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Traveling with IBS can be tricky. When you’re heading off on holiday, understandably, you’ll be worrying not just about your symptoms flaring up, but also things like eating unfamiliar foods, and a change in your normal routine.
Here’s my advice to help you avoid any unnecessary discomfort so you can enjoy your getaway without being controlled by the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Tips for traveling with IBS
Consider self-catering accommodation
Hotels are great and all, but when you’ve got IBS, being able to prepare your own meals can be the difference between keeping symptoms under control and having a massive flare-up.
Having a kitchen at your disposal where you can cook your own food means you can even take non-perishables along with you in your suitcase, so you don’t have to stress about trying to decipher food labels in a foreign supermarket (think things like seasonings, stock cubes, nut butters and – my favourite – microwaveable grain pouches).
When you’re there, visit local produce markets to buy fresh, in-season whole foods, and build your meals around those.
Self-catering accommodation is often cheaper, and you’ll usually get the benefit of having a washing machine at your disposal too, so you can do some laundry (if the worst happens). Airbnb is my go-to for finding affordable self-contained holiday rentals.
Be prepared for the flight
Take tried and tested safe snacks with you (low FODMAP if need be). Unfortunately, even special in-flight meals don’t cater for plant-based low FODMAP diets so you’ll probably have to feed yourself on the flight.
It might be wise to book an aisle seat on the plane, so you have quicker access to the toilet and don’t need to keep disturbing your neighbours if you need to make frequent trips.
On that note, take a spare change of clothes with you, even if you’ve only got a short-hop and don’t usually have accidents. Just knowing you have a backup outfit in your hand luggage can help to alleviate the ‘what if’ worries. Taking a plastic bag to put your dirty clothes into and some baby wipes is also a smart move.
Flying can leave you dehydrated, so if you suffer from constipation-predominant IBS, make sure you take your own supply of water onto the plane with you and aim to drink about 250ml of water for every hour you’re in the air. For general tips on managing constipation, you might find this article helpful.
I’d also recommend avoiding caffeine and alcohol during the flight so as not to irritate your gut (regardless of which sub-type of IBS you suffer with).
Learn some lingo
Learn to say a few key phrases in the local language. Things like ‘no …(e.g. onion/garlic), please’ or ‘where is the bathroom? can help reduce some of the stress associated with being in an unfamiliar place.
Scour the web
Let’s be real, even if you’ve booked self-catering accommodation, you’re probably going to want to go out for a meal once or twice during your trip. So before you head off, research the menus of local restaurants and cafes online to find some suitable meal options.
There’s nothing worse than sitting starving hungry in a restaurant, staring at a menu of things you know are going to make you feel dreadful if you eat them!
Keep meds close to hand
Pack any medications you need in your hand luggage if you’re flying, and if you’re driving, keep them close by (not stashed away in the boot).
Also check the requirements of the country you’re traveling to – you may need to carry a copy of your prescription as well for customs.
Try to maintain a routine
Holidays often mean late nights and lazy mornings – whether intentional or under the duress of jet lag – but messing up your sleeping pattern could cause your IBS symptoms to flare up. If you can’t stick to your normal bed time, at least make sure you get eight hours of sleep every night.
The same goes for exercise – if you usually workout at home, try to keep it up while you’re away. You don’t need to find a gym unless you want to – walking, hiking, swimming and dancing are great forms of exercise that are easy to fit into vacay life.
Take it easy
Try to resist the temptation to pack too much into your holiday. Of course, you’ll want to make the most of your time away, but dashing around on daily sightseeing excursions will take its toll.
Schedule in a couple of days of pure chill out time. Read a book by the pool, get a massage or just watch the world go by from your balcony. Remember that you’re there to hit the reset button on life.
Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but getting into the routine of regular meditation practice is really beneficial for helping to keep nerves and anxiety at bay.
Download a meditation app and use it for a couple of weeks before you go away, and make it available so you can use it offline during your journey as well. Alternatively, you could make yourself a playlist of calming songs to listen to. If nothing else, it will give you a nice distraction!
If you’re really not into either of these suggestions, breathing exercises can also help you to relax. Try the 4-2-7 technique:
- Breathe in for four seconds
- Hold for two seconds
- Breathe out for seven seconds
Repeat four to eight times and again as needed any time you feel anxiety creeping up on you.
On the bright side, you might find that your IBS actually improves while you’re on holiday, as stress – a common trigger of symptoms – is reduced.
Figure out your FODMAP triggers
If you haven’t already, consider doing the low FODMAP diet to identify any foods that trigger your IBS before you go on holiday.
I always recommend that clients start the low FODMAP elimination phase at a time when they know they are going to be at home in familiar surroundings, with their usual schedule. It can be hard to stay compliant when you’re traveling and eating out frequently, and dealing with dietary restrictions when you’re supposed to be relaxing and enjoying yourself on holiday isn’t much fun!
It’s equally important to do the reintroduction phase when you’re in control of what’s going into your mouth or your results might not be accurate if your meals have been ‘contaminated’ with a FODMAP that you weren’t aware of.
By the time you get to the personalisation phase, you’ll know your worst food triggers and will be able to follow a less restrictive diet while you’re away.
It usually takes anywhere between 8 and 18 weeks to go through the whole process, which might sound like a big commitment, but it’s such a relief and so empowering to know which foods are triggering your symptoms. It’s absolutely worth it in the long run, not just for the holiday you’re planning now, but for every holiday in future to never worry about traveling with IBS again!