Traveling with IBS: Expect The Best And Plan For The Worst

I love to travel, to explore new places, try new foods, and learn about different cultures. I think travel expands our perspective on life as it expands our horizons.

But travel also disrupts your schedule and adds new variables and potential challenges, which can be particularly tricky to manage when you have a chronic health condition like IBS. Flights or car trips limit your access to a bathroom, available foods may include food groups you cannot tolerate, and unexpected travel delays can cause added stress. Travel can serve up a multitude of triggers for IBS and cause a flare of your symptoms at a time when you least want to experience them.

Tips for Traveling with IBS

Whether traveling for work or business, I’ve found these tips helpful for traveling with IBS:

Expect the best and plan for the worst.

I believe one of the most important aspects of any situation is our attitude, and approaching travel with a positive attitude and optimistic expectations can set the tone for an enjoyable trip. That said, it is also practical to plan for some worst-case scenarios, such as a flare-up of your IBS. Take any necessary medications and comfort items, such as wipes, peppermint essential oil, or a heating pad.

Take your own healthy snacks.

I’ve found that airports do not have many food items that I can eat, since I’m gluten-free and dairy-free. (Even the salads available often have cheese on them.) Some airports have concessions with fruit or nuts, but I always plan on brining my own snacks. I pack several of my favorite gluten-free granola bars, as well as bags of nuts, fruit, or dried meats.

Give yourself buffers.

If possible, whenever I plan a trip, I try to give myself plenty of time between activities, including the travel itself. That means getting to the airport early, and not packing my travel agenda with back-to-back activities. Knowing I have time buffers gives me peace of mind, and if my IBS does flare up, I have more flexibility to take care of my health.

Communicate openly with your fellow travelers.

If you’re traveling with others, letting them know what you’re dealing with can help foster understanding and set expectations. While you don’t have to go into detail, share that your condition means you may need extra time or may not participate in every activity.

Be flexible.

Travel can bring up all sorts of unexpected things, including delays, cancellations, and challenging people and foods. If you can approach unexpected hiccups in your travel as interesting diversions, rather than disasters, you can keep your stress levels more manageable and enjoy the experience more.

I’ve had IBS for 20 years, and I’ve continued to travel, for work and for pleasure. Have I had flares of IBS while on the road? Sure, but I haven’t let it stop me. I love exploring the world and still have many places on my “bucket list.” I try to avoid my known triggers as much as possible, plan ahead for possible downtime, and keep an open mind about the wonderful things I will experience.

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