Traveling With IBD
Having Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can sometimes make traveling feel like that’s not in the cards. However, with some preparation, IBD doesn’t have to limit your wanderlust!
Before your trip
Chat with your doctor
Let your doctor know when you are planning a trip and where you will be going. They may have some recommendations for you regarding vaccinations needed or if you should bring extra medications in case of a symptom flare. It may also be helpful to get a typed note from your doctor explaining your condition and current treatment plan. This can be helpful going through security, especially if you are carrying injectable medications or tube feeding formula, as well as going through customs. If you are traveling to an area with a different main language, consider having that letter translated so there is no confusion.
Check your insurance
Find out what your insurance covers if you are out of the area in case of an emergency or symptom flare-up. Some plans have coverage for emergency room visits, medications, or doctor’s visits while traveling. If your plan does not have that coverage or if it’s not clear, you can always get travel medical insurance.
Pack it up
When packing for your trip, make sure to pack medications and other necessities in your carry-on in case luggage is delayed. You can use a small cooler with ice packs to keep refrigerated medications cool. Just make sure to declare them to the TSA and follow their special procedures. Insulated lunch boxes work well and some companies that produce the medications can also provide you with travel bags.
Some additional items to consider packing:
- Travel pack of toilet paper, baby wipes, travel size barrier cream for skin irritation
- Travel bidet
- Extra ostomy supplies
- Extra underwear and/or pants
- Liners for underwear (in case of leakage)
- Sealable plastic bag for carrying soiled underwear or items that need to be disposed of
- Powdered oral rehydration solution (ORS) like DripDrop or Liquid IV
If traveling by plane, consider booking aisle seats or seats that are closer to the bathroom if you are concerned about access. You can also discuss your concerns with a flight attendant, they may have a recommendation for you or allow better accommodation during a flight to use a bathroom when needed. Double-check what you need to do for airport security if you are traveling with prescriptions.
If you are traveling by car, take a look at your planned route on a map and make note of any rest stops or other areas to stop if needed. Knowing where a bathroom might be along your route can help reduce travel anxiety for bathroom use.
Planning ahead may give you some peace of mind when traveling with IBD. Here are some things to consider looking up before leaving for your trip.
In case you have an IBD emergency (or any other type of emergency), it would be helpful to know where the local emergency room is located. It may put you more at ease to also find an emergency that also has access to an IBD specialist.
Knowing where bathrooms are located can help reduce some anxiety if you frequently experience urgency. Downloading a bathroom locator app that could help find public restrooms. If you can’t find a public bathroom, if you explain the situation many restaurants or retail shops will be sympathetic to your needs.
If the local language is one you don’t speak, it’s worth using something like Google Translate to be able to communicate your urgency. You can also learn some words in advance such as toilet, emergency, or urgent. You could also carry a note in the local language that describes your condition and why you need access to a toilet as soon as possible.
Depending on where you are traveling, some public bathrooms require money to use, so consider carrying some coins in the local currency.
If you are on a specific diet or are avoiding any specific foods, you can research restaurants ahead of time to find what foods you will be able to eat. Many restaurants have their menus online, so you can translate them as needed. You will still want to inform servers or cashiers that you have an allergy or food restriction in case it’s not listed.
Avoid traveler’s diarrhea
Traveler’s diarrhea is a common illness, usually contracted from drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. To avoid it, drink only sealed beverages including water. Eat foods that are cooked and served hot, avoiding anything that is eaten raw or uncooked. You can eat raw fruits and veggies if peels are removed or if they are given a thorough scrub in clean water.
If your wanderings are taking you into the backcountry, remember these considerations before you squat:
- Choose your spot at least 200 feet away from water sources, campsites, or trails.
- Dig a hole about 6 inches deep
- After you’re done, make sure to fill the hole back in with the original dirt
- If you used toilet paper, it really should be packed back out to stick to Leave No Trace principles
Helpful tips for pooping in the woods:
- Bring a travel bidet that attaches to a water bottle to avoid having to pack out TP
- Bring a small microfiber cloth that can be used to dry off after using the bidet (remember that this is its only use!)
- Pack extra underwear along with a sealable plastic bag to pack any soiled items out
- Some backcountry campsites have pit toilets, you can research your camping areas ahead of time to see if they are mentioned
- Double-check the area you want to hike as there might be specific regulations regarding human waste
The most important thing to remember is that traveling is not out of the question for people who have IBD! Reach out to your Care Team if you have other questions regarding preparing for vacation.