“Sin Hielo, Por Favor” (No Ice, Please): Avoiding Stomach Viruses While Traveling

As a seasoned traveler, I still forget some golden rules while visiting some foreign countries. One of those rules is not consuming tap water, especially in Central and South America, as most of these countries do not purify their water. While in Colombia, enjoying a “Cuba Libre”, I forgot to tell the bartender, “sin hielo, por favor”. Once I remembered, I asked the bartender if the ice came from filtered water. In which, he said “Por Supuesto” (of course). So, I believed him and thought what’s the worst that could happen…

Santa Marta, Colombia

Not exactly the best decision of my life. After a few days, my stomach was in a complete knot. All of the symptoms of a stomach virus came into play including high fever, aches, nausea, etc. That unfortunate choice took away three days of my precious vacation time where I couldn’t enjoy myself since I was feeling so ill.

You can say I learned a few lessons the hard way:

1) Do not trust people, especially when it comes to your health.
2) Stick to what you know.
3) No matter how tasty things are at the moment, they can harm you later.

Getting sick on the road is part of a traveler’s experience and most times than none, it can’t be avoided. But, that doesn’t mean we should be reckless. Below are some tips on how to avoid stomach viruses while traveling (please learn from my mistakes).

Drink Bottled Water

Even if the locals drink the water and they are fine, it doesn’t mean your stomach has the bacteria to combat the viruses, so just drink bottled water to avoid any health issues. Beware of water bottle scams by always checking the seal. Some people might try to sell tap water as bottled water (yes, it’s true). THIS RULE INCLUDES ICE, make sure your drinks (alcoholic or not) have no ice, as ice is usually made from tap water. If you are in a Latin American country, simply say “Sin Hielo, Por Favor” and if you are anywhere else in the world, Google it. It’s also a good idea to use bottled water when brushing your teeth, as well.

Peruvian Ceviche
Avoid Raw Meats and Fish

As you might know, cooking food can kill bacteria, so try to avoid things like sushi, ceviche or rare meat. Eat only hot foods to make sure it hasn’t been sitting out for too long. I wanted to get adventurous in Ecuador and Peru and try the ceviche (I LOVE CEVICHE) and let’s just say that didn’t help my stomach virus at all.

Colombian food

Don’t Eat Street Food
Another hard lesson learned, eating a “Loco Moco” from a food truck in Hawaii. While at the time, it was absolutely amazing and loved every bite of it. I did catch a stomach virus from it as well. I could take a wild guess and say they did not use bottled water for cooking. Chances are, things like food trucks or outside vendors have low sanitation regulations, if any. So, avoid eating at those places, no matter how good they look or smell.

Wash Your Hands Often
I am going to try my hardest not to sound like a mom on this one, but you would be surprise how many people forget to wash their hands after eating and going to the bathroom. This is very important to prevent and stop virus from spreading. If you don’t have access to soap and water at that moment, just use hand sanitizer.

Santa Marta, Colombia

As I mentioned before, sometimes getting sick is part of the adventure. But, if you can do everything in your power avoid it, please do. There is not a worst feeling in the world than being held hostage in your room during your dream trip. So be smart and take care of your tummy as much as you can. 🙂


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