A woman sits on a train holding her hand up and politely denying the food trolley, in her other hand is a paper bag containing her own food. Bathroom, food, safety, flare up, trains, metro, travel

Planes, Trains, and Cars: IBS and Travel

Last updated: November 2022

Before I developed IBS, I used to be able to travel anywhere I wanted without too much planning. Now, I need to think about my meals ahead of time or worry that a bathroom wouldn’t be available for me. In the next few months, I'll be traveling to Las Vegas and Ireland and recording my experiences before and during my travel. For now, I wanted to share what research I do before I travel to ensure that I am as comfortable as possible.

Part 1 of this series is about how to choose a transportation style. While budget, time, and destination always play a factor in this decision, IBS adds more things to consider. If you are new to IBS, this series will look at some key features you should focus on when making your travel arrangements.

IBS travel and bathrooms

The first thing I look for when traveling with IBS is if a place has an accessible bathroom for me. Both trains and planes have that accommodation. Since I have chronic pain, I usually try to choose the travel method that takes the least amount of time, which is generally planes.

With IBS, travel in a car will be more difficult but not impossible. I have heard of some people bringing a camping toilet with them on long road trips, but I don't do that. Instead, I usually coordinate with the person driving and make sure we drive along major highways.

Food on the road

No matter what transportation method I choose, I always make sure to bring food with me or buy food beforehand, but that is even more true with a road trip. As someone with a food allergy and IBS, I don’t like risking a flare-up. Because of that, I also try to eat safe foods before my travel days.

And while trains have meal cars, cross-contamination is a factor as well. Some train companies have their menus online, and if you feel comfortable with cross-contamination, that is an option. The train station might not have a store with safe foods for you, so bringing some before you get there is ideal.

The length of a plane flight dictates what food is given to you. But unless you travel internationally, I wouldn’t expect a meal to be given to you. Since airport security is strict on bringing food in, I recommend buying food after you pass through security or planning the flight during a time you don’t usually need to eat.

If you travel by plane internationally, you will be offered a meal. However, it will probably have ingredients that you try to avoid. I recommend researching airlines and seeing which ones allow you to request a specific meal (I usually opt for vegan meals since I avoid dairy). If they do not have a meal that fits your needs, do not be afraid to bring food with you. International flights are long, and you do not want to be stranded without food.

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