How to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

How to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

Bali holidays are paradise but there is one thing that most travellers will try to avoid like the plague but it will catch up with them nonetheless. I am talking about the ominous Bali belly, which is a nasty form of traveller’s diarrhoea. (You can basically get it anywhere in the world.) Not only can it knock you out for an entire week, make you feel weak for a few more but on top of it all, it can result in sickness and diarrhoea as well as actual fever. Not a nice outlook, is it? So here’s how to prevent it and – if you still get it – how to cope best with Bali belly.

**** Disclaimer: This post does not constitute expert medical advice. To really get a good diagnosis and treatment, see a doctor or talk to a pharmacist. Also, this post contains affiliate links. If you book anything from them, this doesn’t cost you anything but might give me a little commission to help keep this free blog full of more travel tips and me fuelled with chocolate to keep writing. ****

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What are the Traveller’s Diarrhea Symptoms?

Oncoming traveller’s diarrhoea you will be able to spot pretty quickly. Diarrhoea is usually defined as having watery stool at least three times during a 24 hour period. The more severe diarrhea gets, the more the urgency to race to the toilet instantly increases. You will nauseous, bloated and cramped. Here’s an overview:

  • Abdominal bloating, cramps and pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Urgency/frequency in going to the toilet
  • Mild temperature
  • Feeling weak and uneasy

How long Does Bali Belly Last?

Usually, the symptoms clear up after 24 hours but with more severe traveller’s diarrhoea, it can take a few more days. Some Bali visitors complain about weakness and belly discomfort a week after as well. This can also be due to weak immune system and the change in climate when coming or leaving Bali. Never overexert yourself.

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How to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

The Difference between Bali Belly and Food Poisoning?

Bali belly, traveller’s diarrhoea, and food poisoning are quite different things though they have shared symptoms. While diarrhoea usually clears up after a day, food poisoning will hit you much harder. You will feel the first symptoms a few hours later already and then you are pretty much attached to the toilet for days.

On top of the diarrhoea, cramps and general weakness, you will also commonly experience nausea and vomiting. While this is happening you will also lose your appetite and maybe develop a mild fever and headache.

This also will naturally clear up after three days. (Again, medicinal coal and energy drinks help.) When you start experiencing high fever, your diarrhoea doesn’t disappear, you get seriously dehydrated, you have bloody urine and/or you have trouble seeing or speaking, go see a doctor immediately! Your travel insurance should cover such emergencies. So even if you have to pay out of pocket first, you will get your money back later.

While I was in the Australian outback and contracted either food poisoning or gasthroentritis, I was knocked out so much (basically unconscious for three days), I was critically dehydrated and the drip the local nurse put on me didn’t do anything for me. This was a potentially disastrous episode of my travels I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

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How to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

What Causes Traveller’s Diarrhoea?

Generally, it had to do with your food and drink consumption. The perpetrators could be bacteria, parasites, viruses or a combination. In a fifth of all cases, no specific reason is detected. Bacteria causing Bali belly could be e.coli, salmonella, shigella or campylobacter and usually cause a lot of cramps and abdominal pain. With parasites, the symptoms lean more towards bloody stool and a longer time with diarrhoea and sickness. Viruses causing traveller’s diarrhoea are mostly norovirus and rotavirus.

  • Bacteria
  • Parasites
  • Viruses
  • Unknown causes

What to Do for Travelers Diarrhea Prevention

Half of all travellers to Bali contract Bali belly, according to BIMC Hospital. In short, everyone can get traveller’s diarrhea but if you are diabetic, immunosupressed, take H2 antagonist or antacids or have inflammatory bowel disease, your risk is much higher. So be extra careful. Another factor working against you not contracting Bali belly are stress and jet lag. So especially after you land in Bali, adjust to the new climate slowly instead of throwing yourself right into the action.

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How to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

Keep Restaurant Standards High

While you don’t have much influence on the cleanliness involved in food preparation and dinnerware hygiene, you can read up on reviews if you want to visit specific restaurants on Bali. Have a quick look into the kitchen and check out the bathroom. If everything looks neat and there is enough soap, chances are that everything will be fine.

When you are not eating freshly prepared dishes in restaurants and cafes but instead at street vendors or from buffets, the risk of contracting Bali belly increases. Always make sure your food is adequately hot and cooked throughout. Especially rice develops bacteria fast if it cools down or hasn’t been reheated enough.

Watch the Water

Another factor is tap water. While it is generally potable on Bali, most people do not drink it. But if you don’t feel it’s safe to drink, don’t use it for your final dish rinse, on your toothbrush and don’t shower with your mouth open. This also means avoiding raw foods as they are usually washed with tap water. Ice cubes with a hole in it are safe to drink as they were produced in a factory.

A no brainer but often shamefully overlooked is proper hygiene. This includes you – not just the person preparing food. After going to the toilet and before preparing or touching food, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and dry them completely. Also let your dishes dry completely before using them. Remember, tap water might have been the culprit if you get Bali belly.

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How to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

Get a Preventive Vaccine

To prevent sickness caused by enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) bacteria, you could ask your doctor for a cholera vaccination. This ingestible vaccine, the main brand is Dukoral, will place a very small dosis of dead cholera bacteria and nontoxic components of cholera toxin into your body, creating antibodies. You take two doses between one and six weeks apart.

  • Avoid tap water contact – including brushing your teeth, eating raw foods and making ice cubes; or at least boil it
  • Drink bottled water or carbonated drinks and make sure the seal is still intact
  • Avoid certain types of food – raw fruits and veggies, raw/undercooked meats, seafood, (open) condiments, unpasteurized dairy, non-hot rice
  • Practice good hygiene – wash your hands well for 20 seconds and dry them (as well as your dishes) before touching food, use sanitiser

Photo by on UnsplashHow to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

What to Do For Diarrhea Treatment

In bad cases, you can get a fever and it will knock your system out like it did for me. In that case, make resting for a few days your top priority and stay close to a toilet well stocked with toilet paper. Don’t go out unless you really have to. Maybe someone else can hit the pharmacy for you? Sleeping and drinking as much as possible should be your priority in severe cases of Bali belly.

