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Traveling with IBD

Seeing the world has always been a dream of mine but when IBD came along, those dreams suddenly seemed to be put on hold. I stopped traveling the way I used to simply because I had a lot more to worry about. Car rides, plane rides, big cities, and rural towns all posed new threats that I never had to take into consideration before.

I have been fortunate enough to see much of this little, blue planet of ours and it has been nothing short of extraordinary. After being diagnosed with IBD, I found myself looking at travel through a more difficult lens. What if my symptoms get in the way? What if I can’t handle the transportation? What if I miss out on this “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity because of my IBD?

What if IBD stops me from living my dream?

what doe we say to the god of [IBD]?…not today.

From Los Angeles to New York, Sydney to Santiago, and Amsterdam to Kingston, I have witnessed the awe and majesty of the world while also battling IBD.

Planes, trains, and automobiles. Oceans, lakes, and rivers. Mountains, forests, and gardens. Skyscrapers, town halls, and huts. It has been done before and it can be done for you too. Whatever your battle, traveling is one of the most beneficial parts of our lives because it challenges us to grow, adapt, learn, and experience life in new ways. Your mental and physical struggles both play a huge role in your travel experiences which are equally important to your development.

And you will be better because of it.

After all of my trips so far, I have discovered and adopted a formula that has helped me have successful adventures despite my IBD telling me my limits. Defy the odds, see the world, live your dream, and do the damn thing.

You deserve it.

Before The Trip

Prior to embarking on your journey to that awesome place, doing awesome things, with awesome people (yourself), you will want ot be prepared. IBD has a way of getting in the way if preparation is not accounted for. After talking to your doctor, insurance company, and bank about the trip, you’ll eventually need to start packing at some point – but probably the night before you leave like most of us. So, aside from the regular things you pack like clothes, electronics, and your favorite travel buddy – Mr. Snuggleufigus – here are some IBD-specific essentials that you should consider in your packing list:

  • Extra Underwear – duh
  • Extra Medication – stored close by in case you get separated from your luggage
  • Durable water bottle – dehydration hits us a little quicker with IBD
  • Day-pack / Small Backpack – to carry extra undies, snacks, and water wherever you go
  • Snacks on Snacks on Snacks – because there can never be too many
  • Half Roll of NICE toilet paper – you’ll thank me for this one
  • A picture of Momma – love you momma!
  • Book the aisle seats – a must-have for easy bathroom access for long airplane trips
  • Order a special meal – most airlines will accommodate this with 24hours prior notice. The vegetarian/vegan option if you can. Also just ask nicely for extra snacks.
  • Bathrooms on Busses – if you are taking a long bus ride, double check to make sure yours is equipped with a toilet. If not, speak to the driver beforehand or request a stop in advance.
  • Depends for the win – ESSENTIAL (see below)

During the trip

Throughout your trip, there are lots of things to keep in mind, however, there are also lots of things you can do to actually enjoy yourself instead of worrying. Taking the time to focus on your daily activities instead of your symptoms can work wonders on generating lasting, genuine, memories that you can’t wait to tell Auntie Shirley about at your next holiday gathering.

When traveling anywhere, it is always a good idea to keep these things in mind:

Pin-Point the Potty

ALWAYS know where the bathrooms are. This should be the first thing you do when entering a new space. Even if you don’t have to use it. Find someone who works there or has toilet paper stuck to their shoe and they will usually be happy to point it out. Just ask, it’s worth it just to know.

Daypack Essentials

I usually use a draw-string bag or a small backpack but I never go anywhere without some emergency items. A water bottle – because hydration, duh – paired with an assortment of snacks (more below), a plastic bag with extra toilet paper, and one pair of extra undies. Unfortunately, I have had to use everything in this pack on one occasion, but it was so nice to have when I needed it!

Snack Attack

I don’t know about you but my metabolism is insane. Coupled with the fact that food is processed and eliminated relatively quickly with UC, I am eating constantly. Great snacks that always seem to ‘hold me over’ until the next meal include: fresh & dried fruits, sandwiches, and nuts/power bars (when healed only!). These are all great for providing great macronutrients in a pinch and will surely last if you pack enough.

It Depends

OK, so going on a trip – especially one that involves activities like hiking, kayaking, or horseback riding – it is just as much of a mental battle as it is a physical one when you have IBD. Having a ‘soldier on the front lines’ sort of speak is a sure-fire way to find peace of mind even in your most anxious moments. I actually found that on trips when I did wear my Depends, I felt MORE in control and MORE confident in my ability to overcome my symptoms as well as any messy problems they may cause. With these, I live by the philosophy:

“It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it”

Got Your Back(side)

Your support system is always going to be your greatest resource to help you through your crazy IBD life. However, on trips, your support system may take other forms than usual and it is important to adapt to get the full power you deserve. For me, my support system was my travel buddy and my wallet. I was able to communicate how I was feeling to my travel buddy while also being able to buy good, nutritious food and even paying for some public restrooms! Symptoms may arise on your trip and you may feel compelled to panic but there is no need. The people around you are usually capable of helping even if it is a complete stranger. All you have to do is ask or at least act it out for them like Charades. The ability to navigate new areas with either someone or something to help you out on your journey is invaluable. Always know who and what is on your side to support you!

after the trip

Now that you have gone off and done amazing things like summitting Everest, eating exotic foods, or even just visiting grandma, you should always make sure to reflect on your trip. What went well? What went horribly wrong? And, most importantly, what can you do to improve your situation for future trips. The answer could look like a lot of different things as well. Maybe you need to pack more snacks, use a better daypack, drink more water, pack fewer socks and more undies, or learn more Spanish.

Whatever your solution is, the importance lies in your ability to see what areas need improvement. Even though I like to think I have it all figured out, there are always new ideas or strategies I can learn to improve my travel experience.

Unless you are currently in jail at this very moment, you are NOT chained to your current circumstances. You CAN conquer your IBD symptoms and travel the world. It is possible and you have the ability to do so. All you need is a little preparation, some tips and tricks, and a bit of reflection.

“Go…live your dream…” (Hook Hand, Tangled 2010)