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7 Essential Tips For Traveling With IBS

7 Essential Tips For Traveling With IBS

See the sights without getting stuck in the bathroom.

For the 12 percent of American adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), travel can be nerve-wracking. What’s safe to eat? Is it okay to pack your medication? What if you can’t find a bathroom? Whether you’re heading to the beach, a national park or another country, be sure your travel plans include smart strategies for managing your IBS symptoms.

These tips will help ease your mind when you’re venturing out on a trip or vacation and far from home:

Plan ahead, be prepared
Before your trip, talk to your healthcare provider about the IBS issues you’re likely to experience and how to manage them in unfamiliar surroundings. “For those who suffer from urgency or diarrhea, it might be reasonable to take an anti-diarrheal medication (as prescribed by and discussed with your doctor) prior to leaving as a preventative measure,” says Andrea Shin, MD, a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. Make sure you pack your medications in a place where they are easily accessible while you’re traveling, Dr. Shin advises.

Take steps to reduce anxiety
While vacationing, it’s important to participate in activities you think you would enjoy and avoid stressful environments that you know would be upsetting to you. Worsening anxiety and discomfort can trigger IBS symptoms, Shin says. She recommends identifying potentially worrisome situations or new activities in advance and setting aside time for self-care and doing what makes you happy when you’re traveling away from home, such as riding a bike, listening to music or going shopping. Making plans that your excited or happy about could help ease your stress and avoid anxiety-related flare-ups.  

Get active
As part of your vacation, you may want to participate in a variety of activities, such as swimming, boating, biking or hiking—and you should. “There are no specific physical activities that need to be avoided in patients with IBS," Shin says. "In fact, regular exercise can be beneficial in reducing IBS symptoms.” As a general rule, she recommends 20 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity three to five days per week. So, when you’re on vacation, keep it up and continue to be physically active.

Take your medication as scheduled
Even when you’re traveling between time zones, continue to take your medication according to your regular schedule as if you were at home, Shin says. “For example, if you typically take a medication before breakfast, you continue to do so at your new breakfast ‘time,” Shin explains. If you have other medications that are marked “as needed," pay close attention to the prescribed dosing frequencies, she adds.

Line up bathroom breaks
When away from home, you may be out of your routine but it’s important to schedule bathroom stops throughout your day. First, set time aside to use the restroom before you venture out in the morning. Then, be sure to take designated breaks during the day. Identifying and mapping out public bathrooms along your designated route will help you know what your options are if you need to make a pitstop. Knowing where the closest restrooms are located may also help ease any anxiety you may have about managing your IBS symptoms in an unfamiliar environment.

Get adequate sleep
For those with IBS, vacation can be one of those times that you can sneak in some extra ZZZs—or miss out on sleep due to long days or having to adapt to a new time zone. Sleep disturbances can contribute to an increase in IBS symptoms, Shin cautions. She recommends trying to maintain your usual pattern of sleep, including the times you sleep and how much you get. Tap into whatever helps your body and brain wind down—such as meditation or reading—so that you can stay on schedule.

Choose your foods wisely
It may be fun to be a little adventurous when you’re on vacation, but if you have IBS, it may not be the time to take risks with your diet, according to Shin. “Food triggers can vary for different individuals who suffer from IBS," she says. Just as you might plan for certain activities or pinpoint bathroom locations, it’s a good idea to look at menus ahead of time—either on online or in person. You may also want to limit your intake of caffeine and high-fat foods, which could help control your symptoms. For people with gas, bloating and pain, sticking with a diet that is low in fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPS) may help. Keep in mind however, this diet can be quite restrictive, so you should consult your doctor before adopting this eating plan, Shin advises.

If you have IBS, you don’t need to pass up vacation opportunities. With some advance planning, you can ease your worries and manage your symptoms when traveling away from home.

This article was medically reviewed and updated in September 2019.

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