excessive amounts of German coffee – some of which was milky and some that was Bavarian Forest black (Tehehe. Yes, we know this forest isn’t actually black, but I like the word play). This coffee was in addition to my strictly kebap diet.
Later that evening, at a party…
After a few glasses of wine and a beer, my insides became bubbly and loose. The kepabs began mixing with the coffee and every other liquid. Once again, I ran to the restroom.
Due to explosive diarrhea, I quite literally waited until we arrived at a club to throw out my underwear. This may have been the most embarrassing moment of my life.
RULE NUMBER 5: You will get laughed at, but it is quite funny when you look back on the event.
Yes, this is gross. But, it is imperative that you are conscious of what you put into your body during your travels. Most travelers have the misconception that one has to be in secluded locations in order to have an upset stomach, but these situations are far more common than we’d like to believe.
You will have some of the most fulfilling times during your travels, and you will have some of the most humiliating: both will make for great stories someday.