The pain starts on Sunday, three days before I’m due to travel.
I do what most people dealing with IBS symptoms do when travelling: ignore it, drink mint tea, hope it goes away.
By Monday, it’s worse. My day is busy. I run from A to B, try not to eat, try different creams, try CBD; I’m willing to try anything. The pain is stinging. I can’t walk.
Warning: This article is written for people with IBS, and describes symptoms accordingly. If you’re lucky enough not to have digestive issues, or are not familiar with these symptoms, you may find the following information graphic. If you’re someone with IBS, everything I describe will be familiar to you, and hope the following offers solutions to deal with these issues when they arise.
There are ways to deal with IBS when travelling.
But first, back to my problem: the pain that’s getting worse, and is now persistent in two places: 1. my stomach; 2. my anus, both typical problem areas for the IBS sufferer.
The stomach issue is classic IBS, a tightening in my tummy due to stress. I’m dealing with the issue by putting loose boundaries in place i.e. ignoring my phone. But its constant ringing is wearing me down to the point it’s caused the emergence of a new haemorrhoid.
Haemorrhoids, or piles as they’re more commonly known, go hand-in-hand with constipation – due to straining of the skin around the anus – though the real cause is unknown.
Piles are like varicose veins except they happen to be in a particularly uncomfortable place.
Treatment involves over-the-counter creams or home remedies like tea tree oil and Epsom salt baths. Most people worry about rectal cancer but there’s an easy way to tell the difference: if it’s itchy, it’s piles.
Both of these symptoms are a sign of being rundown.
Travelling puts a lot of stress on the body. First of all, there’s the pressure to get ready on time, and on top, travel forces you into new environments meaning your immune system will be working overtime.
The last thing you want when traveling is a compromised immune system, as that leads to excessive inflammation, and what IBS sufferers refer to as a flare up.
Symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, fatigue, headache, diarrhoea and/or constipation.
The day I’m due to travel, I can’t get out of bed. My limbs are led. My bags are packed, and ready to go but I don’t have the strength to pick them up.
I put so much effort into prepping for my trip I’ve none left for the actual journey. I stay in bed, missing my train – at great expense.
7 Tips to Deal with IBS Symptoms When Travelling
However, I’m grateful to have that extra day to relax my body, as it gives the tension in my stomach a chance to unfurl though the throbbing in my a-hole persists.
Thankfully, I live close to the sea so I put on my togs and dip my bum in the (freezing!) ocean, which helps, although even more beneficial is the chance to sit in the afternoon sun, and feel the breeze on my bare skin.
The extra day also gives me time to double-check my food prep, which is one of the key tools for managing IBS symptoms when travelling.
The following are the seven fail-proof tricks I use to avoid a flare up while on the move.
1. FOOD PREPARATION
Preparing food in advance is key to meal planning, weight loss, and managing any digestive issue such as IBS. In fact, organizing meals so that it’s easy for you to make the healthy choice is the only way to manage IBS.
With time, the right food choices get easier as the absence of symptoms after eating makes the right choice more preferable.
During the week, my food prep routine consists of freezing portions so that I can take them out the night before to be ready for the next day. This way I only have what I’m going to eat on a given day in my fridge and it makes meals easy.
When I’m travelling I prepare food that’s portable and non-perishable, to accommodate whatever situation I may up in, and the fact that I’m a picky eater who doesn’t like to eat at restaurants. Ever.
For this trip, I make a large jar of homemade almond butter and cookies, pack boiled eggs and a lunchbox with salmon and cabbage that I’ll eat cold.
I also bring a jar of coffee and another of cocoa, as well as some bars of dark chocolate, blackberries, macadamia nuts and walnuts.
I would normally pack more food than this, but as I’m currently on a modified keto diet, and have recently discovered the benefits of fasting, I’m incorporating it into my travel plans.
Anyone with IBS has a complicated relationship with food, using it to manage stress and boredom, and often indulging in overeating habits to ease anxiety or pass the time with horrendous results on physical and mental health.
I know because I did it for years.
Excessive eating leads to inflammation of the gut.
Eating processed, sugary or starchy food on an ongoing basis leads to inflammation of the gut.
Inflammation of the gut is common amongst IBS sufferers.
Not eating gives the gut a chance to stop working and regenerate itself via a process known as autophagy, which causes bad or damaged cells to die, leaving the healthy one alive – kind of like a car wash for your internal organs, and skin. Fasting has cleared up my acne and eczema, too.
