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Smooth Sailing: How To Travel With IBS

IBS is difficult to handle in the privacy of your home, much less on the road. Dreading the family road trip for an upcoming holiday? Travel always has its positives and pitfalls, and IBS can make it seem like a headache. Besides being away from a familiar bathroom, long car rides, plane flights or new cities bring different foods that can put you at risk for a symptom flare-up. Travel is one of the joys of life and, with a little planning, can be an enriching and enjoyable experience for people with IBS. If you are planning on taking a road trip or flight, read on for ways to help minimize your discomfort and anxiety. Don’t be afraid to hit the road!

Build a pre-trip anxiety haven

Stress can exacerbate IBS and cause your body to react to foods that normally wouldn’t give you any trouble.1 To help counteract this, identify what has stressed you out about travel in the past. Don’t like coming home to a messy house? Try cleaning and organizing before you leave so you can return from your travels stress-free. If just planning the trip stresses you out, ask for help from others going on the trip to plan the itinerary. Even kids can help plan! This has the added bonus of giving everyone a voice in planning, which helps keep spirits high throughout the trip. If the day of departure is always a frenzy, give everyone the goal of being packed and ready the night before (or even 2 days ahead). This way, there’s no scrambling in the morning, and it ensures you have plenty of time to get where you need to be. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in traffic on the way to the airport wondering if you’re going to make that flight. Managing these preventable stressors can help keep your IBS at bay.

Plan your meals ahead of time

Research food options before you head out the door. Most restaurants put their menus online, making it easy to find places that will have meals you can indulge in. This gives you some time to figure out what you need and gives you a leg up on ordering! If you are traveling to a different country, look into what types of foods and dishes you’ll be able to find easily, and what options are not for you. Consider downloading a translator app on your phone in the event there are words on the menu you can’t decipher.

Safe snacks

In case you don’t have any good eatery options, be sure to pack snacks that are safe for you to eat. If you get stuck, a few snacks can add up to a meal. Think easy and quick bites you can eat on the go, like rice cakes and peanut butter, pretzels and a banana, yogurt, or your favorite protein bar that you know doesn’t cause any stomach issues. Everyone’s body reacts differently to certain foods, so stick to options you know work for you. This will help reduce the temptation to indulge in potentially irritating foods, and also can help reduce any anxiety over food options. Remember, chewing gum and road trips often go hand in hand, but be aware that the sugar substitutes in sugar-free gums (like xylitol and mannitol) are potentially irritating ingredients.2 You also tend to swallow more air when chewing gum, which can lead to discomfort.

Dealing with the unexpected

Even if you reduce your nerves and plan out safe foods, IBS is sometimes unpredictable! Make sure you also do some strategizing in case you need a quick bathroom stop. For road trips, try mapping out convenient locations beforehand so you know where goods bathroom stops are. There is an app for that! Plus, no one will complain about an extra coffee stop or snack. For airport travel, many countries don’t have fully stocked bathrooms, so bring your own supplies. If you can, read a few travel blogs on the specific place you are headed so you can know what to expect. Also make sure you carry some change with you if you’re traveling overseas, as some bathrooms in Europe require a small fee.

IBS doesn’t have to hold you back from seeing the world. With a little planning, IBS won’t get you down, wherever you end up!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Qin, Hong-Yan, et al. “Impact of psychological stress on irritable bowel syndrome.” World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG, Baishideng Publishing Group Inc, 21 Oct. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202343/.
  2. Lashner, MD Bret. “Best and Worst Foods for IBS.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 23 June 2017, health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/02/take-control-of-ibs-with-low-fodmap-diet/.

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