Travel Tummy: Bus Edition

Ooooh no. Oohhhhh no. Oooo boy. Ummmm. Help! My tummy is not pleased with me!

As many travelers, backpackers, flashpackers, and everyone in between know tummy problems are a real thing! New routines, new diets, different water, sporadic toilets, less exercise, and eating at weird times can make for a really confused body.

Traveling SE Asia means that you will inevitably experience something less than pleasant in the bodily function department. It may take a few days, a few weeks, or even a month, but eventually, you will find yourself running to the toilet or wishing you could plop something into the toilet (depending on which end of the spectrum you find yourself on). The bright side is you’ll certainly have some funny stories to look back on later (even if they’re not so funny in the moment).

If you are like me then you sort of mentally prepare yourself before you leave that you’ll have some issues along the way and realize – once you arrive – that tummy grumbles, cramping, farts, loose poos, and the subsequent stories become normal conversation with travel mates. The stigma around funky bowel movements disappears and some pretty funny stories come out of the woodwork. This also means people empathize with you as you do with them and say “oooo no! That happened to me too”.

As such, the stories began!

Bus Terminal in SE Asia where most busses have no bathrooms
Mersing, Malaysia Bus Terminal

When staying in Uluwatu, Bali we somehow ended up on this topic and two friends we picked up along the way shared a “horror” story of a couple they knew traveling through South America. The couple was going on a long bus ride with no bathroom. (When buses don’t have bathrooms they usually stop every few hours for people to relieve themselves). They got on and got settled into their seats with no problems. A little while later the woman started the “o nooooo” conversation in her head. Something she’d eaten was making her tummy do summersaults and she needed a bathroom immediately.

Her partner went up to the bus driver to see what could be done. He was met with hostility and a “no can do” attitude.

There was no way the bus was stopping.

He returned with the bad news and racked his brain when the pool of panic continued on her face. He decided to make her a pooping compartment right there in case she needed it (true love? Haha). He pulled the luggage aside, covered the opening to their seats, and strung up a large trash bag as a quasi-toilet… She ended up making it to the first bathroom stop (grass on the side of the road…. All the locals were pretty quiet about their business and she sounded a bit like an exploding cannon), just barely, but had another option should she have needed it!

After hearing this story, and actually quite a few others, about bus drivers that wouldn’t stop until they reached their designated potty breaks, we prepared to board our first bus from Kuala Lumpur to Mersing, Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur Bus Terminal

I was nervous about eating food at a restaurant I hadn’t been to yet but didn’t have a choice. It was eating there or starve for 5.5 hours. And if you know me, anything longer than an hour and a half is a bad sign 🙂 so we ate, walked to our bus terminal and awaited our departure.

Our bus departure time came and went (thankfully!!!!) and we were still sitting there. A few minutes later my tummy started to cramp a bit and I thought it would pass. So I took a mild pill just in case. Time to stay positive!

It did not stop…

I ran to the bathroom (they’re quite nice in the KL Station), found a squat toilet (incredibly common in SE Asia), and was sooooo pleased there wasn’t a line.

A few minutes later I heard someone calling my name. A lovely lady I was traveling with had come to find me as our bus had arrived…. crap (no pun intended :p ). Queue panic mode. Do I get on this bus? Do I stay behind? Will I make it? Maybe it’s ok? I have no clue what to do…??

I returned to our terminal where TJ was holding my bag, took an antidiuretic and decided I was getting on the bus. (He did ask if I needed to stay behind though). We handed over our tickets, put our packs below, and climbed onboard.

Travelers tummy pills a must have that saved Alli on this particular journey

No bathroom. Great…

I don’t know if I can do this.

Is it too late to change my mind?

**Bus pulls away** …Yes, yes it is.

I sat down, asked TJ to pull out a Turkish towel for comfort, clutched it in my arms, closed my eyes, and played a soundtrack on repeat in my head “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this”. I wasn’t comfortable but it was manageable.

Next thing I know we’re pulling over. We were only 30 minutes into the ride so something was wrong.

I looked up and the friend who’d come to find me was racing to the restroom. She also had some serious bathroom problems just after we’d driven away from the station. (I was really happy our bus had been delayed and I had the “comfort” of a clean KL bathroom). Her boyfriend went up the bus driver and pleaded for him to find a bathroom. We miraculously stopped 5 minutes later! I was shocked and relieved too.

All the locals were really confused, it was only us two foreigners that got off the bus, but man were we lucky. We ran back to the bus with smiles on our faces, after having to figure out where the bathroom was and were on our merry way. We felt slightly victorious but were hesitant to eat anything else including our snacks. So I went back and forth from being so hungry I’d start to feel nauseous and would eat a bit of food to not wanting to eat anything at all in case I needed a bathroom again. Even so, I survived and we made it to Mersing ready to explore (well after some rest anyway!).

Mersing Malaysia just before sunset with beautiful clouds

In all the travel stories TJ and I have heard we’ve never once heard about a bus driver pulling over when asked. Seems strange, I know, wouldn’t they want to keep their buses clean? Nevertheless, our driver was different and we were incredibly thankful!

Some tips we’ll hold onto for next time:

  1. Eat somewhere you’ve eaten before when you’re getting on a bus (clearly this wasn’t an option for us)
  2. Carry toilet paper (most restrooms in SE Asia don’t have it and a lot of times the bum gun – yes that’s its name – doesn’t work in public restrooms)
  3. Carry some antidiuretic pills with you (best to put them in your wallet or somewhere easily accessible, they saved both of our lives on this trip!)
  4. When the bus does stop get up and go! You may not be able to again for hours.
  5. Thank your bus driver 🙂

When we started blogging I never thought I’d write a blog post about “private” matters or what we’d deem as TMI in the States but there ya go! Welcome to the glorious world of traveling and stomach bugs 😉

Share this: Let us know if you have any questions or funny stories in the comments and be sure to share the stories of your adventures with us on Facebook and Instagram (tag @LifeIsMeantForExploring we will see it). 

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