Thanks to fasting I’ve learned a big IBS secret: Hunger is Your Friend.
Fasting has enabled me to change my relationship with food and hunger pangs, and identify when I’m using food as a balm instead of fuel.
Fasting has given me permission to stop thinking about food, and given my body a much-needed break from the never-ending work of digestion.
Fasting while travelling eliminates the worry of a flare up en route, and makes it easier to settle into your destination. The night before I’m due to travel, I stop eating at 7pm.
The next day, I rise at 7am, and am on the road by 8.30am. I wait till after midday to eat, finding an outdoor café on a busy street near the bus station with tables in the sun.
I break my fast with a small meal, and will wait two hours before eating again, at which point, I’ll eat a bigger meal.
First, the boiled eggs, sprinkled with sea salt (also brought from home), eaten hungrily. Then, I order a croissant and mint tea.
The croissant is a risk but I’m on the move and need carbs and know that since I started fasting, my body is better able to digest certain breads.
For some reason, croissants are okay as are some wraps and bagels (in extreme moderation!) – sliced bread, burger buns or pitta bread kill me.
I will eat some fresh breads, and sometimes, potato. That’s me. Each IBS person has their triggers, so my food choices may or may not work for you. Mine have evolved over fifteen years of trial and error research.
I have a proper meal on the train, salmon and cabbage. I also have plenty of dessert options in my bag. I eat some cookies, too, as well as nuts and dark chocolate.
I’ll eat some almond butter and dark chocolate around 9pm, and won’t eat again till midday the next day. This way of eating keeps my motility in check, essential for someone like me with IBS-C.
There are different types of fasts, and they include:
- 12-hour Fast
This is a great starting point and a system everyone with digestive issues should follow.
It simply means ensuring a 12-hour gap between your evening meal and your breakfast the next day.
Stop eating at 8pm in the evening, and don’t eat again till 8am the next morning.
This type of fast can be done on a daily basis, or four to five days a week, and is great for ensuring proper digestion and maintaining weight.
- Intermittent Fasting
This is a longer fast of 16 to 18 hours with a shorter eating window of six or eight hours.
This requires a little more planning and can be done three times a week for weight loss, reduction in bloating, and improvement in energy levels.
If you’re going to workout while fasting (which is recommended) make sure to leave the workout till towards the end of your fast so that you can eat shortly after and replenish your body with nutrients.
- 24-hour Fast
This is not as hard as it sounds. It doesn’t mean you don’t eat for a day, it simply means you stop eating at 6pm in the evening, and don’t eat again until 6pm the next day.
In between, you sleep, which makes things more bearable.
While fasting, your mental clarity will be off the chart so be prepared to get things done though it’s likely those things will be administrative or low energy activities.
When doing this fast, it’s important not to over exert yourself, and drink plenty of water. Also, drink water with a teaspoon of good quality sea salt in it.
How you break your fast is important, as your stomach will be fragile.
Start with something small like boiled eggs. Wait up to two hours before eating your next full meal. If you’re hungry in an hour, eat, but try to eat a half portion, and keep the rest for the following hour, and plan a nice dessert. Be careful how much you eat because if you eat too much, it may cause a flare up, ahem, speaking from experience.
A 24-hour fast has a ton of benefits; most important of all is autophagy.
A 24-hour is recommended about once a month.
The most important thing you can do for good health in general is sleep, however, for people with IBS this goes double.
Never travel tired; it’s asking for trouble.
Make sure to be totally refreshed no matter what your travel time. If that means going to bed at 7pm, so be it.
If you want to keep your digestion in order, along with hunger, sleep is your best friend.
It’s also important to know that you’re going to be able to sleep comfortably in your destination location. Any doubt over sleeping arrangements will stress you out, and lead to a flare up.
4. MINIMISE STRESS AND BOREDOM
Some people love to travel, and more power to them.
My idea of hell is an airport.
I find most things about travelling stressful and/or boring. But I like trains, so that’s the mode of transport I opt for when possible. I also make sure to give myself plenty of time so I can avoid rushing, and make sure to consume cannabis while travelling to make the experience less jarring.
I love to read so I make sure I have a good book with me. I highly recommend an audio book.
What most people do to minimise stress and boredom while travelling is eat.
Just check out the number of fast food joints and delis in any given airport or train station to confirm this fact. However, the food available from these places is what I call “foreign” food and it’s poison for people with IBS. Avoid it at all costs.
