The probability of contracting an illness varies greatly according to your destination and the season. The risk is at its highest in hot temperatures and in circumstances with a different level of hygiene than at home.
A traveller's risk of contracting diarrhoea during a week's holiday trip is as high as 80% in southern Asia and 10% to 20% in the Mediterranean region.
Medications for gastric ulcer or heartburn may increase the risk because they alter the stomach's protective level of acidity.
Contrary to a common misconception, strong spirits do not provide any protection, except perhaps some sort of mental reassurance.
However, tourist diarrhoea is generally just a troublesome nuisance spoiling a long-awaited holiday but rarely leads to serious consequences. In fact, only roughly one in a hundred requires hospital care for it.
You can take probiotics for any stomach problems, and lactic acid bacteria wouldn’t hurt either.
Watch what you eat
In most cases, diarrhoea is caused by the bacteria in foods or drinks, which is why good hand and food hygiene can efficiently prevent it.
The main thing is to make sure your drinking water is clean. As a general rule, bottled water is the safest option, but be aware that in some countries water bottles could be fake. Never buy a water bottle with a crown cap.
In some situations you should use bottled water for brushing your teeth too.
If there are no other options, water can be boiled. Sometimes even this isn't possible, and in that case you could use water purification tablets.
Washing your hands or using a hand sanitizer before eating anything is obvious, and a wash using soap is the better option of the two. However, the most important thing is to choose safe foods.
Freshly prepared, properly cooked foods are the safest ones.
At a hotel buffet, be careful to make the right selections. Bear in mind that the general level of cleanliness is a good indicator.
In many countries tourism is such a crucial source of livelihood that travel service providers want to avoid preventable risks with tourists.
Personally, I try to steer clear of the oft-cited risky items, such as mayonnaise, raw or rare meat, and ice. I don’t usually buy any unpackaged ice cream sold on the beach either.
And did you know that cash is one of the worst sources of bugs?
Drink a lot, whether you're thirsty or not
If you do get diarrhoea, the best treatment is to drink plenty of liquids. Pharmacies sell drinks for diarrhoea (e.g. Osmosal), but you can easily make some by mixing six teaspoons of sugar and one of salt in a litre of water.
Always ensure you get enough salt and sugar. Lack of salt could become severe during a bad bout of tummy bug, especially if a hot climate also makes you sweat a lot.
At its worst, a low sodium level can cause neurological symptoms.
Common tourist diarrhoea only lasts for a day or two in most cases.
Unfortunately, there are no handy instructions on how to cope with it during your return flight. Diarrhoea medication may bring some relief, but I would perhaps try to postpone the return if my travel insurance and other factors allow for it.