Most of the physical ailments associated with travel (travelers' diarrhea, jet lag, and the like) have no known cure. Over the years, I've tried every conceivable remedy for jet lag, and none of them work. In under-developed nations I have also been cautious at meals and snacks, passing up street food, eating no uncooked salad ingredients, peeling the fruit served to me, and still I have encountered occasional stomach problems.
So can you imagine the excitement I've felt over a recent suggestion for warding off travelers' diarrhea, from a noted expert in all things medical? She is Jane Brody, a long-time weekly columnist in personal health for the New York Times, who appeared as a guest on the weekly radio program presented by myself and my daughter (see www.frommers.com/podcast/ for the podcast if your local station doesn't carry it).
In an act of sheer courage, grandmother Jane Brody recently took her four grandsons (the oldest being 15 years of age) on an African safari in Tanzania, a country that you would certainly regard as undeveloped. Tanzania is not known for the antiseptic quality of its meals, or the drinkability of its water, especially for people spending a week or so in the bush, far away from cities and in areas where refrigeration is virtually absent, on a safari.
And yet, apart from warning the boys about drinking the local water (more about that later), she and they ate the food that was served them, without fear, without taking any special precautions (like making sure each plate was of hot food that had been boiled or roasted). And yet all five of them--grandmother Jane Brody and her four charges—passed the entire week without incident, without the slightest bit of discomfort, without a twinge of travelers' diarrhea. How?
Well, it's true that they avoided drinking untreated water. She required that they restrict their intake of fluids to water that came out of a capped bottle that had never been opened. She cautioned them about never opening their mouths while taking a shower, and was especially concerned with one young fellow who liked to sing in the shower. He was warned over and over never to open his mouth during that daily routine.
So how did they avoid travelers' diarrhea? Prior to every meal, they chewed tablets of Pepto Bismol (which is often sold in drugstores under other names). Jane Brody had brought along 15 tablets per person of the familiar pills, for the five-day duration of the safari. And would you believe? Eating everything placed before them by the waiters at their lodge, taking no precautions whatever (except for water) as far as eating was concerned, they all enjoyed five days of safari in the wilderness and jungles of Tanzania without encountering the slightest stomach-associated discomfort.
Now I have no idea who manufactures Pepto Bismol or its many other brands. I haven't the slightest interest in those companies. But I will certainly remind myself to bring along that medication the next time I go on a trip that ventures away from cities into the bush—in the Caribbean, in Africa, in India, wherever. And you will find me chewing those distinctive pink-colored tablets in the minutes just before taking my first forkful of food. That's how highly I regard the advice of the distinguished Jane Brody (but do consult your doctor about your own possible difficulty in taking Pepto Bismol; there are some conditions with which it cannot be combined).
But now, I hope she'll discover a remedy for jet lag.