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Traveling when you have IBD can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little planning and preparation, it’s possible to really enjoy traveling with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or microscopic colitis. Below are some tips to help you prepare for your next holiday, vacation, or business trip.
Create a plan with your healthcare team
- Talk to your doctor ahead of time about your travel plans and any concerns you might have. Your doctor can help plan your infusion schedule around your travel plans and make sure that you have enough medication to last until you get home. Ask your doctor under what circumstances you should contact them and who you can talk to if you need to get in touch with their office after hours.
- Work with your IBD dietitian to create a plan for your nutrition during your trip. This should include a plan for the various situations you may encounter such as eating in the airport, eating on the plane or in the car, dining out at new restaurants, trying new foods, etc.
- Write down your doctor’s contact info. Keep your doctor’s contact information handy in case you need to contact them in an emergency.
- Check with your insurance plan about out-of-state coverage. If you're traveling out of your home state or internationally, you should call your insurance company to verify your benefits in case of an emergency. If you don’t have coverage where you’ll be traveling, it may be worth it to purchase additional coverage just in case.
Have a plan for food
- When traveling, try to keep your diet as similar as possible to what you eat at home. Sticking with your usual eating routine will help keep your bowel movements and symptoms more consistent and predictable.
- Plan out your nutrition and hydration for the travel day. Have a plan for what and when you’re going to eat and drink on travel day so that you don’t skip meals or get dehydrated when on the move as this can impact bowel movements.
- Pack plenty of well tolerated snacks and meals. Keep extra snacks and meals on hand (more than you think you need!) that you can reach for whenever you’re hungry. When you’re not able to find a well-tolerated meal during your travel days, you can rely on your snacks to keep you nourished.
- Research and review restaurants ahead of time. If you know where you’ll be dining out when you’re traveling, look up restaurants in the area and make a list of menus with well-tolerated meal options. Keep this list handy when anyone asks “where should we eat?” so that you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll be able to find something that will work for you.
- Go to the grocery store. An often overlooked option when traveling is to make your own food. Go to a local grocery store and stock up on well-tolerated foods such as nut butter, bread, oatmeal, bananas, avocados, and snacks that you can rely on whenever you get hungry.
Have a plan for symptoms
- Know where the restrooms are. If you’re traveling by car, plan out rest stops as often as you need to in advance. Keep in mind that local grocery stores may have a hot foods section with better tolerated options than what you may find at fast food restaurants so although they may be a few more minutes into town, they may be worth it.
- If traveling by plane, choose the aisle seat for easier bathroom access. If you feel comfortable, tell the flight staff that you may need to get up to use the restroom in an emergency so that they can make the facilities available to you when you need them.
- Stick with your bathroom routine. Keep your bathroom routine as similar as possible to your habits at home. Our bodies are used to going on a regular basis so allowing yourself to go when you need to can help keep your bowel movements consistent and predictable.
- Have a hydration plan. If you know you don’t drink enough water without a water bottle, then make sure you bring it with you or buy enough water bottles so that you have one with you at all times. If you’re going to be walking a lot in a hot climate, consider using an oral rehydration solution, such as Liquid IV, Drip Drop, or Pedialyte to hold onto fluids better.
- Continue to prioritize sleep quality and stress management while away. Travel can be disruptive to your sleep and stress levels which can lead to a flare up of symptoms. Prioritizing your sleep and stress management routines can help you manage those additional stressors and may help you decrease the chances of experiencing a flare.
Be mindful of potential germs and infections
- Wear a mask & wash your hands frequently. Keep yourself healthy by wearing a mask on the plane and washing your hands frequently throughout the trip. Keep a small container of hand sanitizer in your bag in case you can’t find a restroom nearby.
- Drink bottled water and avoid local fruits that may contain contaminated water. Water-borne pathogens are common in certain countries and can lead to fecal infections and illness. If the drinking water is contaminated, avoid consuming tap water, ice, and raw fruits and vegetables with high water content.
Create a packing list
- Bring an emergency kit with you. We never want to rely on our emergency kit but it can be a lifesaver when you do need it. Some emergency kit essentials include an extra pair of underwear, oral rehydration solutions, extra medications, hand sanitizer, well-tolerated snacks, baby wipes, and ostomy supplies if applicable.
- Pack your medications. Make sure to pack your medications or plan out when you will get your infusion or do the injection. It can be helpful to set a daily alarm to remind you to take your medication as you’ll be out of your typical routine.
Advocate for yourself
- Resist pressure to eat foods you’re uncomfortable with. Don’t let others pressure you into consuming something that you don’t feel comfortable consuming, whether that’s alcohol, a special dish, or customary food or meal. If you’re not comfortable consuming something, speak up and say that you can’t because it will make you sick.
- State your needs when dining out with others. It’s okay (and encouraged) to request to eat at restaurants that can accommodate your food preferences. Most restaurants will happily customize a meal on or off the menu if it means you’ll have a better experience dining with them.
- Suggest where to eat. How many times has someone in your travel group asked “Where should we eat?”. This is a great time to pull out the list of restaurants you found with well-tolerated meal options and suggest where to eat.