Get the Right Diarrhoea Medicine

The most widely available and easy traveller‘s diarrhea medicine is medicinal charcoal. Ask your pharmacist for dosage, but generally you will take your pills three times daily for three days or until your stool ahs solidified. The coal will line your stomach and keep harmful bacteria from getting too attached to you so you can discharge them more easily.

This is also why you should refrain from taking anti-diarrheal products that will clog you up (and keep the toxins, bacteria, parasites or viruses in), like Imodium. If you are travelling and simply cannot trust your stomach or the toilet situation, immodium is a good idea.

If you feel like your severe diarrhea is getting out of hand, don’t wait to see a doctor. Local doctors are great in that respect because they are much more familiar with potential local causes, such as parasites, than your doctor at home might be. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed as diarrhea medicine but those should be a last resort from what I understand.

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How to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

Adjust your Diet

When you have general diarrhea, you need to adjust your diet as well. Try plain rice, rice porridge, oats,, semolina custard, bananas, unsweetened applesauce or toast. Stick to super bland foods, avoid spices at all costs and drink a lot of liquids.

It’s best to drink clear liquids in the first 24 hours. This means, no juices or blends and especially no alcohol, caffeinated or carbonated drinks. To help replace all the electrolytes you will undoubtedly lose to Bali belly, resort to isotonic sports drinks, such as Powerade and Pocari Sweat, and electrolyte replacement salts and powder, like Oralit. They really work wonders. (Just opt for the ones with the lowest sugar levels.)

Drink herbal teas, including chamomile and peppermint. Eat light food and stay away from fatty meals. Other things you can drink include fresh coconut, yokult and other probiotic drinks. But don’t forget to listen to your gut and see how you feel like. Take it slow.

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How to Survive Bali Belly and Prevent Traveller’s Diarrhoea

Should You Be Super Afraid of Bali Belly?

Absolutely not. Traveller’s diarrhea, as the name suggests, can happen during your travels. Anywhere in the world. Anytime. I’ve had it in Fort Lauderdale, Cape Town, Alice Springs and will probably get it again. There is only so much you can do to prevent it. Wash your hands, santisise, stay away from tap water and prepare your own food with your own cleaned sets of kitchen utensils. But that’s not realistic on the road, is it?

Food poisoning isn’t life threatening and – as a precaution – you should travel with a medi kit including sets of medicinal charcoal and painkillers anyway. I also throw in a thermometer to check for fever and have emergency numbers of every country I travel to saved in my phone. Chances are you will not be in the middle of nowhere and not utterly alone. People are kind and will help others in need.

But with Bali belly, you will feel it coming and it will be fine after 1-3 days. So enjoy your Bali travels as much as possible and rest if traveller’s diarrhea strikes you down after all so don’t miss out on too many days by dragging out the illness.

Now tell me: Have you ever suffered from traveller’s diarrhoea or Bali belly?

Read next:

How to not Fall Sick While Travelling
Losing Your Voice During Solo Travel Is Terrifying
Forget Jetlag, This Is Why You Can’t Sleep when Travelling
Allergy and Travel – How to Survive Dustmites in Hotels
What You Need to Know about Water Safety when Travelling
How to Plan the Perfect Nusa Penida Bali Tour

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It had to happen, after ditching the 9-5 for a prolonged break, Annemarie's wokaholic tendencies led her to start a daily blog about her adventures. Realising how much travel has helped rebuild her confidence and and general #GirlBoss-iness, Travel on the Brain released a book about her adventures in Down Under and New Zealand and creates quirky video series focusing on story telling in destinations around the globe.
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  1. Reply

    Good tips there Annemarie. Having spent 1 year on Bali between a few trips I did get the 24 hour deal once or twice. Probably because I ate food not properly chilled, and those Indonesian bacteria forming in the tropics did a tap dance on my food LOL.

    1. Reply

      Hi Ryan, sorry to hear that. But yeah, Bali belly kinda seems inevitable. Gotta be careful with the food^^

    • Oliver
    • 11/07/2018

    I got the poisoning when I did not wash my hands long enough probably or was no soap there. As for diarhea I got that usually from spicy food (everything spicy in Indonesia).

    And my experience is that it is good to go eat to places where many people are eating already. It can be a cheap street food. Because many expensive fancy places with large menus are often without many customers. So they look nice and clean but the ingredients had to wait for the first customer long long time. And it is usually made for profit. High price, looks nice, but not very tasty and risky to eat.

    1. Reply

      Hi Oliver, you get diahrroea from spicy food? I wonder if I have that as well as I cannot eat spicy either. And youre right, if there is a high frequency of customers, it means the food is most likely fresh.

    • K a t i
    • 15/10/2018

    Sehr informativer Beitrag; auch für Nicht-Reisende wissenswert.

    Wie sieht es eigentlich mit Street Food aus? Isst du von solchen Ständen oder lässt davon lieber die Finger? Bei diesen Ständen kann man wahrscheinlich einen nicht so hohen hygienischen Standard erwarten oder liege ich da vielleicht falsch?

    1. Reply

      Ab und zu, aber da muss man aufpassen. Vor allem, wenn man einen so empfindlichen Magen hat wie ich. Ich würde es von Situation zu Situation abschätzen. Immer nur durchgekochte Sachen wählen. Rohes und Frisches lieber auf Märkten essen.

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