How To Travel with IBS
I would like to begin my saying anyone who suffers from IBS, will experience different symptoms and severity. This is my experience of IBS, where I have learnt the importance of embracing and educating myself of this disorder. Remember that you are not alone and never shy away from it. Be in control and become familiar with it.
During 2016, I had my first experience of travelling with IBS when Vicky and I explored Australia, New Zealand and America. If you are not aware of what IBS is, it’s an abbreviation of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. Not ideal symptoms when travelling on 10 hour bus rides and 24 hour plane trips. Although, before I share some light on how you can cope and deal with the symptoms of IBS when travelling, I will begin by giving you a quick insight into the beginning of when I first experienced this mightily frustrating condition.
It began late in 2015, which was a year where I had graduated with a Masters’ Degree at Newcastle University and was off earning money to go travelling with Vicky in early 2016. This however, was when I first experienced heavily the symptoms of IBS, which unfortunately led to having to leave my job. As it required a lot of moving and standing on your feet. This in the end was too much for me to handle, due to what I call the “Rippling Effect”. This feeling is like water in a cylinder, where someone is constantly turning it upside down resulting in the movement of water swinging side to side. You also, may have experienced it.
Anyway, back to the story. Between this period, of leaving work and living on the toilet, it was a tough few months of suffering daily from the “Rippling Effect” and other unpleasant IBS symptoms. It was relentless and exhausting. The variety of medication I was prescribed, also did not work. The only thing I was holding on to was the fact I knew I was travelling with Vicky in a few months’ time, where I strongly believed this would cure it. I know it sounds silly, but previous experience always showed me how travelling allowed myself to unwind and get away from the daily stresses. I thought this would have the same impact with IBS. How wrong I was.
The First Day of our Travels in Early 2016
Our trip began at Heathrow Airport, London, where Vicky and I were waiting to board the American Airlines airplane to JFK Airport in New York. I am not sure who was more excited, but Vicky and I were both incredibly eager for our trip and were ready to further explore this beautiful planet. We swiftly boarded the plane, where we were greeted by smiles and excellent customer service by the cabin crew. It was the first time in months, that I had forgotten about my IBS. Unfortunately, two and a half hours into the flight, my IBS slowly creeping back in. The remaining few hours of the flight was an agonising experience. I tried all sorts of films, ranging from Star Wars to Friends with Benefits, to try and get my mind of the stomach cramps and the “Rippling Effect”. Nothing worked, even the prescribed medicine was having no effect. It was from this first day of our trip, I knew it was going to be an indifferent one.
Coping Methods when Travelling with IBS
This leads to my first advice of being fully confident and open with the person you’re travelling with. Vicky was and still is fantastic and patient with me when we are exploring the world together. Even during those long toilet breaks, she was always at my side making me laugh. Yes, you did hear it correctly, Vicky does sit by my side when I am creating the equivalent of Mordor in the toilet. The importance of travelling with your partner or friend, who fully understands the situation you are in, will allow yourself not to feel embarrassed when the symptoms of IBS flares up. This is because there’s nothing worse than holding in the fires of Mount. Doom for long periods of the day, due to feeling embarrassed about having to go to the toilet.
It will also, allow yourself not having to worry too much about those thoughts of “how you’re holding back that person.” This is because if that person is aware of your situation and still chose to travel with you, then they have committed to the impacts of travelling with an IBS sufferer. If you’re however, travelling solo then you do not have to worry too much about this.
Secondly, never allow IBS stop you from doing the things you love and want to do. If you let it do so, then you will never be in control of it and will end up not experiencing the beauty the world has to offer. Although, I am not at all saying go outside when you’re in mid-flow of diarrhoea. What I mean is when you have that opportunity, where your body feels as good as it can be. Seize it and go out and explore. Take with you whatever you need to comfort you, such as medication, extra toilet paper, spare money for a taxi. Prepare yourself, like you would for an exam, as you wouldn’t go into an exam without your pen and being underprepared from a lack of revision. So, why would go outside without the things, that would make you feel comfortable and prepared for an IBS flare up. Another advice is to stay in private rooms with a toilet. This will dramatically reduce any stress you would have if you stayed in a dorm. As there is nothing worse than others knowing you are on the toilet taking on Mordor.
Furthermore, those days when you have to take a flight, train, or bus, however long the journey, again be prepared. During our trip to New Zealand, we decided to use buses to get around both islands. This therefore entailed gruelling long bus rides, which got myself incredibly nervous and highly stressed out. This is because all I could think about was having an explosive diarrhoea attack on the bus. Even, though I have never had this before, this thought consumed me. Although, as I had no other choice to take the gruelling long bus trips, I prepared myself by eating a light breakfast, that I knew wouldn’t cause the symptoms to manically flare up. Thus, perhaps try eating a fruit and nut breakfast bar in the morning and avoid any fluids that contains caffeine.
Another piece of advice I have learnt is the importance of practicing methods of Relaxation and Mindfulness, as they are powerful approaches to reducing anxiety and stress. Thus, having a positive impact on the relationship between stress and IBS. I thoroughly recommended downloading the Mobile App HeadSpace.
I would like to finish by emphasising the importance of remembering that 10-15% of the global population has IBS, in which IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. This means you are not alone. Always remember that, as it can give you great comfort knowing there are others experiencing the same pain and discomfort as you. When travelling, and living your daily life, always be comfortable with your surroundings and the people you are with, while always being prepared.
I hope this article has shared new light on how to travel with IBS, where I encourage anyone suffering from IBS to share their experiences, openly or privately, through messaging me on Instagram or e-mail.
Furthermore, if you would like more advice, please get in touch.