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Survey: Americans Getting Sick While on Vacation

Travel restrictions and covid lockdowns are now a thing of the past, and with that, comes the return of vacations. Despite inflation, most Americans are planning a summer vacation this year [1]. In fact, 80% of American adults said they would venture on holiday this year, with younger people most likely to travel internationally [2]. When away from home, many people may want to fully immerse themselves in a new culture and try new food, with data revealing that millennials are eating more adventurously and trying more foreign food [3].

However, trying new cuisines with new flavors and ingredients can sometimes cause stomach problems, not to mention the risk of getting food poisoning. 

To reveal the reality of getting sick abroad – either from food, drink, or other factors – we surveyed over 2,200 Americans, of which 65% of respondents (1,448) said they have experienced an upset stomach caused by food or drink while abroad.   

Key Findings:

  • Over three quarters (78%) of Americans booking a vacation say that their decisions are influenced by food hygiene. 
  • Over half (54.4%) who had stomach troubles, said it ruined between 2 and 3 days of their vacation. 
  • Two in five (43%) claim they’ve had an upset stomach from traveling to Mexico, causing one in three (31%) to say they would avoid vacationing in Mexico based on the worry of getting a stomach bug. 
  • Three in ten Americans (31%) have picked up an upset stomach from food purchased from a non-restaurant food vendor, and another 27% from the hotel or resort they were staying at.
  • One in four (26%) Americans say they’d ‘happily’ drink tap water abroad, risking potential stomach problems. 

Where are people getting stomach bugs on vacation?

Food and water-borne illnesses can occur anywhere – you could go to your favorite local restaurant and still eat some food that isn’t of high quality and makes you ill. However, there are countries where it’s more common, with developing countries posing the highest risk.

The country people said they had experienced stomach problems in the most was Mexico (43.2%) followed by the United Kingdom (33.1%) and Canada (30.7%). You can see the top ten vacation locations people report having stomach troubles in the graphic below: 

Countries Americans would avoid due to stomach sickness fear

We asked respondents another question focused on the countries people would avoid/have avoided due to fears of stomach problems. The answers closely matched the data where people reported having stomach issues with Mexico and the United Kingdom the top two destinations Americans are keen to avoid due to stomach bug fears.

Rank Country Percentage of survey respondents 
1Mexico 31%
2United Kingdom24%
3Canada19.9%
4Italy17.7%
5=India16.5%
5=France16.5%
7China16.3%
8Dominican Republic12.1%
9Germany12%
10Spain11.9%

Who gets sick on vacation the most? 

According to our survey, the American demographic getting the most ill from food and drink abroad the most are the 25-34-year-olds (47.2%), followed by 35-44-year-olds (23.9%). Surprisingly, older travelers (65-74), who are statistically more likely to be experiencing health problems, are getting ill abroad the least.

Women were more likely (54.1%) to report having stomach trouble while abroad compared to men (45.4%). 

When it comes to our survey respondents’ income, the data showed higher earners get sick the least ($80,000 upwards) suggesting that the more money you’re willing to spend on vacation, the less likely you’ll get food poisoning.  

Impact of diets on getting sick abroad

Many people now opt for a meat-free diet. There are many reasons for this such as, religious and cultural beliefs, animal welfare concerns, and health precautions. A growing number of people are also living a meat-free lifestyle in order to help the environment. 

In fact, one in ten (10%) Americans over the age of 18 now consider themselves a vegetarian or vegan as of 2022 [4]. But does opting for a meat-free or plant-based diet correlate with or deter getting stomach troubles while abroad? 

Of the 1,448 people who answered ‘yes’ to getting stomach issues caused by food while abroad, 42% were vegetarian, and 15% were vegan, while three in ten (31%) don’t follow a diet at all. The data may suggest that eating meat, or living a meat-free lifestyle doesn’t actually impact the probability of getting ill abroad.

Food allergies while on vacation

It appears following a diet isn’t the cause of stomach issues abroad, however, it is very common for people to have food allergies that could be having an impact on their stomachs. Studies show about 32 million Americans have food allergies, with 26 million (10%) of those being adults [5]. 

