Going on Vacation When You Have Incontinence

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 02, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

For Melissa Arentz, a 39-year-old mother of two teenage boys from Baltimore, summer means hitting the road with her sons' baseball teams. But when you're someone with overactive bladder, interstate highways and baseball fields are some of the last places you want to get caught when you've got to go.

Ten years ago, these summer trips might have been a disaster, but Arentz has perfected her game and manages her condition well at home and away.  

"I travel a lot," Arentz says, "and I don't let [overactive bladder] stop me."

With planning and a few good habits and hacks, you can still enjoy your vacation.

3 Months Out: Get Treatment

Maybe you've been plagued for years by excessive pit stops, but you've never done anything about it. "Starting to plan that trip may be the trigger to go ahead and start working on the overactive bladder," says Charles Rardin, MD, a urogynecologist at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island.

Don't wait until the week before your vacation to talk to your doctor.

It can take a few months to sort out the right dose of medication and for the drugs to work as well as they can. You'll also need time to see the benefits of the Kegel exercises that your doctor will probably recommend and to identify foods, drinks, and situations that trigger your bladder.

A Week Out: Settle the Details

"Trips and vacations are stressful, which can cause anxiety, and for a lot of people, that anxiety comes out in their bladder," says Lisa Hawes, MD, a urologist at Chesapeake Urology Associates.

Help lower that stress by making a vacation checklist to avoid situations that could leave you running for the bathroom more often than usual. For example:

  • Decide what you want to take, and pack it.
  • Make pet care or house-sitting arrangements.
  • Reserve an aisle seat (or see if you can get priority boarding to choose one) to make bathroom breaks on the plane or bus a little easier.

Handle these types of things well before you need to head out. And make sure you've given yourself enough time to get to the airport, train station, or wherever it is you're going.

While You're Away

Drink plenty of water. The whole point of vacations is to break out of your daily routine, but that doesn't mean you should take a break from healthy habits. Filling up on water might seem like the opposite of what you want to do, but dehydration will make your pee more concentrated. Any irritants will be more irritating, which can make you feel like you have to go even more.

Arentz agrees. "I can go 2 or 3 hours without having anything to drink and still have to go four times."

Avoid triggers. For many, getting away means indulging in all the food and drink available at your destination. But that can get you into trouble.

Alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks, spicy foods, chocolate, and foods with acid, like tomatoes, can irritate your bladder and send you to the bathroom more often. Because of the caffeine and carbonation combo, "I try to cut soda out when I'm traveling," Arentz says.

Try over-the-counter remedies. It can be hard to say "no" on vacation, and you don't always have to. "If you know something is going to trigger you to make you go more urgently, like tomatoes," Hawes says, "if you take Prelief right before you eat, it will cut some of the acid in the urine and help with frequency."

That's an over-the-counter supplement for heartburn and bladder issues. Azo Bladder Control is another OTC product that could help, she says.

Take your medications. "Some people don't want to be on a pill every day, but they will take them on their vacation," Hawes says. If that's your strategy, she recommends you start 2 or 3 days ahead of time.

Bring essential supplies with you. Before you head out for a day of sightseeing, pack a small bag with protective pads, a change of underwear -- and toilet seat covers, if you need them. "Public restrooms can be a challenge for some folks," but hovering and not actually sitting on the toilet might make it hard to completely empty your bladder, Rardin says. Better to have peace of mind and less stress.

Get the lay of the land. When you arrive at the museum, the amusement park, or, in Arentz's case, the ballpark, find out where the restrooms are. "I become more relaxed when I know I have access to a bathroom," she says. "I can have something to drink and relax because I know I can get there."

Go regularly. As much as possible, Arentz tries to stick to a schedule to cut down on emergency restroom breaks. She tells herself, "I'm going to go this far, then I'm going to stop."

Distract yourself. Even with a great plan, you still might find yourself in a situation where you can't get to a bathroom right away. When that happens, Arentz focuses on something else, whether that's throwing herself into the boys' baseball game or working on a Sudoku puzzle.

"I can't tell you how many times I've picked up my phone to play a video game just to distract me until we get to a place where I can go to the bathroom," she says. "And before I know it, I've waited longer than I thought I could."

Show Sources


Charles Rardin, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology; program director, fellowship in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, Alpert Medical School of Brown University; director, minimally invasive and robotic surgical services, Women & Infants' Hospital of Rhode Island, Providence.

Lisa Hawes, MD, urologist, Chesapeake Urology Associates.

Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust: "Drinking fluids and how they affect your bladder."

Cleveland Clinic: "Bladder irritating foods."

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