• Oct 09, 2017
  • by April Muir

We've all heard the warnings not to drink the water in Mexico and other developing countries… and most of us know somebody who has ignored this advice and ended up spending their vacation on the toilet.

Enter Montezuma's Revenge

If a person has had a truly horrible experience on vacation, chances are Montezuma’s Revenge was to blame. However, there are precautions which can be taken to prevent this illness and ensure you have an enjoyable vacation. In this post, we cover the causes of travelers diarrhea, what you can expect, and ways you can prevent this experience.

What is Montezuma’s Revenge?

Montezuma’s Revenge is a slang term for travelers diarrhea (TD), and is a gastrointestinal infection. TD is an illness which causes several soft or runny bowel movements per day while travelling abroad or camping.

In addition to the actual diarrhea, you can expect severe stomach cramps, fever, bloating, and nausea.

At times you may find blood in the stool. This is sometimes a sign of Cholera and should be considered serious. Most cases of TD last four or five days, while a small percentage can last over a week. Typically, TD will start abruptly. However, certain forms can take up to two weeks before showing symptoms. In most cases medical treatment is not needed – but it’s just plain miserable!

What Causes Travelers Diarrhea?

In the majority of cases of TD, bacteria is the cause of the symptoms. In most countries enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (E.coli) is the bacteria to blame, however you may find TD caused by Campylobacter in Southeast Asia.

Additional causes of TD can be norovirus or protozoa such as Giardia. These pathogens can be found in the water in Mexico, South America, Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

People living in these areas have developed an immunity to TD, but people travelling from parts of North America or Europe have no tolerance for the pathogens. Young adults are the most vulnerable to TD.


How Do I Avoid Montezuma’s Revenge

In most cases, Travelers Diarrhea is due to fecal matter coming in contact with drinking water. Because of this, third world countries are not the only place you will contract Montezuma’s Revenge.

If you are camping and are not careful with latrine location and use, campsite water can be contaminated. In addition, drinking from many wilderness water sources can cause TD. Unless you are drinking fresh rainwater, spring water, or snow melt, you must assume the water source will cause some degree of TD.


Treatment for Traveler’s Diarrhea

The largest risk with TD is dehydration. Therefore, the primary treatment for this illness is consuming lots of clean drinking water and replacing electrolytes.
In rare cases, TD can be life threatening and can require medical treatment. If symptoms continue for more than five days or continue to become more intense, you should seek medical care. It has also been determined that TD may cause irritable bowel syndrome and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Believe it or not, somewhere between 20% and 50% of travelers going to developing countries will contract some form of TD.

Vacation Is Actually a Good Time to Recover

When contracting TD while on vacation, in some instances, you are in a prime scenario for recovery. The two main things you need to recover from travelers diarrhea are rest and clean water. Normally vacationers have plenty of time for rest and have access to bottled water if needed.

However, contracting TD when camping or in a survival scenario is much more serious. Often people are already dehydrated in these scenarios due to hiking and sun exposure. Then, once Montezuma’s Revenge kicks in they are in even more danger.

In many cases bottled water is limited and a quality opportunity for rest is not available. This is why prevention is important not just so you enjoy your vacation, but in some cases so your life is not in danger.

Prevent Montezuma’s Revenge

Almost all cases of TD are related to tainted water. Because of this, your options are limited as far as prevention. Unfortunately, prevention is really your only option. Once you are in the throes of Montezuma’s Revenge, all you can really do is ride it out. 

Of course, drinking nothing but bottled or properly purified water is an excellent way to prevent TD. However bottled water is expensive and adds a huge amount of weight to a pack or suitcase.

Therefore, you are best to use water purification methods on the water sources that are available to you.

Options for Clean Drinking Water While Traveling

Boiling is a purification method that has been used for thousands of years. Whether you are staying in a motel, camping in a tent, or just trying to survive, boiling is an option.

However, boiling water in the wild can be difficult. It often requires a pot or other metal container, a large fire, and waiting about 30 minutes.

