Travel Stories: Staying Healthy On The Road in South America

Travelling as a younger backpacker in my early 20s, I wasn’t too fussed about staying healthy on the road – finding work to earn enough money to eat was a priority and I felt pretty much invincible anyway at that age!

Having not been on a longer trip since the mid-noughties, I found that travelling in my late 30s brought up several concerns I’d not held previously.

Planning to backpack for five months around South America, I discovered I wasn’t as willing to simply buy a flight and set off in the same way I would have done fifteen years ago. A minor concern was the risk of malaria, made into a major concern when my partner fretted about the risk we would be taking when travelling in certain areas.

We took advice from our local NHS nurse and also the London Travel Clinic, and purchased enough Doxycycline to get us safely through Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia.

Doxycycline is an anti-bacterial drug, which meant that at the end of the course we would have no natural gut flora left in our tummies. I’m aware of this because my good friend Daen is a degree-qualified nutritionist, and when I told him we’d be taking an anti-bacterial drug he warned me that we’d need to ‘stock up’ once again on the friendly bacteria that would have been killed off by the drug.

This is an easy enough task in London, where we have access to fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh. However, in South America it was hard enough for me to locate vegetarian options, let alone gut-friendly foods!

At the end of the course of Doxycycline, I asked Daen for help, and he told me to look for good quality pot-set yoghurts, and to eat plenty of high-fibre vegetables. Unfortunately the only set yoghurts I could find in Ecuador came in pots of a gallon each – not so practical when one has no access to a refrigerator! However, I did find some small yoghurt drinks with some cultures inside.

fullsizeoutput_2e85Daen said that this would help us out a bit, and that the less added sugar, the better.

The next country we travelled to was Peru, and here I had a bit more luck with finding something to help the good bacteria grow.





Daen’s advice was to find a yoghurt that contained as many different cultures as possible, as this would enable our bodies to select the bacteria most beneficial to it.

I was happy therefore to find this yoghurt drink containing six different cultures!

There still remained the issue of finding restaurants that would not only cater for me as a vegetarian, but would be able to provide healthy unprocessed vegetables in a meal.

Our saviour in this instance came in the form of an app that we downloaded onto our phone.

The Happy Cow website proved to be an absolute blessing. Upon arrival in a town or city, we simply entered the zip code of the area and were given a list of the nearest restaurants providing vegan, vegetarian, or veg-friendly options. Even my carnivore partner claimed that the best meals he had were at the restaurants we found with Happy Cow!

Thanks to Daen’s advice, we were able to minimise the effect of the anti-bacterial drugs on our health, and actually since returning home I have continued to try and eat foods that boost gut health. In this way, the trip has marked a change in attitude for me as I’m now a lot more friendly to my friendly bacteria!

Sarah Jayne



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