Road-Tripping With IBS: How To Make It Work
Road trips are by far my favorite way of traveling. I guess I’m just not the “lay on a beach and tan” kind of person – maybe because I get headaches from the sun and my skin never tans anyway.
Thankfully, IBS never really kept me from traveling. I guess there’s something about the freedom of traveling that takes away from my usual anxiety. And, of course, the fact that I mostly go away with my boyfriend who knows about all my digestion struggles.
This summer, I was lucky enough to go on another road trip – and I feel like I’m getting better and better at managing my IBS on the road! So, here are a couple of tips that I wanted to share.
Research your road trip destination
When you’re on the road a lot of the time, it’s important to know the basics about the place you’re traveling through. AKA, their bathroom situation.
We went on a road trip through the Balkans this summer, and for some reason, I just assumed that the countries we visited wouldn’t live up to the public bathroom standards I was used to. I would have stressed much less if I knew right away that every gas station seemed to have a bathroom – as well as every touristy town we went to. It’s always good to know where you’re likely to find a toilet!
It’s also helpful to know what kind of food you can expect to find. For me, this trip was so easy when it came to food because for once, I had such a large variety of dairy-free, tomato sauce free dishes to choose from. But if your destination happens to be known for food that triggers your IBS (in my case, Italy for example), it would be a good idea to stock up on safe snacks in case you can’t find IBS-friendly food on the way.
Begin early in the day (seriously)
Even with bad morning IBS, it’s possible to start your days early. When I saw that check-out time was 10 a.m. in the countries we visited, I got really anxious. How could I be sure that I was able to leave the hotel room before 10 a.m.? Usually, I’m good at 11 a.m., but this was an hour too early.
However, the check-out time ended up being no problem at all. Actually, we were out before 9 a.m. on most days. I would never have thought that I’d be able to do this!
The secret to getting up early is to shift your entire day. Which was an easy task there because the sun rises and sets earlier in the Balkans than it does in France. We went to bed between 10 and 11 p.m., which made getting up between 6 and 7 a.m. was much easier. I made sure to always leave myself plenty of time to get ready. And the most important tip: I always had breakfast for about an hour and a half before we planned on leaving.
Yep, you read right. Breakfast, the thing that I never, ever have because my IBS doesn’t like food in the morning. But here’s the thing: by having a tiny bit of food and/or coffee, I was able to kick-start my digestion and trick my morning IBS into starting earlier than it usually does. I still had to use the bathroom in the mornings, but at least it was up to me to decide the time!
However, I would always listen to my body before doing this. On some occasions, breakfast sounded like the last thing I wanted, so I just skipped it. It’s never a good idea to force yourself, especially if you’re trying to keep your IBS as bay.
Do NOT consume trigger foods on the road
What a no-brainer, you might think. And I agree. But still, I somehow always manage to consume a trigger food while traveling anyway. And I always, always regret it.
This time, I “accidentally” ate a bunch of cheese and cream. It wasn’t really an accident. We were at a restaurant, and I just couldn’t decide between a couple of (perfectly safe) options. So, when my boyfriend ordered chicken with gorgonzola sauce, I just said: “me too.”
I don’t know what I was thinking when I did that. Or when I ate the sauce, despite knowing perfectly well that I shouldn’t. Thankfully, I didn’t get a full-blown flare-up right away (it came later that night), but I felt pretty miserable and bloated for the rest of the day. Please do yourself a favor and do not consume trigger foods. Even if you’re feeling really good. Even to be polite.
Make sure that your clothes are comfortable
Some clothes are comfortable when you’re walking around, but not when you’re sitting down. And that’s the kind of thing you want to avoid when you’re on a road trip!
Since you’ll be spending a lot of time in your car, it’s important to wear pants that don’t dig into your stomach while sitting. I made the mistake multiple times on my trip, from supposedly comfortable denim shorts to an elastic waistband that made my stomach feel super sensitive all day long.
Before packing for your trip, make sure that all of your bottoms will stay comfortable, even after multiple hours in the car, and even if you get bloated.
Make plenty of stops along the way
I don’t know if that’s just me, but I sometimes get bloated just from sitting for too long. Since we were driving most days, I really noticed the difference between days where we made plenty of stops and those where we didn’t.
And since a road trip is all about exploring, stopping in seemingly random places can be a great idea anyway! Some of my favorite memories from our road trip come from places that had no tourist attractions but allowed us to see how people there actually live.
Bring all your IBS medication from home
Since I’ve been struggling with headaches for most of my life and IBS for the past couple of years, I’m kind of used to always having medication on me. But even if you’re not, I still suggest bringing some with you on your trip – especially if you're road-tripping through a country you don’t know. Having medication with you allows you to take it as soon as you need it. I’m sure glad that I didn’t have to order Imodium in Serbian (which I don’t speak) when my IBS started acting up!
And lastly, some of the medication you know might not be available in another country, and it’s always a struggle to find the equivalent, even with the help of a pharmacist.
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