Weathering Spring Break Travel With IBD

Elizabeth Roberts Health Guide
  • Well, it's March and that means spring break and Easter vacations. And for me, and many others, a vacation means traveling, either by car or by air. If given a choice, I personally prefer traveling by car. I like that it allows me to be more in control of my schedule, what I eat, and when and where I can make a bathroom stop. This spring break we are meeting my parents in Florida and it's just too far to drive given our time constraints, so we've opted to fly.


    I used to enjoy flying BC (before Colitis) and before the airlines became unfriendly cattle cars. Nowadays, with planes filled to the gills and with customer service out the door airplane travel can make me a little more than nervous. The idea of sitting in a plane on a tarmac for hours on end is not a happy thought. Nor, is it nice to realize that there are no laws or regulations that require an airplane to actually have working toilets in order for it to take off (I found out about this a couple of years ago). And as for the food situation both on the plane and in the airports, well that's gotten simply ridiculous for anyone with IBD, and nearly impossible since I've had to go gluten-free as well.

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    So. What's a girl to do when she has to fly? Be prepared. I could wimp out and say that I'll only travel where to place I can drive to. But, that's not really in my DNA. I've been a traveler, and especially an air traveler, since my first plane trip when I was 4 years old. My dad flew us from our home in Wisconsin to Florida for Easter that year. He owned part of a 6-passenger airplane and had his private pilot's license. I've been hooked on traveling ever since.


    But, flying commercially is far different today than flying on a private airplane with only my family 35+ years ago. The changes for me are not just airline industry related, but also gut related. It wasn't until ten years ago that I ever had a gut problem that caused me concern when traveling in a tin can with 200 or more people and only 4 bathrooms.


    So, now, when I do fly I prepare ahead. I book flights with one connection at most. I get myself an aisle seat about 4 rows away from a bathroom. And, I find foods I know I'll be able to safely eat - rice cakes with peanut butter, gluten-free (GF) protein bars, homemade GF cookies, and dried apricots - and pack plenty of them in my carry-on bag. I also know how important it is to keep well-hydrated while flying so I pack powdered Gatorade that I can mix into a bottle of water once I'm past security.


    In addition to food, I pack a couple of magazines, a good book or two, and a fully loaded and charged iPod to keep me occupied. My IBD medicine, Imodium, Tylenol, change of underwear, pants, and shirt go into my carry-on as well. I find peace-of-mind-items like these really help to keep me calm and feeling prepared for any situation that might arise. Plus, if I get to my destination and my checked luggage doesn't at least I have one change of clothes with me and all of my necessary IBD-related medications. (Never pack essentials like prescription medications in checked luggage!) I also don't hesitate to tell a flight attendant about my IBD and my possible need to use a bathroom quickly. 


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    Yoga and meditation are a part of my weekly routine, but about a week before I fly I focus my meditations on visualizing my flights progressing flawlessly and me arriving at my final destination healthy, happy, and focused on relaxing. Way back when, ten or eleven years ago, when I was first introduced to meditation and rhythmic breathing I thought it was a bunch of hooey. But the more I practice it and the better I get at being able to focus my mind and my breath the more it helps me to get through stressful times, like flying. If for no other reason, meditating and rhythmic breathing give me something specific to focus on while flying rather than on a delay, or the person sitting behind me coughing and sneezing in my direction, or the crying baby two rows up, or the rumbling in my gut as I'm strapped into my seat because we've encountered some turbulence.


    These are the travel tools that work best for me. And they can be used equally as well for car and train travel as well. I find that being as prepared as possible for any situation helps cut down on stress and makes getting from point A to point B just a little easier. I hope you will too.        

Published On: March 22, 2010