Travel Tips for IBDers
Here are some travel tips contributed by
Lynne Murphy. She wrote them
originally to the
and has kindly allowed me to reprint them here.
I've had active ulcerative colitis for 16 years and moved to
South Africa from the U.S. 3 years ago, so have a little experience
with traveling internationally. In all honesty, getting to work in
the morning (15 minute drive) presents the same problems that
crossing the Atlantic does in terms of pain/urgency, but there are
definitely more considerations when going an unfamiliar route. Here
are some tips:
I think that's all I know. Except that I would like to recommend
South Africa as a vacation destination!
- Resolve to yourself that you won't let your intestines rule your
life. Yes, traveling is going to involve periods of intestinal
discomfort (maybe even embarrassment), but it's going to be so much
more rewarding than staying at home. You will have to negotiate with
your guts (I can't do any traveling in the morning because that's my
worst part of the day), but don't let them intimidate you.
- Don't travel with anyone whose ability to deal patiently with your
symptoms is in question. Incidentally, I've found that my best
friends and best travel partners are rarely healthy people. Even if
their disease is very different from IBD, non-healthy people usually
can understand what it is to be at the mercy of your body sometimes.
- Visit your doctor beforehand, and make plans together for any
contingencies. Coming here, I brought not only enough of my regular
medication to keep me going, but also anti-diarrheals and anti-
spasmodics, steroids and instructions on when/how to use them, and
cipro (was that it? hard to remember) in case of little nasties in
my digestive tract--with explicit instructions on what symptoms to
look for. If your doctor is not well-traveled, you might want to go
to one that's recommended by a traveler's association--contact the
auto club or a travel agent for suggestions.
Also find out the status of medical facilities, medical knowledge,
and general hygeine in the place. If you're going to a developing
country it's a good idea to bring disposable syringes in case you
need to be hospitalized. Travel stores sell medical kits that
include syringes and other things that might not be sterile in some
Ask the american consulate for suggestions of doctors (before you
- take out traveler's medical insurance.
- Learn how to ask for the closest toilet in the language of the
place. This applies to english speaking countries as well! My first
day in S.A. I asked for the "restroom" to the bewildered stare of a
waitress. I have had to overcome my American prudery and learn to
- Before taking long car trips, contact tourist boards (or the auto
association) to help plan the easiest route for you. Take into
consideration the frequency of towns/service areas, local norms and
conditions re: use of the great outdoors (here in the savanna, it's
hard to find a tree to go behind!), and road conditions (the rougher
the road, the more often i need a toilet). Belonging to the auto
association is a great idea, since its benefits are international and
you'll more easily get up-to-the-minute info on conditions. If
you're insecure about using the language, have someone write down for
you a translation of "I am ill and in need of a toilet. Please
direct me to the nearest one." and carry that in your pocket to show
to people if the need arises. Know how to read "ladies" and "men"
and "toilet" in the language of the place and what kind of pictorial
symbol is used for these.
- When touring a city, get a streetmap with landmarks, etc. on it.
Keep in mind where the tourist attractions, bus depots, medical
centres, malls, etc. are while you're walking around. I've gone into
a number of museums and paid my entrance fee only to get to the
bathroom! Remember that restaurants cannot be relied upon to have
public bathrooms. I ask for the bathroom before asking for a table,
just to make sure. Hotels can usually be counted on for accessible
bathrooms, but depending on where you are, you might not be able to
get past the security. It's always a good idea to dress nicely
while touring so you will be taken for someone who is legitimately
in the hotel/restaurant/office building you attack. Always keep a
pocketful of tissues in case there's no toilet paper.
- When flying, keep in mind that the lines for the bathroom are worst
after a meal, after the movie, and when the lights go on in the
morning (on overnighters). So, if you can go at other times, do.
Flight attendants can be very sympathetic and may get you to the head
of a line or let you into off-limits bathrooms (like in first class).
Remember that the contents of your intestines will expand when the
plane descends, so keep an eye on the time and make sure to get to
the bathroom before the seatbelt sign goes on. On several occasions,
I've had to ask strangers to squeeze my hand as we landed (the pain
in the hand distracts from the pain in the gut). The strangers have
always been willing to help. (Being a young woman probably helps me
there.) Don't forget to ask for an aisle seat relatively near to the
- Make sure your airplane has a bathroom. It's dangerous to reserve
on anything less than 36 seats--some of the models that used to have
bathrooms have had their bathrooms taken out to fit in another seat
(a certain american airline whose 5-letter name begins with a "d"
stranded me in this way). So, your travel agent might not be able
to tell for certain from the make of plane whether there is a
bathroom. Check with the airline. Also, it may be a good idea to
recheck before boarding. I once got on a one-bathroom plane to
discover mid-flight that the bathroom was taped over as "out of
order"--it had been like this for many flights, the crew reported. (I
wrote to the airline and got a full refund for my flight!)
- Tip for women of childbearing age only: If staff of a place won't
let you use their bathroom and you don't plan on seeing these people
again, tell them you're pregnant and feeling ill. If the staff is
female, you're in like flynn. (Of course, you may have to make up a
lot of details for conversation afterward, but telling people you
have a disease can make them nervous. The ends justify the means!)
- Always keep some cash in your pocket (I also keep some under the
insole of my shoe, just in case). This way, you'll be able to pay
entrance to places to use bathroom or be a legitimate customer at a
shop with a bathroom. (Or you can bribe people to use their
bathroom, if necessary.)
- Eat lightly. It's really tempting to eat a lot on vacation, but the
more you eat, the more you.... I found on my recent vacation that a
snack (fruit or bread) at midday and a meal in the evening were
sufficient for me and really reduced my running for the bathroom.
This is of course more difficult if you're traveling with someone.
I take a lot of immodium when traveling, but for me it does not cure
diarrhea, but only delays it.
- For car rides, I find that my worst problems are in the beginning
of the ride, and things normalize after an hour or so. So, instead
of starting out on the highway, I drive around town (where there are
accessible bathrooms--sometimes just around my block several times)
in order to adjust to the vibrations of the car and the anxiety of
being in a car. (Saying I drive around town is misleading. I drive
around from service station to mall to fast food joint...) I also
take a motion sickness pill the night before I leave, since cars make
me feel yucky any way. (Happily for me, i hereditarily have opposite
reactions to soporific drugs, so I can take these things and drive.
You might need to be more careful.)
Johannesburg, South Africa
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