Traveling with IBS

This post is a bit more personal than previous posts as I’m going to share my experience of traveling with IBS and some tips for how I manage my symptoms while traveling. For someone with IBS traveling long term can be daunting. Hopefully sufferers can relate to this blog and buddies of sufferers can learn a bit about what it’s like traveling with IBS. If you’ve never heard of IBS you can swat up on it here, I’ll leave the technical stuff to the experts!

My IBS

My IBS started when I was in university and initially I had no idea what was going on. Crippling stomach pains would appear and disappear without an obvious cause. At the time my family and I would joke about my lack of toilet movements and I considered going to the loo once every few days normal. I remember my friend Christopher telling me he goes at least once a day and thinking that he was out of the ordinary. I still think he’s an outlier but for lots of other reasons!

After university my stomach pains got worse leading me to research my symptoms and visit my doctor. Eventually I was diagnosed with IBS. Unfortunately I don’t have a very good doctor and after diagnosing me he gave me a print out of foods to avoid and sent me home. I tried various dietary interventions. Some worked better than others; reducing the number of bananas I eat and cutting down coffee helped, while swapping to a lactose free diet and avoiding spicy food didn’t.

My IBS is probably genetic, my mum has IBS. And it’s probably be associated with my emotions. Before I started traveling I worked in sales for four years and especially in recruitment I was under pressure to perform. Interestingly my IBS didn’t appear to be associated with the pressure of this job but I have found it linked to other jobs or situations. I can count on a bout of IBS the night before an interview or an important client meeting. Sometimes when traveling I can get an IBS tummy on travel days when we have to make several connections to get to the airport on time.

However more often than not symptoms appear when there is no apparent cause. Even when traveling, it can be a totally relaxed day when all I have to do is work on my tan and I’ll get a bloated stomach and shooting pains. Like today, we are at a very relaxed Helpx at the moment. We have to do a few hours work a day for free accommodation and food and the rest of the day is ours. Later we plan to go to the beach and chill out so I’ve nothing to worry about and yet I have IBS tummy. This leads me to think it’s mainly triggered by something physiological.

The frequency of my IBS attacks and the length of time I have an attack for has reduced since I learnt about the disorder and made a few adjustments. A few years ago I’d get attacks 4-5 a week and now I’m down to 1-2. The period of the attack is also usually much shorter. I credit this to understanding my own triggers and how to combat the attack once onset. IBS can be very personal to the individual and knowing your own body and patterns is key to managing it.

Traveling with IBS

I do still suffer IBS attacks and being on the road makes it different than when I was at home. Triggers are different and how to manage it has changed slightly. The point of this article is to tell you what works for me in the hope that one or two of the tips can bring you some relief and help you enjoy your adventure. Here are five tips for dealing with IBS while on the road;

Discuss IBS with your travel buddy

Even for those with normal bowel movements traveling and sharing a room can present problems but include the urgency, frequency and sometimes noisiness of going when you’ve IBS and you reach a whole new level. I think discussing your IBS with your travel partner helps reduce embarrassment and gives them the opportunity to understand. Knowing “I need to go to the loo” means like right now, will hopefully stop them being annoyed if you’re in the middle of a tourist attraction. It can wait, you can’t! Similarly most hotel rooms in Asia have paper thin walls and hearing the other person in the loo is likely. Discussing things like turning up the TV or leaving the room will hopefully relax the situation. It will also take some of the worry out of the trip hopefully reducing chances of stress induced IBS.

Traveling with IBS

Jake is well versed on my IBS and this definitely helps him understand and provide sympathy when needed.

Find natural remedies that are accessible while traveling

At home I take western style anti bloating tablets and peppermint capsules but it wasn’t practical for me to bring a years worth of these on my trip. Instead I decided to pack an emergency supply and try to find natural remedies a long way. Peppermint tea has been a god send and I’ve been able to find it in every country. Doing a bit of research and trialling some natural remedies before you leave will hopefully help you find a remedy you can pick up while traveling.

Traveling with IBS

Experiment with teas and natural remedies to find what reduces your symptoms. Peppermint tea is great because its accessible in most countries and tastes yummy hot and cold!

