Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with its frequent and fluctuating symptoms of diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and abdominal pain, is difficult to manage in normal circumstances. Travel can add new challenges, including changes in normal routines, varied access to bathrooms, and changes to diet.
According to a survey of Americans with IBS conducted by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, 26% admitted missing work due to IBS symptoms, and 68% reported they miss leisure activities due to their IBS symptoms.1 Travel, whether for work or pleasure, can be stressful for someone dealing with IBS symptoms.
Because of the lack of control many patients feel with their symptoms, and the lack of control that is often inherent in traveling, it can be helpful to plan ahead before traveling. Things to consider and create more of a sense of control include:
- Medications: Have your medications on hand. Plan to carry some with you at all times, and keep some in your luggage as well.2
- Comfort Kit: Pack a change of clothes, snacks and water to carry with you on airplanes or excursions during the day to be prepared in case luggage is lost or appropriate foods aren’t available during travel.2
- Physician’s information: Keep the contact information for your doctor as well as ordering information for any prescriptions you might need to refill with you.2
- Schedule: As much as possible, create space in your schedule to allow for flexibility, particularly if there’s a time of day when your symptoms are worse. Allow for extra time to get to airports or other scheduled departures to avoid rushing and prevent anxiety.2
- Bathroom Access: On planes, ask to be seated near the bathroom and sit on the aisle. If you’re travelling abroad, realize that some countries do not have publicly available toilets and some are only available for a small fee. Carry extra change with you for these circumstances, and learn how to ask for the toilet in the local language. If travelling on a long road trip, map out highway exits with available restrooms.2 You can also find smart phone applications that can identify where public restrooms are located, such as Charmin’s SitOrSquat Restroom Finder, iExit Interstate Exit Guide, or Bathroom Scout.
- Diet: Try to stick to foods and beverages that you know don’t trigger you. Meals that are high in fat or fried foods can trigger symptoms. Also, coffee, caffeine, and alcohol are common triggers.2
- Manage Stress: Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, getting exercise and doing things you enjoy can all help reduce your stress. These are important whether you’re at home or away. When you’re travelling, don’t try to pack in more than you can do, such as trying to see all the possible sights in a short time frame. The more ease and flexibility you can allow will also keep your stress levels lower.2
- Communicate: If you’re travelling with companions who don’t know you have IBS and don’t know what living with IBS means, communicate with them that you may need to adjust or modify your plans or make an unplanned stop or two. Letting them know ahead of time can reduce frustration for you both. On planes, speak to the flight attendant if you need quick access to the bathroom.
- IBS in the Real World Survey. IFFGD 2002.
- Travel Tips, IFFGD. Accessed online on 4/7/16 at http://www.aboutibs.org/site/living-with-ibs/travel.