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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

Tips for Traveling With IBS

Don't let your IBS symptoms keep you from seeing the world or visiting relatives. With planning and perseverance, you can have a wonderful vacation.
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Before Your Trip

  • Choose a destination that you will enjoy. "Anyplace calm and relaxing is probably good," says Edward Blanchard, PhD, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany. He says a frenetic, multicity tour of Europe might be more difficult for IBS patients.
  • Check travel advisories for different parts of the world. This is a smart thing to do even if you don't have IBS. The CDC web site (www.cdc.gov) has a traveler's health section. It contains information about disease risks (such as travelers' diarrhea), vaccinations, and other prophylactics. Make sure to visit the site well before your trip as some immunizations take weeks to become effective.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Knowing the who, what, when, where, and how of your journey can help avert stress and anxiety. Allow enough time to get to places to avoid rushing and to have time to assess a situation. "The less surprised one is, the better," says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of the American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion. "The only surprises should be delightful surprises because you're in a beautiful place, or you discover a fantastic buy on silver."

Some questions to ask include:

  • Is there an early check-in for the hotel if I arrive in the morning?

  • Is there a late check-out if I need one?

  • Is there a refrigerator for my own snacks in the hotel?

  • Is there a restaurant on the premises? What is on the menu?

  • Are there grocery stores and restaurants in the area?

  • Will I be able to request special meals in the plane, hotel, or restaurant?

  • Investigate the bathroom situation. Is there a toilet on the bus? Are there designated times when airplane passengers cannot leave their seats? Will I need special coins or to buy toilet paper at certain restrooms? The answers to these questions could help better plan lavatory trips.

Some IBS patients request aisle seats rows closest to the bathroom. Others feel more comfortable driving to their destination so they can stop as many times as they want. When driving, or out and about in an unfamiliar place, it may help to know the location of the nearest bathroom.

Norton says people have checked the Internet for bathroom diaries and have mapped out the location of large chain bookstores with restrooms. Palm Pilot users have used Vindigo, a high-tech directory service.

  • Learn how to say key words if traveling to a foreign country. Besides knowing how to say 'Where's the bathroom?' it will also help to be able to ask the locals things like: 'Can you make (a dish) without ...' and 'I can't tolerate. ...' You fill in the blanks with your particular food sensitivity or intolerance. This may mean going to a local library, a university, or private companies such as Berlitz for consultation on language, says Bonci.
  • Be up front with your travel companions. The destination may not matter as much if people are honest with tour guides and travel buddies. "People have gone through bus tours of Europe, and they let (guides) know in the very beginning that if they needed to stop for a restroom, they would appreciate it," says Norton, noting that people are usually very understanding.
  • Pack essentials. Bring a carry-on bag with extra clothes, medications, fiber supplements, bottled water, and snacks. You will want all of this with you in case your luggage gets lost and when there are no good food choices in transportation terminals. For emergencies, it will help to have handy your doctor's contact information and possible sites for medical care at your destination.

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