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Do You Worry About Traveling with IBS? Try These Tips

Updated on July 18, 2016

IBS sufferers don't have to stay at home and suffer in silence.

The mere thought of travel is often stressful enough to cause an attack of irritable bowel syndrome. Are you tired of foregoing family reunions and trips to visit the grandkids? Have you been avoiding that much-needed vacation? These tips and coping strategies might help.

(c) Copyright Kathy Steinemann

IBS—especially IBD-D (irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea)—can make travel difficult. But it’s not impossible. Develop a few solid strategies that work for you, and you should still be able to enjoy activities such as trips to the beach or vacations with relatives.

Do you know your personal IBS triggers? If you haven’t kept a food diary in the past, now would be a good time to start one. Has your doctor given you a formal diagnosis—or have you self-diagnosed? Don’t guess. Ask your doctor to set up tests for gluten and lactose intolerance if you suspect that they might be causing your symptoms.

Here’s a list of common triggers:
• Coffee (even decaf)
• Alcohol
• Soda pop
• Fatty or fried foods
• Chocolate
• Artificial fats
• Sugars (including sucrose, fructose, lactose, and glucose)
• Artificial sweeteners
• Insoluble fiber (such as bran and whole grains)
• Stress

Did you see any surprises on the preceding list? Develop an eating plan that doesn’t cause flare-ups, and stick to it while you travel. If possible, prepare a few safe snacks you can take with you. Also be sure to check ahead to see what’s available along your route and at your destination.

Be organized. It’ll help avoid stress.

• Before selecting a vacation venue, check travel advisories. If a country is well-known for its high incidence of traveler’s diarrhea, consider another destination.

• Arrange for flights that have at least two hours between connections.

• Know what to expect from the time you leave home until you return. Print out restaurant menus, airport maps, and anything else that’ll help you avoid surprises and delays.

• Learn the locations of restaurants and grocery outlets.

• Do you plan to stay in a hotel? Ask for a microwave and fridge. Although they might not be included in a standard room, talk nicely to the reservations desk. A helpful staff member can usually round up extra appliances for guests if they know in advance that you need them for medical reasons.

• Your pre-travel research should include bathroom locations, as well as the addresses of medical clinics and other treatment facilities.

• Learn how to ask for the location of the washroom facilities in the language of any countries you will be visiting or passing through. And remember that you may have to be specific. A bath, a washroom, and a toilet may be different facilities.

• Learn how to inquire about the fat, spice, and sugar content of restaurant meals. Learn the names of your no-nos. If necessary, you can communicate with a server by repeating your triggers, while shaking your head and saying “no” in the local language.

• Does your train or bus have a bathroom? In some countries, these modes of transportation provide no toilet facilities.

• Arrange time to relax both during your trip and after arrival. Avoid stress by having one leisurely visit or tour each day.

• Sleep is important. Get enough rest before, during, and after your trip. Jet lag and fatigue may trigger a flare-up.

• Make time for exercise or walking. Your body will respond by producing feel-good hormones, and you’ll experience a general sense of wellness.

• If you plan to travel by air, pack essentials in your carry-on just in case your checked luggage decides to take its own vacation. This includes all medications, fiber supplements, snacks, bottled water, and herb teabags.

• If you find that a medication like Imodium helps, consider talking a dose (or half a dose if it causes constipation) before you head out.

• Will you be driving? Listen to upbeat music and take frequent breaks.

• Will you be a passenger? Listen to soothing music or audio books.

Although the tips in this article won’t prevent every IBS attack, they’ll increase the probability of a happy travel experience.

Bon voyage!

Looking for more irritable bowel syndrome coping strategies? One of Kathy’s books might be able to help:

The IBS Compass: Irritable Bowel Syndrome Tips, Information, Fiber Charts, and Recipes. This book will help steer you through the confusing maze of information available online. Then you’ll be able to make informed decisions about the path you want to take.

IBS-IBD Fiber Charts: Soluble & Insoluble Fibre Data for over 450 Items, Including Links to Internet Resources. You know fiber is important, but is all fiber alike? No! Learn the fiber content of many foods that can help you manage your IBS.

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