Staying healthy while travelling with IBS and food intolerances

IBS and food intolerance travel kit

Travelling: it can be a minefield of stress for anyone…but add in some food-related anxiety and your supposedly relaxing getaway starts to look less and less so by the minute.

Your holiday should start the minute you step out of your door and head somewhere new. You want to be breezing through the travel hours, not gritting your teeth. After a few years of travelling with coeliac and IBS needs, here are my tips for getting away in peace…

Preparation is key

As with every stressful occasion in our lives (even ones that lead to great things!) preparing is key to mitigating the worst of it. Here are some quick preparation tips for your holiday:

- Prepare a holiday travel care pack and fill it to the brim with everything you’ll need to feel like yourself if the worst happens: Imodium, Buscopan, wipes, activated charcoal tabs, individual bags of soothing tea, your diary, downloaded guided meditations on your phone, Ibuprofen, etc.

- Don’t leave it 'til the day before you go to buy any Holiday Things you might require. It almost inevitably leads to a mini breakdown in some too-hot, brightly lit high street store because you couldn’t get a decent fitting swimming cossie/the right shampoo bottles/travel money. All that stress will stay with you through the journey and end up right in your gut - and that's not what we want!

- Make your in-flight snacks/meals, especially if you have reactions to common FODMAPs like garlic and onion. Make sure you’ve got enough for the whole flight and extra for any waiting around! If you want some packable food ideas, check out our Pinterest boards.

- Pack your suitcase and your cabin bag the day before and jot a note for yourself of the final things to pack (e.g. toothbrush) to go at the side of your bed when you wake up.

- If you’re getting a very early flight or train, make your breakfast the night before and have it ready to go in the morning. No-one wants to be faffing around at 5am.

- If you’re travelling through the UK, check your route and note potential toilet access on the way (e.g. train stations or motorway stops) so you can feel assured you'll know where to go if there's a sudden need.

Give yourself plenty of time on the day

Triple-check your take-off time (or planned arrival time) and work backwards. If you’re getting public transport, allow for delays. If you’re taking a car, allow for traffic. Basically, allow for the sh*t to hit the fan, and still enable you to get to there in plenty of time. Better that you have a little extra time to kill in the airport terminal than eyeballing your watch every five minutes and feeling your blood pressure rise (and stomach clench) because you’re about to miss check-in. (Take this from me, someone who just recently missed a flight - first time in my entire life, I might add -  because I didn’t do this properly. Sigh.)

Understand your sleep cycle

If you’re out of the door early, or flying on a night flight that means you won’t get much shuteye, use your diary to see how you react on days with less sleep. Forewarned, after all, is forearmed!

I understand from my diary tracking that I’ll feel nauseated waking up especially early – particularly if the alarm goes off in the middle of some deeper sleep, and so I plan a plain, carby breakfast to combat that. 

If time zone changes mean I really need to sleep on the plane, I’ll take my Trtl, an eye mask, and a comfy jumper and do my best to snooze.

Meditate

Breathe in 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4. Take a few minutes on the day to step outside of your mind’s chatter and allow your muscles to relax. If you’re a nervous flier, the Headspace app has a special pack just for you, and you can download them to play without need for data or wifi.

Give yourself something to look forward to on the journey

A shiny new book, a few uninterrupted hours of podcast listening or movie watching, or even some unashamed napping – having something you’re looking forward to during the travel will massively decrease the perceived stress around the journey for you. Anxiety and excitement are two sides of the same coin and one can very easily tip into the other. Which is great news for us, because focusing on the positive aspects of the journey, rather than the stressful negatives, makes it more likely that we'll generate those excited butterflies rather than the stressed-out kind.

Don’t try anything new

Put that interesting snack down! Yes you, I see you! On the week before a flight, or long journey, try to stick to foods you are certain your stomach is okay with. You’ll soon be on holiday, sun-kissed and relaxed and in a better headspace for trying new things should you wish. But the stress of travelling, plus new ingredients, could be a potential stomach ache in the run up to the journey! So be patient Padawan, and wait a few more hours.

Bonus! Tips from a few of our favourite Instagrammers:

- “Take medical documents – especially if travelling with sharps, like Humira. Chances are they won’t open your bag and check, but when they ask me "any sharps in your luggage?” I always say I have medical injections. That’s normally enough but I travel with the latest copy of my consultant letter as proof just in case.” – @bryonyehopkins

- "If I'm going somewhere that speaks another language, I make sure I learn how to ask where the nearest loo is! Crucial if you have IBS-D and could at any moment need to run to the nearest bathroom. Just knowing that one line makes me feel more relaxed and in control." - @jocoatesy

- "Without fail, I pack snacks in my suitcase and hand luggage, no matter where I'm going. Travelling with an allergy, intolerance or auto-immune condition like coeliac disease leaves you vulnerable in many destinations and after travelling long distances, it's good to know you will have something to nibble on that is 100% safe until you can get your hands on a proper meal. As well, as packaged food I always have a stock of Optibac probitiocs for travelling abroad. Travelling to and from Latin America has made my stomach even more sensitive and these probitiocs help to keep my tummy protected from foreign cultures that I may not be used to. They're fantastic especially for places where the water isn't necessarily safe to drink. While they won't make you immune to the local water, they will safeguard your tummy and hopefully lessen the effect that eating something perhaps washed in regular water or drinking something with ice in it may have on your system." - @theglutenfreesuitcase

- Plus, more excellent packing and travel tips from @thetummydiaries on instagram!