Six perfectly frank suggestions for planning a vacation

Before she was diagnosed with IBS, one reader recalls her worse nightmare en route to a quaint getaway two states away.

“I thought it was a stomach flu and I was finally feeling better. Two hours into the drive I started cramping. As it got worse, I asked my husband to exit the highway and head to a rest area. But we weren’t fast enough. I literally had an accident just before he pulled over. I ended up having to stay in the washroom for over an hour, cleaning myself, feeling horrible, and changing clothes. We couldn’t continue on our drive because I wasn’t sure how the rest of the trip would go, so we turned around and went back home. That was two years ago, and we haven’t gone on vacation since.”

Going anywhere with IBS can be a struggle, especially for those with IBS-D. Some people, like our reader who courageously shared her experience, can even develop a fear of traveling and avoid going anywhere beyond a certain distance. While not everyone with IBS will experience the same nightmare, it can be prevented by planning ahead.

Mapping out what you plan to do before, during, and after a trip can help bring back a feeling of control, relieving some of the stress that may creep up. The editors at IBSLife have collected some suggestions to kick off the vacation planning process.

Pack an emergency kit

Bring a carry-on bag and fill it with a fresh change of clothing, wipes, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and a sealable plastic bag to hold the soiled garments. In another small bag, include your over-the-counter (or prescription) medications that you’ll need when an IBS attack occurs. Imodium or Kaopectate are reliable OTCs for diarrhea. Also consider bringing peppermint oil supplements, Tums, and/or Pepcid for the cramping and gas. Be careful not to take all of these medications at once.

Map out the restrooms

Making sure a restroom is always nearby is probably one of the most difficult parts of having IBS-D or IBS-M. To help with this, call attractions ahead of time and ask if washrooms will be readily available throughout the activity. It might be best to pick something that is near a restroom or building just in case an IBS episode happens. If traveling to an amusement park, museum, zoo, or aquarium, there are often maps of the location available. Grab a map (or print them out ahead of time) and mark the washroom locations just in case of an emergency. This is also helpful for deciding what part of the attractions to visit and to avoid if they are too far away for a person’s comfort zone.

Research restaurants

Most people don’t want to cook or don’t have the ability to cook depending on where they stay on vacation. Eating most meals at restaurants is part of the enjoyment of traveling. That can be complicated if certain foods bring about an IBS flare up. Nowadays, most restaurants place their menus online. This is great way to look ahead to see if this restaurant will have options for a specific diet. If a question comes up about a menu item or an ingredient, don’t be afraid to call and ask. Just remember to avoid fast food options since many of the choices can cause IBS symptoms.

Avoid trigger foods the day before

Most people who have had IBS for some time will know which foods would lead to cramping, flatulence, and multiple bathroom trips. To reduce the risk of a flare-up occurring while traveling, stay on the low FODMAP plan and don’t indulge beforehand.

Bring “safe” snacks

It’s important to bring along some “safe” snacks just in case the restaurant menu changes or the commute to the destination is taking longer than normal. This way people can still enjoy being with the rest of the group and not worry about possibly setting off IBS symptoms. Keep the “safe” snacks handy so they are easily accessible.

Talk about IBS with your travel partner(s)

If traveling with others, it’s essential to be open and honest about any extra accommodations that will need to occur. The conversation can be uncomfortable, but great travel partners will understand if there are certain activities that can’t occur or dine at certain restaurants.