Top 10 Tips for Traveling With IBS

The rigors of travel, anxiety about bathroom access, strange foods, and disrupted sleep schedules can all serve to exacerbate the discomforts of IBS symptoms. Luckily, there are things you can do to maximize your comfort level as you venture forth.  

1

Get Mentally Prepared

Woman backpacking by the ocean

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In addition to making your basic travel arrangements, take some time to visualize yourself successfully handling the challenges you will face. Mental rehearsal is an effective tool for athletic success—you can also use it to prepare your body for your upcoming trip.

In a quiet place, sit calmly and relax your body. Close your eyes and walk yourself through the trip. This will allow you to identify the aspects that are of particular concern to you. Open your eyes and develop a plan for handling any "worst case" scenarios.

Close your eyes again and rehearse your plan. Visualize yourself handling all challenges in a relaxed, confident manner. This will greatly enhance your ability to stay calm as you make your way through your trip.

2

Make a Plan

Man packing for a trip

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People are often unwilling to do things out of the ordinary to cope with a chronic condition, thinking that they are “giving in” to their disorder. On the contrary, taking active steps to deal with any difficult scenarios can be quite empowering and calming.

And as you know, anything that you can do to calm your body is only going to have a positive effect on your digestive system. Try this:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider. Prior to your trip, consult your healthcare provider about prescription options for treating any severe symptoms. Ask your provider for advice about using over-the-counter products (OTCs)—such as Imodium for diarrhea or laxatives for constipation—to help minimize your discomfort. You may not need them, but knowing they are available can greatly contribute to peace of mind.
  • Pack smart. Some items to include could be IBS-friendly snacks (like nuts, gluten-free bars, and trail mix), baby wipes, a change of clothes, and prescription or over-the-counter medications. You may also want to use an incontinence product, such as Depends. If you are heading out for a road trip, you may want to invest in a small portable toilet to keep in the trunk of your car.
  • Map out bathroom access. There are now many helpful bathroom-finding apps for your mobile device. Knowing ahead of time where bathrooms can be found can certainly help to keep your anxiety level down.
3

Eat Smart

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Travel can be stressful in and of itself, and travel often throws our eating habits out of whack.

It can be a challenge to find healthy, gut-friendly foods while on the move. However, many fast food places now offer some healthier options such as grilled chicken, salads, and smoothies. Whenever possible, avoid junk food and fried foods as they can serve to set off unwanted symptoms. 

4

Practice Keeping Your Body Relaxed

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Because travel can be stressful, it becomes imperative that you engage in activities that will help to offset that stress. Relaxation exercises are an easy way to do just that, and they can be very effective in keeping yourself calm.

As with all things, you get better with practice. Try out various techniques to figure out which type of relaxation exercise works best for you and then practice, practice, practice!

5

Confide in Your Companions

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Dealing with IBS is hard enough. Don’t make it worse for yourself by trying to hide your distress from your traveling companions. If you will need special accommodations, speak up! You have a legitimate medical disorder and therefore you have a right to make sure that you will be as comfortable as possible.

Remember, most people have a true desire to be helpful. IBS is very common, so you might be surprised to find out that someone else is dealing with the very same thing. You can simply say, "I have a digestive disorder that sometimes causes me to get sick when I travel. Therefore I need to be careful about what I eat, and I may need to spend some extra time in the bathroom." 

6

Pay Attention to Your Body Clock

Woman checking her watch in an airport

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Optimally, the mechanisms in our bodies that regulate sleep, appetite, and bowel movements all function according to an internal rhythm. Travel, particularly across time zones, can throw off your body’s clock and thus set off some IBS symptoms. In particular, traveling can raise your risk of getting constipated.

Similar to the importance of putting a newborn on a schedule, try to respect and pay attention to your body’s need for predictability. Try to maintain some consistency in your mealtimes and bedtimes.

7

Move Your Body

Man walking quickly in airport

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Whenever possible, engage in some light exercise. A proven stress reliever, it will feel good to get your blood pumping and your muscles and joints moving. Stretch your legs at a rest stop or walk around the airplane terminals. Avoid an unusually intense workout during times of travel as you do not want to put further stress on your body.

8

Stay Hydrated

Woman drinking water in a kitchen

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Dehydration is a very real risk of traveling, particularly on airplanes. Adequate fluid intake is crucial for optimum digestion. If you don't drink enough water, you put yourself at risk of becoming constipated.

Similarly, if you are prone to diarrhea episodes, you will need to replenish any fluids lost in your repeated trips to the bathroom. Drink plenty of bottled water throughout your trip. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine—in addition to contributing to dehydration, they can be irritating to your digestive system.

9

Avoid Infection

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The last thing you want to do is to complicate your already challenging health situation by exposing yourself to an unwanted infection, commonly known as travelers' diarrhea. Especially if traveling abroad, protect yourself by doing the following:

  • Drink (and brush your teeth) with only bottled or boiled water.
  • Avoid street vendors or other unhygienic food sources.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked vegetables and fruits.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked​ meats and seafood.
  • Avoid ice in your beverages, as ice may also contain contaminated water.
  • Carry hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol to clean hands before eating.
10

Have Fun!

friends taking selfies

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In spite of the rigors, travel is filled with many life-enhancing and enjoyable benefits. The rewards can be tremendous! And while IBS can be an isolating disorder, taking the steps to get out into the world in spite of discomfort can be extremely empowering. See each excursion as a success regardless of how you felt, or what symptoms you experienced.

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  1. Shepherd L, Edwards SL. The effects of flying: processes, consequences and prevention. Br J Nurs. 2004;13(1):19-29. doi:10.12968/bjon.2004.13.Sup4.16347