Learn to relax

Relaxation can be induced in many ways. Studies have shown links between mediation and improvements in IBS. While physical relaxation can also help. For me, lying on the floor with my knees bent and to the side relaxes my stomach. A friend of mine told me about lying like this. He learned it somewhere when traveling the world. And it does genuinely help. Just the act of lying down has been known to trigger relaxation. It’s also great because you can do it anywhere, and I have! Trust me you can’t look any worse than me lying on the ground in the middle of the Grand Palace in Bangkok! Trial some relaxation techniques before you leave so that you know what will help when you get an attack. For more ideas on ways to relax try this website has some great tips.

Traveling with IBS

Lying like this helps me relax my stomach muscles and reduce cramps associated with IBS. If your shameless like me you can do this wherever an attack happens. I should add this photo if not of me, I got it from Bendchamber.org. I’d love to hear if this works for other IBS sufferers, I usually lie like this for 10-15 minutes.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration isn’t fun at the best of times but it can trigger IBS with constipation so you must be especially careful to stay hydrated. I’d recommend drinking 1.5 the recommended daily intake when in a hot country. This should help stop constipation and if you suffer loose bowel movements it will keep you hydrated. I use an app to track my water intake, you can find various apps for iPhone and Android.

Traveling with IBS

Staying hydrated is a challenge for me but its important I do to help combat constipation. Taking a water bottle out with us and having a drink at water fountains even when I don’t feel especially thirsty helps.

Understand the importance of taking a day off

Yes you’re traveling the world but that doesn’t mean you have to run yourself ragged everyday. Understanding the importance of down days can stop you getting IBS due to stress. Similarly if you can feel the onset of symptoms know that it’s ok to relax in the hostel. Don’t drag yourself around a tourist attraction while needing the loo and suffering pain. Trust me, it’ll be no fun. Even for those without IBS I think it’s important to give yourself “days off” while on the road. You can lie in, catch up with friends back home and do some much needed laundry! This links back to you telling your travel buddy about the IBS. They should be more understanding if you have to duck out of a day because of your symptoms.

IBS can be debilitating and can stop you being able to leave the house let alone consider a RTW trip. It’d be a real shame for someone to miss out on the opportunity of traveling long term because of their symptoms. Hopefully my tips on traveling with IBS can help in someway, at least you can see it can be done! I’d love to connect with others who have IBS or similar, whether you’re traveling or not. Get in touch in the comments below or by writing to me at [email protected]

Take care

Lisa x

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5 comments

  • Julie May 13, 2015   Reply →

    Hi there, well how brave and how very well received! I am planning to start my own travel adventure in the next year and this has been one big worry of mine asking myself…how the hell will I cope if I have an attack of IBS?? Thanks so much for this great post, full of informed advice. Peppermint is indeed a life saver! I had lots of mint tea in Marrakech and didn’t have a single stomach issue!!!

    • Lisa May 13, 2015   Reply →

      Hey Julie,

      Thank you so much for commenting. My goal is complete if it helps you on your trip. Where are you traveling to? Yes peppermint tea is great, and like I say I’ve found it everywhere we’ve been, ginger tea also helps me if you fancy a change and wanna try it out.

      Take care, Lisa

      ps. What typos? *quick edit is a god send* 😉

  • Julie May 13, 2015   Reply →

    Note to self, don’t write comments late at night on stupid phone!!!! Sorry for typos in main comment! ? x

  • Hi Lisa! I also have IBS – I eat a gluten-free/dairy-free diet and find it helps me to manage symptoms so much better. I was amazed at how well my stomach survived our rtw trip – but once you find what works, it makes thing so much better. I totally agree with you about taking a day off every now and then, helps your body relax and reduces any stress! Happy travels. 🙂

    • Lisa May 14, 2015   Reply →

      Hey Jess,

      Thanks for commenting.

      It’s amazing how many people do. A few of my own friends I didn’t even know suffered have surfaced since posting yesterday!

      Gluten and Dairy free is dedication. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I did give up dairy in the beginning but I didn’t see a difference. Maybe I could trial gluten free, how long would I need to give it do you think?

      Yes. Days off are important. I’m sure we’ll have lots on the Gilis 🙂

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