Summer is the perfect time to take a road trip, hop on a train, or jet off to a new location. However, traveling when you have irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, fructose malabsorption, [fill in the blank] can take the joy out of your trip. It can be difficult to find places where you can eat or go to the bathroom and your sleep schedule can change making it hard to get the rest that you need. Travel can be fun but it can also be stressful, which just adds to the cycle. Recently, a friend who has undiagnosed digestive issues returned from an international trip and although the vacation was overall a good one, she had some difficulties. Together, we came up with a list of helpful tips to make traveling easier.
Prepare ahead: The more you plan before your trip, the easier time you’ll have during your trip.
- Meet with your nutritionist: Your nutritionist can help you determine foods you can or should not eat if you are traveling to a city or country that has a different cuisine than you are used to.
- Learn key phrases. If you are traveling to a foreign country, knowing how to say certain sentences such as “Where is the bathroom?”, “Is this gluten-free?”, or “I am allergic to…” can be extremely helpful. The food allergy app, Allergy FT can help you translate 86 food allergies in over 57 countries.
- Identify restaurants and local food stores. Two helpful resources are the website, can I eat there? for the United Kingdom and the app, Allergy Eats for the United States.
- Request a refrigerator: If you are staying at a hotel, having a refrigerator in your room will allow you to stock up on foods so you are never in a pinch. Better yet, rent a place with a kitchen so you can shop for and cook your meals.
- Stock up: Pack extra medicine to be safe, healthy snacks so you always have something to eat, fiber supplements or flaxseeds, tissues and wet wipes, enteric coated peppermint oil and tea to soothe your stomach, and your favorite items that help you relax and de-stress.
- Know thy doctor: Pack your doctor’s and pharmacy’s contact information with you. Research where nearby hospitals or urgent care centers are located in case you need medical attention.
While you are away:
- Know your trigger foods. Avoid foods or alcoholic beverages that you know will upset your stomach. If you do want to try something new, only try one new thing at a time and make sure there is a place for you to go to the bathroom and rest nearby.
- Don’t skip meals: When we get hungry, we are more likely to eat foods that we should not eat. Make sure you eat your three squares so you don’t opt for a trigger food.
- Snack up: When traveling, it can sometimes be difficult to find a place to eat, especially when you have food restrictions. Bringing snacks and water prevents you from getting hungry and potentially making a bad food choice while you are looking for the perfect place to eat.
- Hydrate: Drink plenty of water and avoid juices, carbonated beverages, and too much coffee and alcohol.
- Ask where the bathrooms are: Find out where a bathroom is once you arrive to a new place and before you might urgently need it. This is especially important when traveling on day excursions and to areas where there may not be a hotel or Starbuck’s that you can easily run into.
- Take care of yourself: It is fun to do as much as possible on a vacation but it can also become overwhelming and exhausting. Don’t plan to see every site in one day. Take breaks and give yourself time to rest and relax. Lack of sleep, over exhaustion, and stress can trigger your symptoms.
- Exercise: Walking is a great way to tour a new location, get exercise, and take care of your digestive system. Most gyms offer day passes and some hotels offer yoga classes or provide access to gyms. Another option is to pack a yoga mat and you can do yoga or stretch in your room.
- Talk about it: If you are going on a trip with a tour, let the guide know you may need frequent bathroom breaks. If you are traveling with family and friends, let them know so they understand your situation. You do not have to go into any detail but if they know the basics they can help point out bathrooms, places to rest, or find a fun and safe restaurant where you can all enjoy eating dinner.
Photo taken by Steven Lewis on Unsplash