One of the pleasures of traveling in foreign countries is enjoying the variety of different foods that a culture may offer. But what many travelers don’t realize is that, like water, certain foods can also make you very sick. Salmonella, E-coli and parasites can all wreak havoc on your body once they enter your digestive system.

Market stand with fruits and vegetables

Markets are the best places to shop around for your daily nutritional needs.

Be cautious and selective about what you eat and where you buy your food from. After all, your health should be your first priority when traveling. Use some common sense when deciding on where you eat and what you are eating. Does your stomach get upset easily? How clean is the establishment? Are there other foreigners eating there? I have traveled with people who could eat from street vendors and not get sick, while others were throwing up and sick for days.

Take your time getting into the local cuisine and let your stomach adjust to the foods. Try new foods gradually rather than eating a lot of something you may be unsure of. Remember too that some food poisoning symptoms may not appear until a couple of days after eating the contaminated food. Foods that are generally safe to eat include:

  • Well-cooked foods, served very hot.
  • Breads, tortillas and other baked goods.
  • Freshly-boiled foods such as beans, rice and pasta, served hot.
  • Canned foods.

Foods that should be avoided or may be risky:

  • Leafy or uncooked vegetables and salads. They may have been washed in untreated water or contain bacteria and parasites.
  • Fruits, nuts and vegetables, unless they have a thick skin or shell which you have peeled yourself.
  • Undercooked or cold meats or fish which can contain parasites.
  • Large fish, especially from reef areas, may contain toxins.
  • Unpasteurized dairy products such as cheese or yogurt are ideal breeding grounds for germs. If you are not sure if a product is pasteurized, either ask or don’t use it.
  • Food from street vendors or from restaurants that appear unclean.
  • Buffet foods, unless you know they are safe. The food may have been sitting out for a while.
Scottish haggis, neeps and tatties.

Local dishes may look scary, but can be quite delicious!

It’s important to have an open mind and be willing to eat authentic local foods of the country you’re traveling in. Eating new and different foods is an important part of any learning experience when traveling. Explore a little and you may find some delicious and exciting new tastes. Just use some common sense about what you put into your body.

If saving money is important to you then try to avoid restaurants and shop for your food at markets or buy it prepared from street vendors. When eating in a restaurant or from a street vendor, be observant of the preparation methods, location of the food service, and cleanliness of the establishment. If you walk into a restaurant and there is only one local sitting there, consider the above. It may be a secret sweet spot of unimaginably good food that no-one knows about, or it may be a nightmare for cast-iron stomachs only. Talking to other travelers is usually a sure way of finding the good meals (and deals), but frequenting the tourist restaurants may not give you the authentic food you are looking for (or the price you want). Get away from tourist ‘hotspots’ and you will more than likely get away from the tourist restaurants as well.

Some of the greatest places I have found to buy foods are in outdoor public markets. These large collections of vendors usually offer the freshest foods and have the most variety. From breads and meats to fruits and sweets, markets will surely have what you are looking for, and with affordable prices as well. Most cities have a public market so just ask a local or another traveler where to find it. Once you have your food, you can take it virtually anywhere to relax and enjoy it – for free.

Some basics about nutrition

To prevent sickness and to stay fit and energetic while on the road:
eat and drink properly. As life on the road can be intensive, it’s
important that you get enough carbohydrates. Also, don’t forget to
drink plenty of fluids. Small amounts often is a good general rule.
Remember that you perspire a lot even when it’s cold.

There are several things your body needs every day, of which the most important are (roughly speaking):

  • Water.
  • Salt.
  • Carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice and potatoes). These give you the energy you’ll need.
  • Proteins (meat, fish, eggs and dairy products).
  • Vitamins, minerals & fibres. Try to eat enough vegetables & fruit.

A normal eating routine will give you everything you need. If you
didn’t get the basics of a normally balanced diet, at least take
vitamin pills. This’ll reduce the chances of getting ill. By the way,
it’s always a good idea to bring vitamin pills on a trip. Sickness abroad is one of the things you want to avoid.

Backpackers cooking their own meal.

Preparing your own food can save you loads of cash.

Cooking your own meals

Cooking yourself will save you a
lot of money while travelling, especially if you’re on the road for a longer time. Many hostels have kitchen facilities, and usually provide a stack of pots, plates and silverwear, on the condition that you wash them after use. If you’re serious about cooking your own meals, you can even pack a stove of your own. Travel stoves don’t have to be very expensive, and you can eat like a king for only a few Euros a day in even the most expensive parts of the world. If you really plan to rough it, campfires are another possible heat source for preparing your food, although there are only few places where you can start a campfire without running into trouble.