Travelling away from home for any length of time requires preparation and planning. For an individual with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), there are some extra things to consider. IBD primarily refers to two diseases of the intestines: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions are chronic and systemic with treatment involving adherence to a management plan designed to suit individual needs. There is evidence that stress can affect the onset or worsening of symptoms and travelling can come with a unique set of stressors. Here are some helpful tips to make your next trip as enjoyable as possible.
Plan Ahead and Pack Well
Preparing for your trip might help reduce your travel-related anxiety. The specifics you need to plan for will depend on your individual treatment needs and the particular nature of your disease.
Ostomy: If you are travelling with an ostomy, calculate the number of appliance changes you might make over the duration of your trip and make sure you bring extra supplies, as travel can affect your digestive tract. It is best to bring all of your equipment – including belts, barrier strips, special wipes, and skin protectants – in your carry-on luggage. For equipment that might be too bulky for carry-on travel, ostomy product suppliers have international directories for stores around the world and have inventories of products that you might need. Contact your supplier before your trip if you know that you are travelling for an extended period and will likely require additional supplies.
Medication Requiring Refrigeration: If you are travelling with medication that requires refrigeration (e.g., a biologic), bring a portable insulated cooler in your carry-on luggage. Your medication could freeze and be destroyed in the baggage hold of the plane. In your cooler, pack all of your medication, extra Ziploc bags, and a frozen ice pack. If you are about to embark on a long flight, notify your flight attendant that you may require additional ice for your cooler. You might not be able to bring the freezer packs through the security checkpoint, so make enquiries in advance and bring re-sealable plastic bags to hold ice. Many hotels have refrigerators or mini fridges available in guest rooms, and you can often arrange these special services in advance. If your room does not have a refrigerator, talk to the front desk staff, as they should be able to store your medication until you need it.
General: No matter where you are travelling to, be sure to pack wipes and a travel-sized container of hand sanitizer to deal with any incidents should they arise. As a general rule, pack all of your medication in your carry-on luggage. Keep your medication in its original, labelled container and carry a note from your doctor explaining the purpose of your medication and your supplies so you can go through airport security and customs with ease. Pack more than enough of your required medication to last your entire trip in case of delays.
Talk to Your Physician or Specialist
Early in your trip planning, talk to your physician or specialist. For travel insurance purposes, ensure that you are clear for travel and discuss the completion of any testing (even regularly scheduled testing) and any changes to your medication or treatment. Go over your treatment plan with your physician for your daily prescription schedule, including how to adjust in the event of time zone changes. If you are travelling with an ostomy, speak with your enterostomal therapy nurse about how to best manage your diet and take care of your stoma.
Purchase Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is highly recommended for anyone travelling outside of the country for any length of time. Read all sections in your insurance policy application, especially regarding pre-existing conditions, stability period requirements, and coverage limitations to make sure you fully understand them. Most insurance providers classify IBD as a pre-existing condition, but might have varying stability period requirements built-in to their travel insurance policies. Stability can be hard to guarantee with IBD, as every person’s experience is unique. Contact a customer service representative or insurance underwriter if you have any questions about the terms and conditions specific to your policy.
Protect Yourself from Infectious Diseases Abroad
Some regions of the world are home to insects that spread infectious diseases through their bites. Find out in advance which infected insects live in the region you are visiting and plan accordingly. To prevent insect bites, you can pack and wear clothing to cover exposed skin and use insect repellent. Consult your physician about any available vaccines for insect-borne and other infectious diseases.
Depending on where you travel, there are some additional precautions to take when it comes to your meals. Traveller’s diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses among travellers and it is contracted by consuming contaminated food or water. To avoid getting traveller’s diarrhea along with a number of other illnesses, only eat foods that are well cooked or served hot, only eat fruits or vegetables if you have washed and peeled them yourself, only drink water that has been boiled, disinfected, or bottled, and avoid consuming ice, which could be contaminated.1
Watch What You Eat
Eating out is common while travelling and it can sometimes be challenging to avoid overindulging. It is important to adhere to your diet plan and avoid certain foods that you know can aggravate your symptoms. When eating out, communicate with your server about your dietary needs if possible. Consider eating smaller meals and having healthy snacks between meals.
Know How to Manage Flares
As IBD is a systemic disease, there is always the risk of a flare even if you are regularly taking your medication. A flare is when your IBD symptoms return, sometimes worse than before. Know in advance what your treatment strategy is in the event of a flare up, as it is important to treat it as quickly as possible. Talk to your physician or specialist to develop a plan of action if your condition worsens while travelling. Keep your doctor’s phone number along with your travel insurance information in your wallet or purse at all times. You can also take the precaution of finding out where the closest washroom is whenever you visit a new location. If you are travelling to a country where people generally do not speak any languages you know, learn some helpful phrases in the local language such as “Where is the washroom?” so you can find help if an urgent situation arises.
Enjoy Your Trip
Whether you are travelling for work or pleasure, proper planning can go a long way to prevent unnecessary stress. Take advantage of these tips to make your next trip as worry-free as possible. Bon voyage!