The unpredictable nature of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can make traveling daunting. However, with careful preparation and practical strategies, traveling with IBS can be possible.

IBS is a gastrointestinal condition that can cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as gassiness, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Many aspects of traveling may trigger troublesome episodes for individuals with this condition.

This article explores why travel may trigger IBS symptoms, tips for traveling comfortably, and advice on what to pack.

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IBS is a complicated condition that experts believe occurs due to several interacting factors, including:

During travel, people tend to have higher stress levels and changes in their daily patterns. They may also eat different foods than usual. Any one or a combination of these factors could trigger an IBS flare in some individuals.

In a recent study, over half of the participants reported that their IBS symptoms prevent them from traveling and participating in other social activities.

Despite these challenges, people with IBS may be able to minimize travel’s impact on their IBS symptoms.

This section provides tips that may help people with IBS during their travels.

Plan food ahead of time

Packing snacks that will not upset the digestive system is a good idea to avoid potential IBS flares. Consider carrying low-FODMAP granola bars, rice cakes, or gluten-free crackers.

When dining out, look at menus in advance to identify restaurants that offer IBS-friendly options. If traveling to a foreign country, learning several phrases about ingredients can help people with IBS navigate menus or discuss food options.

Another helpful tip is to request a small fridge in the hotel room, or if a person needs even more control over meals, consider renting accommodations with kitchen facilities.

Regarding food safety, it is important to use caution and avoid foodborne illnesses that can exacerbate IBS symptoms. Avoiding buffets and street vendors, especially in unfamiliar locations, can help reduce the risk of consuming contaminated food.

Read about some healthy snacks for people with IBS.

Stick to a typical sleep and exercise schedule

Disruptions to regular sleep routines can increase stress levels and digestive disturbances, potentially triggering IBS symptoms.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, even when in a different time zone, may help. This may be possible by gradually adjusting sleep and wake times.

Incorporating regular exercise may also help by helping regulate bowel movements, reduce stress, and promote overall digestive health.

Whether taking a brisk walk, finding a nearby gym, or practicing yoga in the hotel room, staying active may positively impact IBS symptoms.

Know the location of restrooms

Knowing the location of restrooms while traveling is essential to avoid potential emergencies.

When flying, selecting an aisle seat can provide easier access to the restroom, allowing quick responses to urgent needs.

Similarly, be aware of rest stop locations along the route when embarking on a road trip.

If traveling to another country, learning how to ask where the restroom is in the local language may be beneficial. Additionally, understanding how local public restrooms operate is important. Some countries may have different restroom customs or require payment for using public facilities.

Take steps to reduce stress

Reducing stress while traveling is crucial for individuals with IBS to prevent symptom flare-ups.

Travel can be physically and mentally demanding, so allowing downtime to recharge and rest is vital.

Experts recommend avoiding excessive consumption of caffeine and alcohol, as these substances can contribute to heightened stress levels and disrupt digestion.

Another effective stress reduction technique is practicing yoga or other mindfulness exercises. Gentle stretching, deep breathing, and meditation can help alleviate stress, promote relaxation, and support healthy digestion.

Learn more about stress reduction strategies.

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated while traveling is essential to prevent dehydration and alleviate the risk of constipation.

People should drink water regularly, even if it means setting reminders or scheduling water breaks throughout the day.

Being aware of the water source is crucial when traveling to foreign destinations though. While water may appear clean, it can still harbor dangerous bacteria, viruses, and parasites, leading to illness and exacerbating IBS symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using water from factory-sealed bottles to ensure a safe water source for drinking, brushing teeth, and ice. In countries with safe water, people may wish to carry a refillable water bottle.

Plan for emergencies

People with IBS may want to consult a doctor before traveling for guidance on managing potential IBS flare-ups.

For instance, individuals may benefit from antidiarrheal medications, such as Imodium, or using laxatives to relieve constipation.

It may also be a good idea to pack an extra pair of underwear and some wipes for easy cleanup in case of an accident.

Read about treatment options for IBS.

Here is a list of items people with IBS may find helpful to take when traveling.

  • safe snacks, such as low-FODMAP granola bars, gluten-free crackers, or trail mix
  • any specific dietary items or kitchen tools needed for self-catering
  • comfort items for rest
  • language translation app or phrasebook
  • bottled water or refillable water bottle
  • medications to manage diarrhea or constipation
  • prescription medications
  • wet wipes
  • extra underwear
  • hand sanitizer

Having these items readily available in a travel kit can help people feel prepared to manage sudden IBS episodes.

Traveling can be stressful for people with irritable bowel syndrome as disruptions to usual routines and diet may trigger symptoms.

Planning may help alleviate concerns and help people feel prepared. Packing safe snacks and maintaining a regular sleep and exercise schedule may minimize the risk of IBS episodes.

Knowing the locations of restrooms, especially in a foreign country or when flying, and being prepared for emergencies by carrying appropriate medications may also help.