Kelly Kettle is a Great Water Boiling System

One option to consider is a boiling kettle such as the Kelly Kettle. This kit only uses a small handful of sticks in a contained stove. The kettle itself is hollow and works to create a rocket stove. All of the heat is drawn up through the hole in the kettle heating a much larger surface area than a standard kettle.

It only takes a few minutes to boil water, (usually 4-5) uses minimal natural fuel, contains the fire for safety, and even allows you to cook food on top of the kettle or using their Hobo Stove accessory. I recently reviewed the product and was very impressed.

Chemical Purification of Water – Good, Bad, Gross?

Chemical purification is an option if you have liquid iodine, bleach, or iodine tablets with you. However, it takes 30 minutes before the water is ready to drink. It also affects the flavor of the water, and is not healthy to drink over a long period of time.

You can purify water with UV light by setting plastic bottles of water in the sun all day, but you must wait before you can drink. I also worry that leaching of the plastic in the water bottles will leach into your bottled water, but that's a whole different post.

You can build your own filter with charcoal and sand in a plastic bottle. You can even dig a proximity well next to a body of water so the soil does the filtering for you. However, these other options are not nearly as effective as you would hope, are time consuming and take some work. They can be effective in a pinch, but I prefer other purification methods.

Travelers Best Choice for Clean Drinking Water

This brings us to manufactured water filters. In my mind, this is the best option for purification on vacation or in the wild. There are a variety of different types of filters to consider for your personal needs. They are all designed to filter debris, viruses, bacteria, and chemicals to 99.99% as per EPA standards.

NOTE: Most importantly – make sure the brand of water filter you choose works! Many water filter companies on the market make claims about what their water filters will do – and they are bunk. Make sure the test results are provided for you to see that the water purification system you spend your money on will provide safe, clean drinking water! In other words, if your filter is claiming it will filter 100,000 gallons... think before buying.

Straw Filter Options

The smallest option is a straw style filter. These can fit in your pocket and allow you to lie down next to a water source and take a drink. I love how compact they are, but some can be a little hard on your mouth because of the suction required. I am also not a fan of lying on the ground.

Pump Style Filters

Pump style filters are great if you have containers to fill or if you just need a quick drink. An option I really like is the Sagan XStream Straw. Sagan Life makes a combination Straw Filter and Water Pump, It’s quite versatile. Check out the XStream Straw Water Purifier.

This filter allows you to put one end of a tube into the water source and then use a pump to push the water through the filter and then out another tube into a container. You can also just drink through it like a straw without lying on the ground. It extends to 4" long.  

Water Purification Bottles – Ideal for Travel

Finally, we come to water filter bottles. This is by far my favorite way to get clean drinking water while traveling. A trustworthy water filter bottle allows you to dip the bottle in any source of water, get water from a gas station bathroom, or water from supposedly safe sources when traveling abroad, cap it off, and carry it with you.

My choice for the best water purification bottle for travel is the Sagan Journey Water Purifier Bottle. Extremely trustworthy, tested and proven!

The filter is built into the lid, so the water is filtered with every drink you take. The Sagan Journey bottle has a soft mouthpiece that is easy on the mouth, and the design allows you to drink when lying down or standing up. This bottle has a plastic cover on top to keep the mouthpiece clean, and has a rubber grip so you will not drop it when wet.

I Use MY Journey Water Bottle Everyday – Everywhere

The bottle is nice enough in appearance to take sightseeing, take it to the hotel gym, on a cruise or to the business center and nobody would know it was a filter bottle. I use mine at home, at the office, and when travelling. I also reviewed this product during a survival challenge and would highly recommend it.


Plan Ahead to Steer Clear of Montezuma's Revenge

In the end, the most important point I can emphasize is to know the fate you face if you are not prepared. Before you travel or go camping, have a plan to ensure you are drinking water which will completely steer clear of Montezuma’s Revenge.