Traveling with IBD

woman with IBD traveling with a map in hand

Living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can be challenging. You may develop routines and strategies to help manage your symptoms  – especially when it comes to food and drink.

But what about when you travel?

Travel can take you out of your routine and out of your comfort zone. If you’re traveling with IBD, this can be daunting and unpredictable. It can create stress and anxiety, which often makes your symptoms worse, as the gut is sensitive to emotions. Throw in changes to food, water, and climate and it’s easy to see why bowel upsets happen! 

Should I travel with IBD?

With all this in mind, it might be tempting to stay close to home. It’s totally understandable to feel that way.

But having IBD does not mean you should miss out on a work trip or vacation. Both short and long-distance trips are possible for many people with IBD! Travel can bring such enriching experiences into your life, that it’s worth a little extra planning to make your trip a reality.

With some simple strategies and tips to take the stress out of traveling with IBD, you too can soon be on your way!

Finding the restroom

In the event of a flare-up, it pays to know where the restrooms are. A little forward-planning here can make your journey more comfortable, and reduce stress. 

  • Look at your route and plan ahead. Find the restroom locations in airports, highway stops, or along the route you’re traveling.
  • If you’re traveling by plane, see if you can be allocated a seat near the bathroom.
  • If you are a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Member, you can have an “I Can’t Wait” ID card sent to you. This ID explains why you have medical necessity to be first in line for a restroom. 
  • Use the “We Can’t Wait” app to help you locate restrooms in a moment’s notice. Read our list of useful apps for IBD for more recommendations.

Medications 

  • Make sure you have enough medication for the whole trip. Consider taking extra supplies, just in case.
  • Ask your pharmacist for a script in advance. Including the generic names of your medication will help if you’re going out of the country, as brand names can vary.
  • Keep medications in their original, labeled containers, so they are easy to identify.
  • If your medication needs to be kept cold, pack in a small, lined cooler with ice packs, or try an insulin travel pouch.
  • A simple organizer like this can help you organize medication day-to-day, and keep you on track when you’re out of your usual routine.
  • If you’re traveling by plane, keep your medication close by in a carry-on – it’s less likely to get lost than a checked bag. 
  • Check any requirements for moving through security. You may need a doctor’s note to express the medical need for keeping your medication handy. TSA has more info here.
  • If your destination requires travel vaccinations, check with your specialist that your medication won’t react with them.

Pack smart

A few extra products and supplies will make your journey more comfortable. Knowing that you have everything you need will help you to feel confident and relaxed in new surroundings.

  • Heating pad 
  • Blanket
  • Toilet paper
  • Wet wipes  
  • Disposable gloves
  • Disposable bags 
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Change of clothes or underwear 
  • Medicated wipes or creams
  • Extra medication if necessary
  • Ostomy supplies, if applicable 

Travel snacks 

Knowing the foods that work for your body is key. Pack plenty of snacks, so you have something to eat even if you’re delayed, or the available food isn’t suitable. This can help you avoid foods that trigger flare-ups. Some snack suggestions are:

  • Whole fruit, such as bananas or oranges 
  • Nut butter packets  
  • Energy bites 
  • Oatmeal packets 
  • Applesauce 
  • Granola bars 
  • Hummus 
  • Rice cakes 
  • Liquids – stay hydrated with plenty of water, tea or juice

How to reduce stress when traveling with IBD

Stress can trigger flare-ups! But avoiding stress is easier said than done. Ahead of your journey, look at what you can do to support your emotional well-being as a long-term part of managing your IBD and related stress.

If you’re feeling stressed in the run up to your trip, there are plenty of ways that can help. Meditation, exercise, journaling or music can all play a therapeutic role in stress relief. See if any of these techniques can be incorporated into your travel plans – download a playlist, or meditation app. You may be able to plan regular breaks to stretch and move your body on your trip.

  • Research. Look up your destination and get to know as much about it as you can. This can reduce stress and anxiety and also give you opportunities to plan. Find where the grocery stores are, or check out the menus of local restaurants. Check if you will need bottled water for drinking, or brushing your teeth. This can reassure you that you’ll be able to find things to eat and potentially check for those ingredients that trigger flare-ups.
  • Rest. Get plenty of rest leading up to your trip. It might be advisable to stick to familiar foods immediately before traveling. If necessary, talk to your healthcare provider about a plan to manage your symptoms on the go.
  • Breathe. Practice deep breathing every so often while you are traveling. Set a reminder if you need to! Keep checking in with your body, and staying alert to any symptoms as they arise. Meditation apps can help you to take a break from the logistics of travel and just focus on your breath.
  • Journal. Write down your experiences. This can be a great way to process your thoughts and emotions during your trip. It can also serve as a useful guide for your next trip. What worked well? What would you do differently next time?
  • Positive attitude. Know that the food you eat may be different than what you eat at home, but that’s okay – you are prepared and you have strategies in place to cope with change. Enjoy your trip!
  • Get support. Contact our team of dietitians to get specialist support, so you can travel with confidence. 

Get help with your IBD

We’re well versed in living with IBD here at Crohn’s and Colitis Dietitians. So we know exactly how difficult it can be to plan and manage travel. That’s why we provide expert help in the form of tailored nutrition plans, and individual and group support. Get in touch with our team today.

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