Whether it's a day trip or the trip of a lifetime, traveling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be an anxiety-provoking experience. Unfamiliar situations, strange foods, and new environments that disrupt your daily routine can all potentially worsen gut symptoms. If you've ever found yourself desperately searching for a public bathroom in an unfamiliar place, then you know the kind of travel stresses we're talking about.
So, does living with IBS mean you should avoid traveling altogether? Of course not! You just might need to plan your holidays, weekends away, and business trips more carefully than somebody with a reliable digestive tract.
Read on for some trip-saving tips to make your next adventure less stressful.
Travel planning: Before you check your bags, check for toilets
Think about your route beforehand and check the facilities along the way. Different mobile apps can prove very handy when locating the nearest public bathroom, for instance, SitOrSquat, Bathroom Scout, and Flush.
If you are traveling by plane (assuming you're some place where plane travel is still A-OK. Thanks, COVID), make sure you leave early to avoid unnecessary stress at the airport. Ask for the aisle seat close to the toilets. Carry with you an emergency bag with a change of clothes, wet wipes, and toiletries, as well as any medication you might need.
Talk to your doctor before your trip and ask about any medications you could use if your symptoms become severe, either en-route or once you get to your location. Sometimes just having medication available can feel reassuring.
In addition to packing the right things, it can also help to get into the right state of mind. Try mentally preparing yourself for the trip, for example you can visualize your journey to prepare the body for the upcoming change.
In much the same way, hypnotherapy can help you mentally prepare and respond to stressful travel situations by helping you relax and lower the body's stress responses. Portable hypnotherapy programs, such as the Nerva app, are easy to use while you travel.
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Food planning: Leave adventure on the map, not your plate
While that spicy paella might look delicious, traveling may not be the best time to experiment with new foods. If you're likely to be tempted to try the local cuisine, decide how much risk you want to take and give yourself time to recover should you experience a flare. If keeping your digestion in check is a top priority, it's probably best to eat smart, avoid your trigger foods, and plan your meals. Also, don't forget to stay hydrated!
Some other things that can make your journey more comfortable include:
- Eating regular, small meals
- Keeping your breakfast as consistent as possible
- Bringing some IBS-safe snacks with you in your daypack/handbag
- Checking the online menu before you get to a restaurant so you'll know if they have something IBS-friendly to order
Travel companions: How an honest talk can solve a stressful trip
If you feel comfortable enough with your travel buddies, tell them about your condition and how it may affect your trip. Being upfront can reduce tension and make you feel more relaxed. Plus, if you're open about your needs, it'll be easy to discuss making changes to plans later on — especially if you need to swap something like a hiking adventure for a recovery day.
Other tips for traveling
- Always carry some coins with you. In some places, you might need change to pay to use a public bathroom.
- If you are traveling abroad, find out how to say, "Where is the nearest toilet?" in the local language. It can also help know the words for foods you want to eat or want to avoid.
- Stretch your legs whenever you can, and keep up your exercise routine.
- Wear comfortable clothes that won't restrict your gut while walking.
- Adventure may be calling, but try and avoid too many late nights if you know sleep deprivation aggravates your symptoms.
And, of course, don't forget to have as much fun as possible!
The Wrap Up
Don't put your travel plans on permanent hold because of IBS. With a little bit of pre-planning and open conversations, you can ensure a safe, happy, and healthy trip. Some small changes, like packing emergency medications, checking for bathroom locations in advance, and sticking to trigger-free foods, can make a big difference to your overall comfort. Importantly, remember to talk to your travel companions about your condition and your needs to cut out extra stress and make more room for fun.