It can be really scary, and nobody wants to be sick to their stomach on vacation. In this post, I'm sharing my top strategies for how to travel with IBS.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure page for more information. I am not a doctor or healthcare provider. All recommendations in this post are what works for me. Please speak to your healthcare team about the best practices for traveling with your specific needs with IBS.
I've talked about my experience traveling with celiac disease on the blog in this post here, plus shared multiple gluten-free travel guides to destinations like Boston, New York City, Madrid, Italy, Bali, and Costa Rica. Heck, I even made an entire Celiac Travel Course to help you travel confidently on a gluten-free diet!
But the one aspect of traveling I haven't talked about is how to travel with IBS, which I also suffer from.
For those of you who don't know, I have both celiac disease and IBS-D. My IBS manifests only in periods of high stress or emotions. But sometimes, this can also be triggered by time changes, traveling, and tense experiences on the road.
In light of not having this become another post about traveling with celiac or on the gluten-free diet, this post will specifically focus on what I do to help deal with IBS triggers and stress while traveling to avoid an IBS attack.
How To Travel With Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
My Experience Traveling with IBS
First of all, before I dive into how I travel with IBS, I think it's important to note that everyone's experience with IBS is different. Your symptoms and experience with IBS is unique to your own health journey. Since I have IBS-D, my symptoms for IBS are gas, bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea. You might have the opposite of me.
And since I have both celiac disease AND IBS, I have to manage eating a strictly 100% gluten-free diet on top of managing my stress and emotions so I don't end up getting sick. This is even more challenging when traveling away from home. If you find it's challenging for you too, I completely understand.
What To Pack for IBS Travel
The first thing to know about traveling with IBS is your packing list is essential. Having an emergency kit with all of your necessary supplies that you can quickly add to your overnight bag or suitcase is CLUTCH. And it will make your life much easier.
No one wants to be in an unfamiliar place struggling with an IBS attack and not having any Imodium, then having to find a pharmacy, going to the pharmacy, finding the Imodium, (which can stress you out even more), and make your symptoms worse, then FINALLY take the Imodium, and delay you feeling better!
Here are some of the things I pack with me to help with IBS when traveling:
- Safe non-trigger foods and snacks. Obviously my snacks will always be gluten-free because of celiac disease, but I try to stick to foods that don't trigger my IBS. For me, that's high sugar and high dairy. So keeping my snacks more balanced, like a gluten-free muffin, a piece of fruit, and some jerky, will probably go over much better than 5 Reeses cups, a yogurt, and some cheese. Click here for my go-to travel snacks.
- Emergency Medicine. Whatever you need when you have a bad IBS day. For me that's Imodium and Lactaid. Bring whatever is recommended by your doctor that will help you feel better if the worst should happen. You want to have this stocked with you - especially in your carry-on bag, just in case your luggage or plane is delayed.
- Poopuri. This spray is a lifesaver! And will make you feel less embarassed if you end up with an IBS-D attack (trust me, I've been there).
- Travel-sized toilet paper and baby wipes. Traveling with toilet paper became the norm when backpacking abroad through parts of Asia, but even here at home it's a great thing to have with you. You never know when it will be needed.
- Comfort Items for Tummy Pain: A hot water bottle, heating pad, essential oils, or some tea are all things that help me feel better when my stomach is bloated and uncomfortable. Bring whatever works for you.
- Reusable Water Bottle: I can't go anywhere without my emotional support water bottle. And you can easily refill this in airports to stay hydrated, especially since flights can leave you dehydrated.
- Relaxation Tools. Bring items that will help you relax and sleep well, like an eyemask and earplugs, good headphones, a journal to write down your feelings, and music on your phone or tablet.
- Sweatpants or loose-fitting clothing. When you're bloated or your stomach hurts, you don't want anything putting pressure on your belly. Pack your comfiest pants!
If you want to view a complete list of the items I have packed with me when traveling with celiac and IBS, you can find them on my Amazon page here.
Top Strategies For Traveling with IBS
Map out the toilets & bathrooms on your route. Remember that you can usually find a restroom at gas stations and fast food restaurants. But for additional ideas and to know which are clean, check out this resource of bathroom locator apps. Having an idea of where bathrooms are, especially for travel days in the car or on a plane, will give you more peace of mind.
