How to prevent Bali Belly

Bali Belly, Delhi Belly or Montezuma's revenge. Call it what you will, but every traveller can agree that stomach illnesses are a sure way to take the shine off your hard-earned holiday.

We all know the symptoms. The sweaty palms, the gurgling stomach, the panicked dash to the nearest toilet and all the joy that follows. Indonesia has so many beautiful things to offer, but Bali Belly certainly isn’t one of them.

But what exactly causes Bali Belly and what can you do to avoid it?

In this article, we look into five common causes of stomach illnesses overseas, simple ways to reduce your chances of catching one, and medicines that can help you along the way.


What is Bali Belly?


Bali Belly is another name given to travellers’ diarrhoea, which can be caused by consuming bacteria found in contaminated food and water. There are many online resources that list the symptoms of Bali Belly, which can include stomach discomforts like:

  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea

And other ailments like:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Lost appetite

It’s often caught within the first week of travel, as your body tries to adjust to new environments and new bacteria. Bali Belly can often clear up within a matter of days. However, more serious cases can require hospitalisation if you become severely dehydrated.

Is Bali Belly contagious?

The bacteria, parasites and viruses that cause Bali Belly can be transmitted between people and also in food and water.

So if you’re caring for someone who is sick, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, avoid touching your face, and don’t share food and drinks.


Common causes


A lot of things can cause travellers’ diarrhoea. Some are easy to avoid if you’re especially careful, but others can be put down to plain bad luck. Below are five common causes of Bali Belly and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Contaminated food

Bacteria thrives in hot and humid environments like Bali, which is why food can spoil faster than at home.

Food can become contaminated when it's:

  • Not stored and refrigerated correctly before cooking
  • Not prepared correctly during cooking
  • Not kept at the right temperature after cooking
  • Reheated after cooking
  • Handled by an infected person

To reduce your risks of ingesting contaminated food, avoid eating:

  • Undercooked meat and seafood
  • Street food
  • Buffets
  • Peeled fruit
  • Raw salads
  • Cold or lukewarm food that should be hot

2. Contaminated water

Next to food, contaminated water is one of the most common causes of Bali Belly. Tap water in the country is inconsistent in quality, so it’s recommended that all travellers stick to bottled water.

To reduce your risks of ingesting contaminated water, avoid:

  • Ice in your drinks
  • Eating foods washed in tap water
  • Wet plates, cutlery and glasses
  • Brushing your teeth from the tap
  • Getting shower water in your mouth and eyes

Unfortunately, the need for bottled water is a key driver of Bali’s pollution problems. To reduce your environmental footprint:

  • Consider using a personal filtration system, which can make contaminated water safer to drink.
  • Carry your bottles until you’re able to recycle them. Many hotels and restaurants have recycling facilities you can use.
  • If you can’t avoid using single-use plastic bottles, choose large bottles to reduce the overall number you need.

3. Poor hygiene

Like many other illnesses, the bacteria that can cause Bali Belly can be passed from person to person. Poor hygiene is a sure way to increase your risk of contracting a stomach bug and can be avoided by:

  • Always washing your hands with sanitiser before eating
  • Avoiding touching your face with unclean hands
  • Not sharing food and drink

4. Change in diet

A dramatic change in diet can also be enough to trigger an upset stomach. Exploring new cuisines is one of the most exciting things about travelling, but if you’re not accustomed to certain flavours and food groups, this can sometimes prove too much for your tummy to handle.

To be kind to your stomach, remember to:

  • Ease into the local cuisine by choosing familiar foods
  • Avoid local favourites like sambal if you’re not accustomed to spicy food. If you don’t want your meal to include the spicy chilli paste, you can ask for “tanpa sambal”, which means “without sambal”.

5. Change in environment

Travelling can be physically demanding and take a toll on your immune system, especially while you adjust to unfamiliar environments. The combination of Bali’s hot and humid tropical climate, adjusting to a new time zone, and the stress and excitement inherent in travel can make your body more vulnerable to infection.

Ease into the new environment by:

  • Avoiding strenuous activities as soon as you arrive
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol and drinking plenty of water
  • Gradually decreasing the amount of air conditioning you use while indoors


Can medicine treat and prevent Bali Belly?


There’s currently no magic cure for Bali Belly or a vaccine proven to prevent it entirely, as it can be caused by several different things. However, there are over-the-counter medicines that may be effective in treating its symptoms and reducing your risk of contracting stomach illnesses.

Talk to your GP about the best medication to prevent and treat stomach illnesses. It’s still possible to contract travellers’ diarrhoea even with the help of these medicines, so don’t become complacent with your food choices and hygiene.


How to recover from Bali Belly


If you’ve been struck by a stomach bug, it’s essential that you treat your body correctly to get back on your feet. While the thought of food might put you off, it’s important to replace the electrolytes you may have lost through diarrhoea and vomiting.

According to WebMD, the ‘BRAT’ diet is a common way to recover from diarrhoea:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Apple sauce
  • Toast

Things to avoid while you still feel under the weather include:

  • Spicy food
  • Dairy
  • Alcohol
  • Fatty foods


How travel insurance can help

If you need to go to hospital or you think you might incur medical expenses overseas that are likely to exceed $2,000, you or someone acting on your behalf will need to contact Southern Cross Emergency Assistance for prior approval as soon as possible on +61 2 9191 1180.

We will be able to review your claim, and subject to you meeting the terms and conditions of your policy, organise emergency evacuation if necessary, provide the hospital with a payment guarantee so you don’t have to pay up-front, and keep your family back home informed of your situation.

Keep hold of your receipts and any doctor’s notes as we will need to see these alongside your claim.

If you need to visit a GP for a minor medical reason, you don’t need to contact Southern Cross Emergency Assistance. Instead, simply pay your account and claim.


The content of this article is general and provided for information purposes only. It is not intended to be medical advice. Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI) doesn’t guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness or currency of the articles.

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