Traveling is such a love language for me- I thrive on new adventures and am always seeking to discover new corners of the world. While having gut health issues can seem like a challenge when traveling, I never let it stop me from frolicking across continents and seeing the wonders of the world. It is true that traveling with Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, or general stomach issues can be daunting, but it is absolutely possible! In fact, I argue that it is necessary. It is so easy to get into a pattern of self-pity and discouragement when struggling with health issues, yet traveling breaks this pattern. It frees your mind from focusing inward and forces you to focus outward on another culture and become amazed at new kinds of food, people, and nature.
Here are a few tips I have as you begin planning for your next trip:
- Two words: Aisle Seat. If your travel includes hopping on a plane, do your best to select an aisle seat when purchasing your ticket. While the window seat can be appealing with a view of take-off and landing, there is nothing more awkward than stepping over your other two seat mates multiple times throughout the flight just to go to the restroom.
- Minimize stress. Any kind of travel, whether for work or vacation, can be stressful, both physically and mentally. Since stress is a leading trigger for a flare up, it is important to ward it off when possible. You can do this simply by meditating for a few minutes, taking several slow, deep breaths for at least 10 seconds, read a favorite book, or go for a walk. Don’t let stress ruin your trip- catch it before it manifests itself within the gut.
- Remember your records. Whether you are going for a weekend or for a few months, you need to keep a copy of your medical records with you in case of an emergency. With technology it is incredibly easy to keep track of your records through a health app, allowing you to never get stuck without them when you need this information the most. When living in Spain, I was put in the hospital for a flare up and, while they didn’t speak much English, having my records with me saved a lot of time and frustration trying to explain my condition through a language barrier.
- Don’t forget your medication. This tip is pretty self-explanatory. If you take medication for your condition on a daily basis, pack enough of it to last you the duration of the trip. It is even a good idea to pack a few extra days’ worth of medication in case, for whatever reason, your trip is extended.
- Meal prep ahead of time. Take a little time before your trip to think through the meal situations throughout your trip. Will your hotel have a continental breakfast? Are you going to a developing country that may have food that is disagreeable with your GI tract? Will you have access to a kitchen? If there are any meal situations that may seem questionable to you, pack food that you know works well for you. If you have access to a kitchen, go to the local grocery store and stock up on nutrient dense food to cook for your meals. If you won’t have access to a kitchen, stock up on food that you can eat raw for a meal or a snack. (If you are in a country where the water supply is questionable, only choose fruits and vegetables with a thick peel like a banana or orange.)
- Combat travel sickness. Traveling can really take a toll on the body and lower the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to sickness. Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are auto-immune diseases that require the use of immunosuppressant medication, so UC and Crohn’s warriors are already living with a lower immune system than normal. Add the stress of travel to an already lowered immune system and that can often lead to sickness.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Eat a variety of nutrient-dense food
- Add probiotics to your daily diet to add good bacteria to your gut. You can do this either through probiotic supplements or fermented foods.
- Skip alcohol and coffee as these will dehydrate your body and make it more acidic
- Avoid sugar as it facilitates the right environment for bacteria and infections to grow
- Consume supplements of vitamins and minerals that you are not consuming enough of regularly in your diet.
Whether you are traveling overseas with Crohn’s or just traveling a few hours away for New Year’s, it is absolutely possible to enjoy your trip! Once you follow these few tips and prepare ahead of time, the only question left to ask is…where will you travel in 2017?