People with irritable bowel diseases such as Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis are often very apprehensive at the thought of trying to plan even a moderately traveled trip, whether by car, train, bus, plane, or cruise or charter ship. However, just because there are some concerns to keep in mind and symptoms to plan around, it does not mean you can never take that vacation you have been planning for years or go on that trip back home for the holidays ever again. Though the thought of traveling with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis or other variations of irritable bowel disease may be a bit daunting to consider, with adequate planning and preparation, you can begin to travel further away from the nest without having a panic attack when the doors shut and the transit begins.
Primary risks to people traveling with IBD
The primary risks and fears that people with irritable bowel disease often have when planning or taking a trip are:
- Relapse and flare up of any symptoms that may be associated with gastrointestinal infections that the traveling may acquire when incurring changes in dietary habits, changes in sleeping hygiene, exposure to poor travel hygiene, lack of access to medications, and excess stress
- The acquisition of foreign infectious diseases when visiting countries or regions with poor social health hygiene and status and the lack of access to clean bathroom facilities or eating establishments.
Make a plan with your doctor
As with any medical advice that you receive, especially when you read it on an online website, always make sure that you double and triple and even quadruple check it with your doctors, irritable bowel disease specialists, and pharmacists before making any changes or taking any vacations, especially out of the country.
Before you make your phone call or go visit your doctor or irritable bowel disease specialist, have a list to check off of all of the questions that you need to ask him or her, and a pad of paper or mobile device to write down all of the answers.
Remember to obtain a written letter that includes your medical history, any medications that you must take, and an emergency plan in case you become seriously ill while out of the area. If you are going to a country or region with a different language or dialect, then make sure that you remember to obtain or write correct translations in any and all languages that you might possibly need.
Have your doctor write a list of possible generic, alternative medications, nearest medical professionals, over the counter medications, and dietary needs as well as other plans to prevent flare ups before you leave your visit.
Last but not least, remember to keep all of your doctor's contact information, such as phone number and fax number, as well as your insurance card in your purse, hand bag, wallet, or suitcase.
Planning your IBD medications
Look up, send an email, or make a phone call to the travel agent, trip organizer, or travel venue to confirm any special considerations or needs that you should know before traveling with your particular list of prescription and over the counter medications or dieting needs.
When travelling by air or another method in which you need to check your luggage, be sure to carry your medications with you in your hand bag, purse, or suitcase. Make sure your doctor has provided you with a letter confirming your irritable bowel disease disorder and medication needs in order to avoid any complications with any current hand bag restrictions due to national security situations.
Make sure that you either, a) have enough medication and over the counter medications to last the entire trip; or b) have a prescription or other plan in place to make sure that you can get your medications when or if you run out in the middle of your trip or vacation stay.
If you are traveling to another country or region with a different language or dialect, make sure that you have a translator program on your phone, a translator book, or the contact information to the nearest translator as well as the local and generic names of the medications in the area you are traveling to and vacationing in.
If you need to bring any medication that must be refrigerated (or must be prevented from freezing), then you will want to be sure that you have packed your medicine in a container that will keep your medicine at the temperature it must be in order to maintain its quality and effectiveness.
Determine ahead of time by looking online, calling your travel agent, or calling the airport, bus, or train terminal whether or not there will be bathrooms on board. If there will be bathrooms on board your vessel or plane, make sure that you request a seat that is as close to the bathroom as possible.
Have your doctor write you a note of any special dietary needs such as snacks or vitamins and share it with the airlines, cruise line, bus terminal, or train terminal ahead of time and during driver, pilot, or captain transfers.
After talking with your doctor, pharmacist, or dietary specialist, find out which of the local foods that you can handle and pack any extra snacks in case you can not find any local food that agrees with your stomach.
Bring sanitation wipes, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, or medical masks to help keep infections at bay or to clean any nasty stuff you come in contact with. You may also want to carry a small bottle of perfume or bathroom spray if it is allowed by the travel venue. If this is not allowed, the travel attendants may have some already on board and will probably not mind sharing some with you immediately upon request. Call ahead or do a quick search and scan of their website to find out.
Dealing with security
Security is always strict at airports, ship boarding stations, railway stations and bus depots, but during national heightened alarm conditions, it can make the act of carrying medications with yourself or loved ones even more daunting than actually having irritable bowel disease, such as Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
Having done your homework with your doctor, irritable bowel disease specialists, and pharmacists and having previously contacted the travel facility prior to packing, you should be fairly prepared for this part of the launch of your trip.
Have all of your paperwork ready and at hand to show to security personnel or boarding attendants. You should always carry your letter from your doctor and your emergency medications in an easy to locate location on your person or in your purse, handbag, backpack, or briefcase. You should also remember to tell the attendants or security right away to avoid any unnecessary precautions on their part should you forget to tell them and they think you were intentionally attempting to conceal your medications from them.
Also, explain ahead of time if you happen to already have a stoma bag attached or wear any sanitation products that you do not want to be found by accident during any physical security checks on your person.
Emergency travel kit
Carrying a kit in your luggage that contains essentials that you may need during your trip will help remove anxiety about traveling away from home and enable you to be more prepared in the event of a bowel accident. It is a good idea to pack this in your hand luggage. Suggested things for the emergency travel kit include:
- A supply of sanitary pads
- Change of underwear and clothes
- Wet wipes and toilet roll
- Antibacterial hand wash
- A small aerosol odor neutralizer
- Small kit of dressings, tape and saline for wound cleaning etc
- Multi-lingual can't wait card (see above)
- Medication- keep in your hand luggage
- Antibiotics such a ciprofloxacin for travellers' diarrhea
- Loperamide or lomotil for diarrhea relief (This can sometimes hide symptoms of a flare so use with caution)
- Oral rehydration salts (e.g. Dioralyte)
- Buscopan for IBS relief medication
- Paracetamol to reduce fevers (beware of products containing codeine- ensure prescriptions are labelled with your name)
- Adequate supply of your regular medication, including steroids in case of a flare
As with any travel plans, always make sure that you have the relevant vaccinations and malaria medication. Always speak to your doctor in good time (about 4-6 weeks before the planned journey). If you decide to use an independent travel clinic, always tell the doctor about your condition. If you being treated for IBD, you may also need vaccination against the following diseases, depending on the destination of your journey:
- Yellow fever
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Meningococcal encephalitis
- Japanese encephalitis
The bottom line
If you followed all of these tips, including consulting with your regular physician or medical specialist, you will hopefully have a few more trips in your future. If you have any tips or hints that were not included in this article, please leave a comment and advice so that you can help others who have irritable bowel disorder or have loved ones with irritable bowel disorder.