July 19, 2022
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Plan, plan, and plan. Sweat the details before you go, so you can relax when you arrive.
Summer is finally here! School is out for a few months, the sun is shining, and travel plans are in the air.
For many, this sounds like heaven. For people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the idea of summer travel can stir up stress and anxiety.
The idea of trying to manage Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis away from home can seem daunting. But with a little planning and preparation, you can have the most amazing vacation this summer.
While the idea of throwing a dart at a map on the wall to choose a vacation destination may seem romantic, a successful trip with IBD takes more planning. Researching the following aspects of your trip before you plunk down a big deposit could prevent a lot of anxiety and travel-related obstacles.
When deciding where to travel, think about what kind of recreation you enjoy, as well as what that might mean for managing your IBD.
An adventurous destination could be a lot of fun, but it might be taxing if your energy is low. A relaxing vacation could allow your body to rest and recover but may not reinvigorate you if you prefer excitement on your trip.
An urban destination would most likely provide easy access to healthcare if necessary, but the hustle and bustle may feel stressful to you. A rural locale may provide the peace and quiet your soul craves but may offer less in the way of healthcare options.
Be sure to balance out all these considerations when selecting your vacation destination.
Once you select your destination, the next most important step is choosing where you are going to stay. With IBD, I always try to stay in a place with a kitchen or kitchenette so I can cook meals and store food in the refrigerator if I need to.
You may also want to choose lodging based on proximity to where you will be spending most of your time — or at least have close access to transportation — so you can return “home” for bathroom needs, clothing changes, or rest when necessary.
I recommend packing for your trip with two things in mind: comfort and just in case. What will make you feel comfortable and at ease, and what will you want to have if you need it?
Here are a few essentials I always pack:
Here is what I pack to feel comfortable:
And here’s what I pack just in case:
Research food options, both on your travel route and in your destination region, as much as you can ahead of time.
Whether you are flying or driving, the options for safe foods while en route can be slim. This is why I recommend packing your own safe snacks or even a full meal for longer trips.
If you’re flying, study airport maps (usually available on your airline’s app, but other apps also exist for this purpose) to see what restaurants will be available near your gate. If you’re driving, check out your route ahead of time to see if you can find any restaurants or supermarkets along the way that will have safe food options.
You’ll also want to research food at your destination. Find out what type of cuisine is most common. Are you able to eat it without triggering symptoms? If not, it might be a good idea to select a different destination, if possible. If that’s not an option, see what other cuisines are readily available.
Look for restaurants that allow for modifications or substitutions or have separate allergy-friendly menus. (This may be less common overseas than in the United States.) It may be worth calling or emailing them in advance to ask any questions you have about their menus so that you are prepared when you arrive.
Also research any nearby supermarkets where you can pick up snacks and ingredients for cooking meals.
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to enjoy your vacation!
Of all the stressors of traveling with IBD, bathroom access stirs up the most worry for me. To help take my anxiety down a notch, I research bathroom locations — both en route and at my destination — as much as possible ahead of time.
I examine maps to find rest stops, restaurants, or supermarkets along my road trip route. When I fly, I choose a seat on the plane closest to the bathroom.
If you have urgency concerns, I highly recommend wearing adult diapers as you travel to your destination. Not only do they provide an extra layer of protection, but it also releases some of the anxiety around finding a bathroom in time and allows the mind to calm down. This may not seem like the most glamorous option, but I promise you won’t regret using them.
If you need a bathroom in the moment, coffee shops and fast-food restaurants (or any restaurant, for that matter!) are most likely to have a public bathroom. You may have to buy something, but you can have someone in your group make the purchase while you dash to the loo.
Other good choices are gas stations and hotels, which often have a restroom in the lobby. Technology can also help: The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation has released a free app called We Can’t Wait to help you find nearby restrooms in the United States.
Fatigue is a common side effect of IBD, even when in remission, so I recommend penciling in plenty of downtime when planning your itinerary. This will give you a chance to catch your breath from the daily activities and take a nap if you need one. Never underestimate the amount of rest your body truly needs — it is always better to have more rest than not enough.
If you take some time to manage your re-entry into your life, it can not only make work and other obligations less stressful but can also help you plan your next trip even more successfully.
Instead of jumping right back into work or your daily routine, try giving yourself some time to rest and readjust. If you are returning from a different time zone you will certainly need time to recover from the jet lag.
Travel is incredibly fun but can be stressful on the body. Give yourself a day or two can help you show up as your best self when you return.
Once you have recovered from the trip, write down a recap of the trip. What went well? What didn’t go so well? What would you do differently next time? Is this a place you want to return to?
Write it all down while the trip is fresh in your mind. Your memory won’t be as clear next year when you are planning, and you don’t want to repeat something that didn’t work well for your health. You also don’t want to forget the restaurants and attractions that were incredibly accommodating for you.
You deserve to have a restful and incredible vacation this summer. IBD can create challenges when planning for a vacation, but with a little extra preparation, you can have a great time.
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