Traveling for anyone can be stressful, but traveling with IBS presents many challenges that can make any trip feel overwhelming and un-enjoyable. Whether you're traveling for work or for leisure, you should be able to enjoy your trip without having the weight of a potential IBS flare-up on your shoulders. Here are some tips to help manage your IBS and leave your worries at home while you take your dream vacation!
Getting on a plane with IBS can be stressful, especially for people who are diarrhea-prone. Stress is known to exacerbate already existing IBS symptoms, so stress-reduction techniques are a must before a flight. Try out these techniques to ensure you have a smooth trip:
- Meditate before your flight. Making sure you're in a good head space before getting on the plane is key to reducing stress.
- Download a calming playlist or meditation app to listen to on your flight. Keeping your brain busy with calming material will help keep your mind off of a potential IBS flare-up.
- Choose an aisle seat. If you're diarrhea-prone, having an aisle seat is essential to reducing the stress involved with potentially not having access to a bathroom when you really need it. In addition, this alleviates some of the pressure that comes along with constantly asking your neighbor to get up so you can use the bathroom.
They say you should be at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight. If you have IBS, give yourself at least this much time or more to ensure you have enough time to get to your gate, relax, and use the bathroom if need be. The last thing you want is to be running through the airport only to get to your gate and experience an IBS flare-up because your stress levels are so high.
Learn the local language
This doesn't mean you have to be fluent in French before you go on your luxurious trip to Paris, but you should learn four important words: "Where is the restroom?". Also, since some countries have pay toilets, make sure you always have spare change on you- in the country's currency of course.
Keep your routine
The human body appreciates a routine, especially when you have IBS. Your GI system can be easily thrown off by a change in routine, causing your IBS to flare up. Try focusing on these three important routines while you're away:
- Food: If you have regular meal and snack times at home, make sure you stay consistent with those on your trip. Do the best you can if you find yourself in a significantly different time zone.
- Exercise: If you have an exercise routine that you stick to in your daily life, make sure you keep up with that as well! Your body will be craving some normalcy during your travels.
- Sleep: Make sure you're getting as much sleep as you did at home! It's easy to deprive yourself of sleep when you're traveling, but make sure you're keeping your normal routine.
Pack an emergency bag
Having a bag with emergency items will ensure that you have items with you in case of an IBS flare-up. Even if you don't use anything, it will provide some stress-relief knowing that you're prepared. Here are some items to consider packing in your emergency bag:
- Imodium if you're diarrhea-prone or stool softeners if you're constipation-prone. If you have a mixture of symptoms, bring both!
- Non-perishable, high-fiber snacks like protein bars
- A change of clothes or just an extra pair of underwear
- Toilet paper or wipes
- Water bottles
Stock up on "safe" foods
Different foods are helpful for different types of IBS. Make sure you pack things that are travel-friendly. For people who have IBS-D, you may want to pack things that slow your GI movement like oatmeal packets or dried figs. For people who experience IBS-C, you may wants to pack some ground flaxseed or nuts and seeds. This can be sprinkled on yogurt, in liquids, salads, cooked vegetables, or cereals.
Dehydration is common with travel, especially on airplanes. If you have IBS-C, make sure you're hydrating to combat constipation. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have IBS-D, you will need to be hydrating to prevent dehydration from diarrhea. If you're traveling to another country, make sure you're drinking bottled water, since your body may not react well to tap water from other places. In addition, try to avoid caffeine and alcohol, these tend to be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract.
Do your research
- If you're driving, know how much travel time is in between rest stops. There are also restroom locating apps you can download now to ensure you can find a restroom when you need it most.
- Know the common ingredients in the local cuisine so you aren't surprised when you get there. It can be helpful to know of some local foods that contain ingredients that will not exacerbate your IBS symptoms.
- If you're planing on doing tours or excursions during your trip, make sure you ask a lot of questions before booking it. Ask questions related to restroom access, food stops and options, total length of the tour, and travel to and from the location.
Have you joined our IBS Support Group yet? Led by Kaitlyn Willwerth MS, RD, use this Q&A group as a forum to learn from experts and support the community.
Kaitlyn Willwerth is a Registered Dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. Kaitlyn's work focuses on providing individualized health and lifestyle coaching and, most importantly, support. She is a Certified LEAP Therapist and has also completed the Monash University 'Low FODMAP Diet for IBS' online training course for health professionals.