If you suffer from symptoms of IBS, the prospect of travelling far from home can be daunting. Sitting for long periods can worsen constipation, and great anxiety is caused to sufferers from diarrhoea when quick access to toilet facilities is not available. However, people tell me that their symptoms improve during a holiday; so, is it worth putting up with the problems of travel for the potential benefits from a relaxing time away? Or can you do anything during your holiday, to help your symptoms should they continue?
Some helpful suggestions:
1. Ensuring plenty of time to reach the airport or, if staying in the UK, your destination. Don't rush: try and use travelling as part of the holiday experience. Taking longer to get to your destination doesn't matter; A roads can be a good alternative to motorway travel, especially when passing through stunning scenery.
2. Considering planned toilet stops along the route beforehand, when driving. patient.info has a very useful new app for this and, perhaps more importantly, any emergency stops! Work within your symptoms: if they are worse at a particular time of day, plan to travel outside of those times.
3. If flying or travelling by train, booking your seat in advance as near to the toilet as you feel comfortable with. Don't forget your Can't Wait Card or Translation Card, which are available with the membership package for The IBS Network (it's also worth checking out their Self Care Plan, a free tool to help you manage your symptoms better). Keep your card in your hand luggage (just about as important as your passport!) Check to make sure that your train includes toilet facilities.
4. Walking or moving around periodically, if you can, during your flight or train journey.
5. If you suffer from food intolerances, booking your in-flight meal in advance: contact the airline and discuss your needs with them. Take snacks in your hand luggage to ensure regular meals. For followers of the Low FODMAP diet, or for those who exclude any other foods at least 48 hours prior to travelling, try to avoid foods that result in symptoms.
6. Taking some spare clothing and wet wipes or toilet paper in your hand luggage to freshen up and use in emergency. Store such items in a discreet bag within your hand luggage to minimise any embarrassment in case of a baggage check at customs.
7. Researching the food in your host country; sometimes patient organisations available there can be helpful. For example, if you are intolerant of gluten visit: http://www.coeliac.org.uk/node/186974
8. Not planning to do too much during your vacation - less is more! You're more likely to enjoy the experience with a modest itinerary, rather than a very busy one.
9. Contacting your hotel to discuss food requirements before departure or perhaps going for self- catering if you have more than one food intolerance and would find it difficult to manage otherwise; often plain food such as rice, chicken and fish is common, so it's worth considering.
10. Preparing for toilet facilities abroad possibly being very different for those at home.
11. Equipping yourself with medications such as rehydration salts in a first aid pack, as you can become dehydrated very quickly in hot climates, especially when experiencing diarrhoea. Generally ensuring you drink plenty of fluids: 8-10 glasses per day are usually adequate but you may need more - dark-coloured urine is usually a good indication that you are not having enough.
12. Having good awareness and following travel food hygiene advice at your destination, as the last thing you would want is a bout of traveller's diarrhoea during your holiday. More information can be found at: http://patient.info/directory/travel-health.
Julie Thompson is a Health and Care Professions Council registered Clinical Lead Dietitian working in the NHS and private practice. She is an executive on the board of The IBS Network and regularly writes posts for the blog clinicalalimentary.wordpress.com.