Going on holiday should be a relaxing and fun time. A time for adventures and new experiences. But, for those of us with IBS, the idea of going away and disrupting our routine causes anxiety and stress. There are new foods, changes in routine and general holiday stress to contend with, which can unfortunately cause an IBS flare up. As someone who travels quite a bit, I have come up with a few strategies to reduce IBS flare ups and make sure I get to enjoy my holiday.
Check out my top tips for travelling with IBS below to make sure you have the best time abroad.
Manage Your Stress
I’m sure you have heard this time and time again but it needs to be said. Stress can have a big influence on how you feel and learning how to deal with it will help you manage your IBS. Managing stress starts before the holiday. Find something that works for you. Look for an app on meditation, practice breathing technique or start a relaxing hobby.
For me, managing my stress comes from being prepared. I like to know everything about my trip from start to finish. What time my flight is, when we will be landing, how we will get to the hotel. Knowing these things means I can plan when I take my medications, ensure I know how long the trip is going to be, pack enough snacks and know where all the bathrooms are along the way.
On my most recent trip, I booked a flight that was later in the day and not at some ungodly hour in the morning. I know from personal experience that if I have a super early flight, my whole day gets thrown off. I miss breakfast and my very important morning coffee. I struggle to get myself back into a routine. The later flight meant I didn’t have to rush around in the morning, could eat my normal foods and had a long time to get to the airport which meant I could get up, move around a lot and take my medication.
Prepare with Probiotics
It is estimated that up to 60% of us will be affected by traveller’s diarrhoea(1). We eat unfamiliar foods and water while we are abroad, exposing us to bacteria that might just cause food poisoning. If you develop food poisoning, not only will it leave you stuck in your hotel for a few days feeling rubbish, it can also cause an IBS flare up. To help avoid this, we know that taking a probiotic up to two weeks before your trip and for the duration of your trip can lower your risk of developing travellers diarrhoea.
When choosing your probiotic, pick one that does not need to be stored in the fridge and has a long shelf life. Specific bacteria that has shown to help includes: lactobacilli, enterococci, streptococci and bifidobacteria(2). I am currently taking this one. You do have to take two a day but I have found it has helped with my IBS and has reduced episodes of bloating and pain. It is vegan, gluten free, reasonably priced and does not need to be refrigerated.
Be Picky With What You Eat and Drink
I know when you go away you will want to dive into all the local delicacies. So many new and tasty things to try. But if you have IBS, go slowly with new cuisines. Remember what your normal triggers are and try to avoid them where possible, no matter how tempting something may be. Research ahead of time what the local foods are and see if any of them fit with your normal diet or can be adapted slightly. Try new things but slowly over the course of your trip.
Being on holiday is a time to let loose and relax and that often involves alcohol. I am not saying don’t drink it but it is worth remembering alcohol can be a trigger for some peoples IBS. Try and drink water regularly while consuming alcohol and try not to drink every night of your holiday. If you want to know which alcohols are best if you have IBS, check out my post on alcohol and IBS.
Stay Somewhere With a Kitchen
An easy way to eat well and get to enjoy your holiday is to book somewhere that has a kitchen. This way you can cook yourself some meals at home you know work for you. I often opt for an airbnb when I am travelling as they usually have some kitchen facilities and are not more expensive than hotels. I can cook myself some tasty meals so I don’t have to eat out every day of the holiday.
Don’t Forget Prescription Medications
You’re busy packing all your lovely holiday clothes, checking you’ve got your passport and ensuring everyone is in the car on time that by the time you arrive at the airport you realise you have forgotten your medication.
Pack important prescription medications in your hand luggage and double check they are in there before you set off. If you are going abroad, make sure to take a copy of your prescription just in case any one at the airport wants to check it. Double check the government website on the country you are travelling too and ensure they allow the medication you are taking. If you are worried, you can ask your GP to write a travel letter for you outlining why you need this medication and that it is a prescription medication.
Learn the Lingo
It’s always polite when you go abroad to learn a few local phrase. Hello, thank you and please being some important ones. But you might also find it helpful to learn some more specific phrases. Knowing how to ask where the bathroom is or where is the closest bathroom can make your trip a bit easier.
Pack IBS Friendly Snacks
On the days you are travelling, pack your own IBS friendly snacks. The things you know won’t flare your IBS. I’ve often been in an airport and unable to find anything that I would actually eat and not cause me any future discomfort. This is especially important if you are going to be eating on the plane. The food often provided has not been suitable for me and I am always glad when I have my own snack to fall back. Packing my own snacks means I can try and eat at regular intervals. If I go long periods of time without eating I end up with a bloated and tender stomach.
Dress for Comfort
The day you are travelling is not the day to be wearing your finest clothes. Opt for something loose and moveable. I often get bloated the days I am travelling and will try and avoid wearing anything tight on my stomach that day.
If you don’t already, I would follow @lottiedrynans insta page. She is the queen of finding the most comfortable bloat friendly and stylish clothes. So you can look good whilst also being comfortable.
Prepare an IBS Travel Kit
This is your go to pack of IBS essentials. Keep it somewhere you can access easily and pack it with things you know help prevent or manage an IBS flare. This may look different for everybody but some of the key things I might have with me include:
- Peppermint tea bags
- Medication – including prescription medication. I usually carry:
- peppermint capsules to reduce bloating(3)
- immodium tablets
- paracetamol (or your choice of pain relief tablets)
- A reusable water bottle- I use this one, it is the perfect size for travelling
- A tiny hot water bottle – this is the one I recently bought, its quite tiny and fits perfectly even in hand luggage
- An emergency snack
- A change of clothes (or just a change of underwear)
IBS can be horrible at times but that is no reason you shouldn’t get to enjoy a relaxing, amazing holiday. Do you have IBS? What are your top travel tips?
- Pandey, K., Naik, S. and Vakil, B., 2015. Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics-a review. Journal of food science and technology, 52(12), pp.7577-758
- McFarland, L.V., 2007. Meta-analysis of probiotics for the prevention of traveler’s diarrhea. Travel medicine and infectious disease, 5(2), pp.97-105.
- Khanna, R., MacDonald, J.K. and Levesque, B.G., 2014. Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 48(6), pp.505-512.