Over a third (38%) of Americans that experience stomach issues abroad self-reported as allergic to cow’s milk, with another 37% allergic to eggs.

Is food hygiene a factor when booking a vacation?

When you have an allergy – specifically one that can have serious consequences such as a nut allergy – there can be worries about food hygiene and cross-contamination. More than one in ten (12%) Americans answered that food hygiene has not been a factor in deciding whether to take a vacation abroad or not. But the majority (78%) said it had been a key factor they consider when booking a vacation. 

The Big Debate:

Bottled water vs. tap water

When going abroad, it’s common for people to wonder if drinking tap water is safe. For example, the majority of European countries have drinkable tap water, meaning you’ll save some money not having to purchase bottled water. 

However, there are a few countries where you should be cautious – this is not to say that the water is polluted or dirty, just that it could affect your system because you haven’t built the immunity that locals have. Some side effects of drinking unsafe water include typhoid and hepatitis A [6].

Of the Americans who have experienced an upset stomach related to food or drink while abroad, two-thirds (66%) answered that they would only drink bottled water, or buy bottled water if it was available suggesting that many people are cautious of this when abroad. Over one in three (31.5%) said they will happily drink tap water when on vacation, indicating many are happy to take the risk.

How much of an impact are stomach bugs having on vacations? 

When people have gotten ill from food or drink abroad it has affected their holiday plans for an average of three days (34.8%), and with the average American getting just six paid holiday days a year [7], half of the average vacation time is stunted by stomach bugs. 

Almost one in ten (9.4%) reported a huge impact of five days on their vacation from stomach troubles.

How are Americans getting stomach bugs while on vacation?

Just 7% of Americans don’t know where they’ve got their upset stomach from. A whopping three in ten (31%) say they have picked it up from food purchased from a vendor other than a restaurant, and another 27% from the hotel or resort they were staying at.

Nearly half (46%) of Americans have made organizations aware when they have picked up an upset stomach, with another 13% taking action by posting their experience online. 

What do people do to ease stomach problems on vacation?

When asked what people would do in such situations, the most common responses were to:

  • Seek local medical help (21.7%)
  • Over-the-counter medicine (19%)
  • Drinking a flat carbonated drink (16.6%) 
  • Drinking an electrolyte drink (15.2%)
  • Natural remedies (10.9%)

Methodology

We surveyed 2,231 American adults between 17th – 21st June 2022, of which 1,448 have experienced stomach issues abroad caused by food or drink, asking them a series of questions about where they got ill, how long they were ill, and the actions they took. 

We surveyed a range of respondents from aged 18 to 65+, to those with different salaries and following different diets to ensure survey responses were representative of Americans. 

Sources

  1. The Vacationer – https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogersands/2022/06/21/despite-inflation-most-americans-are-planning-a-summer-vacation/?sh=68349b975e45 
  2. The Vacationer – https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogersands/2022/06/21/despite-inflation-most-americans-are-planning-a-summer-vacation/?sh=68349b975e45 
  3. Good News Network – https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/millennials-are-eating-more-adventurously-trying-more-foreign-food-and-even-catching-their-own-dinner/ 
  4. Alliance for Science – https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2022/03/1-in-10-americans-say-they-dont-eat-meat-a-growing-share-of-the-population/ 
  5. Asthma and allergy foundation of America – https://www.aafa.org/allergy-facts/#:~:text=They%20are%20milk%2C%20soy%2C%20eggs,food%20allergies%20in%20the%20U.S.&text=About%2026%20million%20(10.8%25)%20U.S.%20adults%20have%20food%20allergies.&text=About%205.6%20million%20(7.6%25)%20U.S.%20children%20have%20food%20allergies.
  6. Harvard Global Support Services – https://www.globalsupport.harvard.edu/travel/advice/food-drink-safety-while-abroad 
  7. Zippia – https://www.zippia.com/advice/paid-holiday-statistics/#:~:text=The%20median%20number%20of%20paid,six%20paid%20holidays%20per%20year

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