Eat something safe before you head out. Rather than rely on finding food on the road, eat something beforehand, or pack a snack/easy meal with you, so you'll have something just in case and can listen to your body if you are hungry.
Plan out your activities. Knowing what to expect while traveling (as much as possible) can reduce your anxiety and can help you feel more in control.
Have a support system. Whether it's someone traveling with you, or someone you can rely on via phone or text, make sure there's someone in your corner you can talk to if something goes wrong or you have a flare.
Wear & pack bloat-friendly clothes. Don't torture yourself! Wear your comfiest pants so you can travel in comfort, not discomfort, especially if you don't feel well.
Bring your emergency kit! Pack it once and keep it in a small bag so you never have to pack it multiple times, and only replenish supplies if you are getting low.
Tips for Flying With IBS
- Choose an aisle seat. If you are worried about having a IBS attack on the plane, choose an aisle seat over a window, so you have easy access to the bathroom and don't have to feel awkward/weird asking someone to move.
- Bring items to help keep you calm. For me that's earplugs to drown out noise if I feel overwhelmed, Bluetooth headphones and my iPad so I can listen to music, or a meditation. I love the Calm app.
- Pack snacks & small meals. Being starving on a long flight never ends well, and have you feeling even more stressed and anxious about your next meal.
- Try to stick to your normal schedule. Red eye flights, or flights that require me to wake up at 3:00 AM just to save $25 usually mess with my digestive system and have me feeling "off" all day. As much as you are able to, try to stick to flying in your usual schedule for being awake/being asleep, in case this bothers you too.
How to Reduce Stress When Traveling With IBS
Go to a restaurant with safe options for you. For me, it's visiting a dedicated gluten-free bakery and not having to explain myself to anyone, or draw attention to me (hello, anxiety!).
Stay somewhere with a kitchen. Having the option to prepare your own meals, especially if you aren't feeling well, can help immensely.
Go Slow. Have a quiet night in where you watch a movie, read, or do something with minimum social pressure. Don't feel obligated to go, go, go on vacation, or you may end up in a flare.
It's okay to say no. Don't feel pressured or obligated to participate in everything. If everyone is going out to a bar and you'd rather relax in your room, DO IT! You don't have to justify needing time for yourself to manage any anxiety or nerves you may be feeling. You do you.
Try doing a non-food-related activity - play a game, go for a walk or hike, visit the library or do some shopping! Do something that doesn't include food for a break from that stress.
Stress Management Techniques & Ideas for IBS
Here are the top strategies I use to manage my IBS. Remember, I'm not a doctor - this is just what works for me!
Catching myself in my feelings. If you catch yourself in the cycle of stress that is only adding to more stress and IBS symptoms, see if you can stop and talk to yourself. Ask yourself, “What’s wrong? Why am I upset?” Imagine you are comforting a child (your inner child) if they are crying and trying to understand why they are upset. Talk to yourself as if you were a child to understand the root of what's going on. Then you might have a chance to process the emotion or reframe it before an IBS attack begins.
Daily movement. Even just stretching, walking, or light yoga for 15-20 minutes every day makes a big difference for me. Getting outside in the sunshine can also be a big mood boost.
Journaling my feelings. Keeping emotions trapped inside never ends well with my body. I journal in the morning and evenings and make sure to include gratitude and celebrations to remind myself of the good things happening in my life.
Meditation, breathing, or mindfulness. I use the Calm app for meditation, breathwork, and sleep stories every single day. I write and recite affirmations daily to keep myself in a good place and mindset.
Avoiding social media & reading instead. When I feel the comparison game sneaking in or stress overtaking my body, I turn off social media and read a book instead. It's really hard to do sometimes, because it's tempting to doom scroll, but it's better that I don't.
Having a dance party. Stepping into feeling good, nostalgia of songs I loved as a kid growing up in the 90's, and getting my body in a happy state helps me feel good. Whether it's Hanson, the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, or the Spice Girls - they have the power to bring me back to myself.
Final Thoughts on How to Travel with IBS
If you have IBS, just know I'm sending you the biggest virtual hug. It really sucks sometimes and I've been there. I hope you feel better soon.
More IBS Related Posts:
Do you have IBS?
How do you handle traveling with IBS?
Leave a comment with a strategy you use below.