25 Tips for Traveling with Crohn’s, Colitis, Celiac, IBS, or Another Digestive Illness
When I was a teenager, my body started rebelling against me.
In the span of a few years, I went from being able to eat anything without any digestive issues to having to monitor my diet—especially herbs, spices, soy flour, fruits, and vegetables—pretty closely and take medication to keep my immune system from attacking my digestive tract.
- 233,000 Canadians have Irritable Bowel Disease
- 129,000 Canadians, including myself, have Crohn’s Disease
- About 300,000 Canadians have Celiac Disease
- 1 in 140 Canadians live with Crohn’s Disease or Colitis
When you have an illness that affects your digestive system, visiting unfamiliar restaurants can be tricky. However, this gets even trickier when you’re travelling and you end up eating in unfamiliar restaurants within unfamiliar countries.
Depending on where you’re visiting, you might not be able to depend on your go-to “safe” foods. You might not be able to ask the restaurant staff about ingredients because of a language barrier.
So, what can a traveller with a digestive illness do when visiting far off lands? Here are 25 tips to help you have fun on your adventures:
Bring lots of a “safe” food with you on your travels.
I always bring at least two boxes of mixed nut/peanut butter Nature Valley granola bars with me when I travel because they’re easy to take on-the-go, they’re fairly filling, they’re easy on my stomach, and they’re super yummy.
Find accommodations with a kitchen.
When you prepare your own food, you know what’s going into it. Having to find a grocery store and haul groceries back to your accommodations can be a pain but you can try to find a grocery delivery service, depending on where you’re visiting. It can also save you a bundle of money.
Keep your diet especially bland before travel and longer day trips.
I’m talking all-day bus tours and plane travel. Using the washroom on a plane is dreadful but having to take multiple trips in a row is basically a nightmare.
Carry a Washroom Access Card (preferably also in the local language).
Crohn’s and Colitis Canada makes their card printable on their website in English and French, but other national organizations may have their own versions. It’s not an official permit or ID so it doesn’t guarantee access to a washroom, but it does save you from having to explain why you’re clenching and looking uncomfortable when you ask for bathroom access.
I asked for other tips from a few fellow illness-havers. Thanks for the help, friends!
“I’ve often relied on crystallized ginger (small nibbles) and favourite flavour of Powerade to keep my nausea and guts settled. Chicken soup or chicken broth is good too in a flask.”
“[My friend] said she always needs Klonopin to travel and makes sure to eat plenty of bready things like bagels. I also aim for bland for when I travel to avoid diarrhea. But sometimes travel constipates me instead, and in that case, I make sure to eat some grapes. That always gets things moving for me. I also swear by Heather’s Tummy Tamers’ IBS peppermint oil capsules (that also include ginger and fennel). I have them in my purse at all times and take one any time I feel like diarrhea might be an issue. It calms my gut down so quickly and has saved me from so many emergency situations.”
“In some countries, public toilets can be BYO toilet paper so I always travel with an abundance of tissues now. Also searching out easy convenience store foods that won’t make you sick within your first few days. I figured out peaches in jelly and plain rice crackers were my savours within a few days in Taiwan.”
“I always travel with three things, even if it’s just to the grocery store: carbonated water, peppermint chewing gum, and an assorted mix of dried fruit and nuts. I cannot count how many times I’ve been stuck in traffic, at the airport, or at an acquaintance’s home where there is no way I can either eat/have a reprieve if I have to eat naughty things. Always having peppermint gum and carbonated water helps me keep my tummy semi-happy when I’m stuck in a jam.”
“I eat a pretty bland diet in general, but three or four days before I’m set to leave, I get really strict and only eat exactly what I know won’t hurt me. It’s all about the preparation, even if that means white rice and steamed veg every day.”
“Don’t eat a lot of fibre if you can’t get to a toilet easily, and for my small bladder, I avoid water/coffee/tea for similar reasons. Learn how to ask where the toilet is in different languages, and don’t be afraid to assert yourself.”
Travelling with a digestive illness can be scary but please, if at all possible, try not to let it keep you from going on adventures if that’s what you want to do. Believe me. I feel you.
Do you have any travel tips for folks with tummy illnesses? Leave them in the comments!
Note: please speak with your family physician before trying any medical advice. None of us are medical professionals and none of the above anecdotal tips are to be taken as professional medical advice.
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.