Traveling with IBS
Traveling is fun and exciting but it does disrupt your routine, and having a consistent routine is important to manage IBS. You may be used to cooking all or most of your meals, and have consistent exercise and stress-management practices. Therefore, getting away from your normal day-to-day, and being exposed to possible hidden FODMAPs in restaurant meals, and long car or airplane rides, can make you anxious about traveling or decide it’s not even worth it. However, with some planning and preparation, traveling with IBS is certainly possible and can be enjoyable.
6 Tips For Traveling with IBS
Tip # 1 – Be relaxed about the low FODMAP diet rules
Ideally, you want to start the low FODMAP diet when you are at home and can cook most of your meals. If you are about to go on vacation or on a trip, this may not be the ideal time. If you already started the diet and feel much better (as most people do), it’s understandable to want to avoid uncomfortable IBS symptoms while traveling.
In this case, following a more “relaxed” version of the low FODMAP diet can help. This means you don’t need to be 100%. You can allow yourself some leeway for the occasional food or meal that’s not low FODMAP and still maintain good symptom control. Given the power of the mind, just taking out the stress and anxiety about finding enough low FODMAP options, and giving yourself permission to make mistakes can set you up for success and avoid gut symptoms.
Finally, you could take a break from eating low FODMAP altogether. Then, you can get back to it after you come home from your trip.
Tip # 2 – Bring some tried-and-true snacks
This is especially important when you are on the road, or in airports, and restaurant choices are very limited. Having some familiar snacks or mini-meals (low FODMAP if needed) will it less likely you have an IBS flare when traveling. Some of my favorites are:
- Make-your-own trail mix (using low-FODMAP nuts and dried fruit)
- Peanut butter jelly sandwich
- Instant oatmeal packets (plain)
- Portable nut butter pouches and tuna packs
- Low FODMAP crackers or pretzels
- Portable fruit (mandarins, oranges, greenish bananas, grapes)
- Hard-boiled eggs, lactose-free yogurt, and string cheese (if you can carry a lunch bag with freezer packs)
- Low FODMAP-certified granola & protein bars (look for the Monash University or FODMAP Friendly logos or find a list on the Monash FODMAP App).
Tip # 3 – Research local restaurants and grocery stores
To start with, do some online research before leaving for your trip, and check out the menus of local restaurants. Call ahead to ask for potential substitutions to avoid your known triggers. Read my blog post for more tips for eating out on a low-FODMAP diet. On an airplane, pre-order a “bland meal”. It is usually free from garlic, hot spices, sauces, and fried and fatty foods.
If your vacation plan allows for it, staying in a hotel with a kitchenette or a rental property can allow you to avoid eating exclusively in restaurants. Look for a grocery store in the area and inquire about the availability of some of the tried-and-true foods and products you are used to eating at home.
Tip # 4 – Prepare for a flight
If you are traveling by plane, it helps to reduce the FODMAPs in the two meals before flying or the day prior. The gas in your gut expands in a pressurized cabin, and reducing foods that produce gas may make the flight more comfortable. In addition, staying hydrated can help avoid constipation. Don’t rely on the beverages served on the plane but bring your own water bottle and pack a bag of ginger or mint tea, which can also mitigate bloating. However, avoid consuming carbonated beverages, which can increase gas and bloating. And limit or avoid caffeine, which speeds up your gut motility and may lead to loose stools or diarrhea.
Finally, getting up from your seat and taking a walk around the cabin once in a while can help expel gas and alleviate bloating. Moreover, it will improve circulation, especially on long flights.
Tip # 5 – Pack a survival kit
It can be comforting to know you have what it takes to manage a flare-up if it does happen. In fact, it may even make you a bit bolder about trying new foods and enjoying some local cuisine, especially if traveling abroad. Some helpful items are:
- Peppermint oil capsules (enteric-coated) and/or peppermint tea bags
- Ginger tea bags and ginger chews
- A fiber supplement (ask your doctor or dietitian first)
- An over-the-counter anti-diarrheal or gentle laxative
- Enzymes for your known triggers (such as lactose, GOS, or fructans)
Tip # 6 – Manage your stress
Finally, some people find that, when they are on vacation and are able to get away from work or home stress, their IBS symptoms improve. This may happen in spite of eating just about anything they want! This points to the impact of stress on IBS symptoms. If your trip is packed with lots of sightseeing, early rising times (or staying up late at night), and frequent car or airplane rides, make sure to carve out some time each day to relax, and get some physical activity too.
With the availability of yoga and meditation apps you can use anywhere, it should be easy to find some calm even if only for short bouts of time. Indeed, it can greatly reduce the chance of having an IBS flare and make your vacation more enjoyable!
In summary, you can enjoy traveling with IBS with some planning and preparation. You may choose to take a break from the low FODMAP diet or follow a more relaxed version. Whatever you decide, being away from the stress of work, sleeping adequately, and carving out some time to relax, can allow you to avoid an IBS flare.
If you are struggling with IBS and are confused about how to find relief from uncomfortable gut symptoms and figure out your trigger foods, reach out to me. I would love to help you!
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Published August 10, 2021. Updated, June 12, 2023.