How to Plan a Safe, Healthy Trip When Traveling With IBD

In observance of Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week, these are tips for travelers with irritable bowel disease.

Woman standing on top of a colon and intestines looking outward

Image Composite: Travel+Leisure (Source: Nadia Bormotova/Getty Images; Elena Vafina/Getty Images)

Travel can be stressful. And for the estimated 3.1 million Americans living with Irritable Bowel Disease, that stress can be amplified because caring for their gut is an extra hassle.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is the result of two disorders, both involving chronic inflammation in the digestive tract: Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. The diseases can vary from mild to debilitating.

"Being a prepared traveler can reduce stress and anxiety," Jacquelyn Spencer, senior manager of education and support at the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation told Travel + Leisure. "Although stress and anxiety do not cause an IBD flare-up, it can make your existing symptoms worse."

While traveling with either disease may be daunting, it should not hold anyone back. Before leaving on a trip, the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation recommends checking in with a home doctor for help connecting with a medical professional in their travel destination.

If travel plans involve a trip overseas, the foundation recommends international medical insurance, which can help patients navigate and afford unplanned trips to the emergency room or doctor.

One of the most important packing tips for travelers with IBD is to keep all medication in a carry-on bag to mitigate the possibility of lost luggage. Should travelers need to bring medication that doesn’t comply with typical carry-on rules, there is a printable TSA Disability Notification card that should be filled out ahead of travel. It will alert an agent that the passenger may need special assistance while navigating airport security. 

For passengers traveling with prescription pills, TSA's website says that it is not necessary to notify an officer at security and that travelers are unlikely to face additional screenings. As long as the medication is properly screened, there is no limit to what passengers are allowed to bring, unless the medication is in liquid form.

There are also little things patients can do to help ease their journey, like calling their airline ahead of time to plan a meal that meets their dietary restrictions, or researching restaurants in their destination that will accommodate their diet.

Spencer also recommends travelers with IBD avoid raw foods and make sure there is access to safe drinking water in their destination. She also advocates for patients to speak to their doctors ahead of time, even if the trip seems routine and isn't to a far-flung locale.

"Your gastroenterologist is your pilot on your IBD journey," she says. "They should be part of your travel plan. Speaking with your doctor before you travel, focusing on self-care, and implementing a strategy can get you out and traveling."

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