Manage travel anxiety associated with irritable bowel syndrome

Italy, Venice, couple walking through St Mark's Square, holding handsTraveling can be a lot of fun. It allows us to meet new and interesting people, experience different cultures, and in some cases, enjoy delicious new cuisines. However, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), traveling can be challenging. Many people with intestinal disorders avoid trains, planes, buses, and car travel out of fear they will have an awful experience.

Irritable bowel syndrome, the chronic disorder that causes abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, has turned countless people away from travel. Many people with this condition experience flare-ups when they consume certain foods, so they are forced to adjust their diets and are afraid of eating anything foreign.

IBS sufferers and travel anxiety


One of the biggest problems with IBS is the sudden need to go to the washroom. It is an awful feeling when a person with irritable bowel syndrome has an attack and is nowhere near a washroom. For many sufferers, there is also a feeling of embarrassment when a bad day strikes and there is a need to run to the washroom several times in a matter of hours.

If you are a sufferer, the word “travel” probably presents all sorts of uncomfortable questions: What if I have a flare-up when I am away? What if I am not near a washroom? What if the washrooms are busy when I have to go? What will I eat when I am away?

While these are all valid concerns, doctors insist if you have an intestinal disorder like IBS, you can still enjoy all the benefits that come with travel. It just takes planning and determination.

Tips to travel with irritable bowel syndrome

One of the common triggers for intestinal disorders is stress, and IBS is no exception. Travel is supposed to be exciting and enjoyable, but let’s be honest, at times, it can be stressful. With IBS, being well organized before you get on that train, plane, or bus is the best way to avoid stress and anxiety associated with the condition. Ask a lot of questions before you leave, so that there aren’t any unpleasant surprises while you are on your journey or when you get to your final destination.

Tip 1: Ask a lot of questions before you leave

Below are some examples of the type of questions that, once answered, can help put your mind at ease.

  • Is there a washroom on the bus?
  • Will I need special coins to buy toilet paper in certain restrooms?
  • Will I be able to request special meals in the plane, hotel, or restaurant?
  • Can I get an aisle seat, close to the washroom?
  • Are there exceptions to the designated times when airplane passengers cannot leave their seats?
  • Is there a refrigerator in the hotel room for my own snacks?
  • What is on the hotel restaurant menu?
  • Are there grocery stores in the area?
  • Is there a drug store in the area?

Tip 2: Be organized

Avid IBS travelers have been known to search the Internet for large chain bookstores, department stores, and gas stations that have public restrooms, so they can map out possible stops on their journey. These organized travelers usually make sure they know a few key phrases if they are traveling in a foreign country. Being able to ask, “Where is the washroom?” and “Can you make this dish without …” can come in handy.

Tip 3: Carry along with you a few extra clothes, medications, and water

Bringing a small carry-on with a few extra clothes, medications, fiber supplements, water, and snacks is a smart idea. You may need your medications, and if there aren’t good food choices for you while you are on your journey, you will be glad to have your own supply.

Tip 4: Check with travel advisories

Before choosing your destination, you will want to check travel advisories. In fact, this is something everyone should do, not just those who suffer from IBS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a traveler’s health section that includes information about disease risks, including diarrhea.

Tip 5: Confide with your travel companions

When travelling with others, it’s important that you are open about your condition so they can be understanding and accommodating of it. If you’re always bailing to visit tourist sites or asking to make frequent bathroom stops, and your travel companions don’t know about your IBS, this can lead to frustration and annoyance. Instead, be open and honest with them to gain their support and understanding.

Tip 6: Stay hydrated

Staying well hydrated can help regulate digestion and prevent further issues. Lack of hydration can increase the risk of constipation and on the other hand, if you suffer from diarrhea, staying well hydrated can help replenish lost fluids.

Tip 7: Keep your meals consistent

It can be difficult to keep with a meal schedule while on vacation, but trying to stick to a schedule as best as possible can minimize any unwanted surprises with regards to your IBS. Eating consistently can help regulate digestion. Furthermore, you will want to keep your portion size consistent, and not undereat one day and then overeat the next, as this can wreak havoc on your digestion as well.

At your destination

While on vacation, wanting to experiment with food and overindulge is natural, but if you have irritable bowel syndrome, this can spell disaster. The best approach is to keep the serving amount the same and stick to the same number of meals. Steer clear of vending machine snacks and eat healthy snacks that you can tolerate. Many IBS sufferers do well with crackers, sports bars, and yogurt. When it comes to drink choices, water or Gatorade is best.

If you really want to experiment with food, do it in small amounts – try only one new item each day.

If IBS symptoms flare up

If symptoms flare up, you can use fruit pectins or oatmeal to ease diarrhea. Fiber supplements or milled flaxseed are options if you have the opposite symptom – constipation. Nutritionists say that chamomile tea often helps with the cramps that come with IBS. Of course, whatever medications or natural remedies you have brought along should be considered.


Research shows that people with IBS have a tendency to shy away from exercise. Sometimes, travel can include a lot of walking. It turns out that a recent study shows exercise is actually helpful to those who suffer from IBS. A total of 75 adults took part in an exercise study that involved increasing physical activity over a 12-week period. At the end of the study period, IBS symptoms, as well as energy levels, sleeping habits, and overall quality of life were assessed.

The severity of IBS symptoms in the physical activity group decreased significantly, compared with a control group. The authors of the study caution that if you have IBS you should not overdo it when it comes to exercise, but they say a daily walk could be beneficial. This is good news to those who like to explore when they are traveling.

While IBS can be difficult to manage at times, thoughtful planning means you are in control and have a better chance of having a good experience. Remember, traveling can be fun, and there are few things in life better for the human body than being happy.


Related Reading:

Traveler’s diarrhea: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

IBS diet: Foods to eat and foods to avoid