5. AVOID FOREIGN FOOD
What does foreign food mean?
Basically, it’s any ingredient that doesn’t fit into the scope of what your body classifies as food from an evolutionary perspective, or about 80 per cent of the modern food chain.
One of my main goals in food prepping is to avoid eating processed foods, which is almost impossible when travelling – hence the croissant.
Processed foods contain ingredients, in particular seed oils and cornstarch that can be hidden triggers for IBS symptoms.
One of the main reasons I only eat food that I prepare is so that I know exactly what’s it in, but if I am eating out, I make sure to stick to simple options like chicken. If there’s no other option, I’ll eat chips, which again, works for me.
But this is why I pack calorie-dense food in my bag and make sure I can access it at all times. It means I can sit at a café, order a coffee, and eat the biscuits, macadamia nuts and dark chocolate in my bag if there’s nothing on the menu I can order.
Eating familiar food is a comfort while travelling, and means I’m not shocking my body with new things from new places – guaranteed to cause a flare up.
Researching the microbiome has taught me that food is more than nutrition, it’s information that tells your body all sorts of essential things about your environment that are fundamental to your wellbeing.
When I get the chance, I stock up on dates, figs, nuts, and other food I like, at a local fruit and veg shop.
When you travel, try to eat local.
Go to a local bakery, or find a restaurant that cooks with local food. This is true for everybody, but especially true for people with IBS. However, the same IBS food restrictions will apply, and if you’re an IBS sufferer who can’t digest onions, it won’t matter where they’re from, and is best to avoid them.
For years I’ve been telling myself that when I travel, I’ll find a local gym and use it.
This trip is the first time I keep my word and it makes a world of difference. Finding the gym and getting in are challenging but worth the effort.
The first workout untangles my body after the long train ride. After that, they keep me grounded while I deal with stressful events.
If you can build exercise into your travel plans, do it.
7. EAT CANNABIS
Amongst the food I prepared in advance of travelling were a batch of cannabis cookies and brownies made with almond flour and canna-butter, and intended for a competition that was cancelled at the last hour.
The cancellation turned out to be a blessing, as it meant that over the course of the trip, I could eat the brownies myself.
I began cooking with cannabis almost a year ago, and it turned out to be the last piece in my IBS puzzle, allowing me for the first time in my life to discover what it’s like to live without a constant pain in my stomach, or the worry that what I’ve eaten will plague me for days.
I notice two main benefits from eating cannabis:
- I no longer have stomach pain.
- If I get a flare up, I eat some brownie and the pain or problem goes away. Every time.
So far, research into cannabis and digestive disorders focuses on Inflammatory Bowel Disease rather than IBS. However, studies clearly establish the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis, and suggest that it activates the endocannabinoids in the GI tract in a way that reduces spasms and/or pain, and improves motility.
What we do have is a mountain of anecdotal evidence from people who say cannabis improves their digestion and alleviates symptoms of conditions such as IBS and Crohn’s.
I’m one of those people, and even though I’ve smoked cannabis for more than two decades, it wasn’t until I started eating it that I began to understand its medicinal qualities. When I eat it, as far as I’m concerned, I’m eating herbal medicine, a natural remedy that heals my gut and my mind.
Can You Avoid an IBS Flare Up while Travelling?
Yes, follow these tips, and you can successfully avoid an IBS flare up while travelling,
However, it’s a really good idea to factor some downtime into every journey to give your body a chance to adjust to new surroundings. Taking a bath or a shower in your destination location when you arrive is a good way to settle in.
While travelling, make sure you give yourself time to relax, and for the periods of time that you don’t have time or are rushing around, stop eating as a way to deal with your IBS when travelling.
Remember, hunger and sleep are your friends; use both wisely.
My trip is a weeklong, and after four days of running around and intermittent fasting, not going to lie, I’m hungry. By day five, I cave, find a restaurant and have a plate of chips. The next day I have a chicken and avocado wrap that tastes like heaven. Because I stick to strict eating times, neither of these items cause me any problems.
Sadly, there’s no easy fix for the haemorrhoid, bar creams to reduce its size, stop the pain and itching. I’ve been using coconut oil infused with cannabis flower and find it more effective than the antibiotic cream the pharmacist recommended. Eventually, I’ll have to go to the doctor to get the vein removed. Can’t wait.
I’m thrilled to get home.