A friend of mine recently told me about the harrowing experience he had on transpacific flight he had just taken. He had gotten sick from some oysters he had the night before at a “have a nice flight back to paradise” party, and spent the entire flight “enjoying” an unexpected bonus – a second seat, free of charge: the airplane bathroom (lavatory, washroom, can, John, throne, loo, bog, rest room, water closet – in other words, not where you’d want to be).
He was the only one who had gotten sick, despite several people eating the same oysters (not lady and the tramp-style).
When he told me, my response was cold and unsympathetic: that’s what you get for eating oysters before a flight.
But inside, I was full of empathy. I recalled the joyless week I spent cooped up in a Balinese resort, which I had to check into on the day I intended to leave, because the “extrusion” from some really bad oysters – oysters I had eaten in the same restaurant time and time again – was so bad, I couldn’t even make it to the car.
Although we both had oyster disasters in common, they’re far from the only cause of gastronomical distress. If you have the luxury of being on solid ground when it hits, the still-harrowing experience can at least be managed, with all the niceties and conveniences of home (or resorts).
However, if you happen to have a flight you have to make, I can guarantee you’re in for a rough time. You’ll definitely get a seat with more leg room, but in a much smellier way than you’d like.
While it’s natural to want to celebrate leaving a place (whatever you’re technically celebrating – sometimes it literally is the fact that you’re leaving a place where you’d rather not be any more) by indulging in the local cuisine, there are some things to avoid so that you don’t get sick on airplanes.
Don’t worry, you won’t find trite suggestions here, like skipping red meat, chips (crisps), or soda (pop) – instead, this list focuses on what not to eat, so that you don’t end up puking and soiling your way from city to city.
Here’s what not to eat before a flight:
#1: Raw Meat/Fish (Like Oysters)
The protagonist of our story. I love oysters, but they are too unpredictable.
Even if you’ve eaten them at the same place many times before (as I had done in Bali), and even if it’s an established, highfalutin place, there are too many variables with oysters, to trust them before a flight.
While oysters can be a particularly ominous case (even when cooked), there is a risk involved with eating any raw food. Although sushi (et al.) will generally be okay (it always depends on the place), I would avoid getting too adventurous with the raw animal-based protein.
#2: Street Food
You remember that one time you had that thing over by that place?
Oh man, it was amazing!
It looked so interesting, you had to have it, and you’re so glad you tried it. Now, you won’t be back for a while, and you should go get some one more time, because it was so unique and delicious, you just know you won’t find it anywhere else.
Recipe for disaster.
Street food, while often delicious and sometimes interesting, is not the most sanitary of stuff – and frequently, far from it.
If you really, really want to try that thing “one last time” before you go, do it in advance – though, remember, you can always come back!
#3: Holes in Walls
There are some true gems to be found where there are holes in walls – but remember, holes in walls also sometimes have rats (in this case, both metaphorically and literally).
It’s the same situation as street food, through and through:
“Oh, remember that great little tiny itsy-bitsy place where they…”
It’s an alluring proposition, to soak up some “local charm” before you go. But, just like street food, sanitary conditions are often lacking at hole in the wall establishments, and so there is a risk that you take by going to them right before a flight.
#4: Last Minute Experiments
“Let’s have the monkey brains, what could go wrong?”
Look, there are some super weird, super interesting foods you’ll really want to try while traveling.
And please, have at it.
Exotic delicacies are one of the best parts about travel (I love me some durian), but do it while you have time to spare; experimenting with some strange thing you’ve never tried, the night before a flight, is a recipe for disaster (except durian, have that whenever – in fact, all the time if you’d like).
Not in the sense of white sauce vs. red sauce – but maybe try a day or two without monkey brains, if at all possible.
#5: Expired Food
When you’re about to leave, you may be tempted to clean out your fridge. Just remember to check the expiry dates, and use your nose on those leftovers – what’s left may be some of the oldest things in there, and things don’t magically stop expiring just because you’re traveling! In some places, they expire faster than you’re used to, due to sub-standard storage conditions – be it before it gets to you, or simply not setting your fridge temperature to be cold enough.
#6: Curries, and Other Diarrhea-Causing Foods
While not as severe as getting actual food poisoning, or truly violent diarrhea, taking the risk of eating curries, and other types of foods you know to give you “normal” diarrhea still has a likelihood of making your plane ride quite unpleasant. You may not be wincing in pain, but you’ll still make good friends with the “luxury seats” on either end of the plane.
#7: Beans, and Other Gas-Causing Foods
Ever had broccoli farts?
Burger farts are the creepiest, because they smell like hot & “fresh” burgers (especially from Burger King… makes you wonder).
And you know what, nobody wants to smell burgers on a plane. While farting a lot isn’t anywhere near as severe as the effects from the other items on the list, I thought I would add them at the end as a PSA for the sake of all people flying in airplanes everywhere all the time.
The polite ones will go to the bathroom for their gas (and so you’ll save some trips to your “gratis seat upgrade”), and the rest will reason “there are like 8 other people in my immediate vicinity, at least 7 of them won’t know who did it”.
Don’t be that person.
There are a lot of foods that can cause gas, but those “top 800,000 foods that cause gas” lists are guidelines, because not every body reacts the same way. If you could try to avoid the kinds of foods you know are going to make you gassy on the plane, please do – we all appreciate it, and thank you in advance.
Have a Happy Trip!
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Man, I’m screwed if I go to India” (and also, “Jeez, what happened to that guy to make him go off like that on plane farts? Nobody ever says anything to me when I fart all over the plane all the time.”), but fret not, because, believe it or not, there are plenty of options besides oysters, street food, hole in the wall establishments, or (in order of severity) monkey brains/curry/beans.
The recommendation is simple: when you’re about to set off for an extended period of locomotion – be it on a plane, train, bus, or automobile – stay on the safe side, and stick to what you know.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean you should camp out in your local McDonalds, stick to places with conservative menus and plenty of good reviews (that is, both quality, and quantity!) – or, though not as glamorous, eat in (just try to avoid food from any open-air meat/fish markets) – for a couple of days prior to your trip.
To make the most of it, you can even take the opportunity to eat in a type of place you wouldn’t have otherwise, in the name of staying sanitary.
The safer you want to be (and the slower you travel), the more you can extend out that timeline – remember, one plate of bad oysters knocked me out of commission for a week! I really would have made the lavatory my main seat on the plane, if I had an upcoming flight (more than likely, though, I would have cancelled the flight, and checked to see if “death by oyster” was covered by my insurance).
While enjoying exotic eats is one of the best parts of travel, it’s best to treat your time doing literal travel (locomotion) as sanctimonious, and put down your adventurer’s cap for a couple days (sacrifice, if you will), to make sure those trips go smoothly – especially where you’re confined to a specific vehicle, such as a plane, train, or bus, with potentially questionable, but undoubtedly heavily shared “relief facilities” (even road trips can be severely deterred by sudden sickness).
You will hopefully have enough time to be adventurous, and try everything you want (and a lot more you didn’t expect!) during the rest of your time traveling. When it comes to flying, however, by staying safe, you’ll fly better, and live to land leisurely in your looming location.