Inflammatory Bowel Disease & Holiday Travel
When most people think of the holidays their minds are filled with positive thoughts of get-togethers, family, friends, celebrations, parties, and lots of food and treats. But for those of us with IBD we might experience some anxiety and fear around the holiday season. Traveling by car, plane, or train to see family and friends might seem daunting or even impossible. During my first year of living with IBD I rarely felt confident enough to go further than 30 minutes from my home. But, as a writer, travel is a part of my life and I had to figure out how to travel successfully.
The first thing I learned was to plan ahead. If I think I might need it, I pack it and take it with me. On one trip my husband watched as I packed two boxes of Imodium into my carry-on luggage.
"They have stores in Arizona," he told me, trying to lighten the mood.
"I know," I said, "But, if I need it, I need it, I don't want to have to go find it.
So, be prepared. Take along all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that you might need. Never pack medications in checked luggage - if your luggage gets lost or delayed so will your medication.
In my carry-on or my purse, I also keep my ‘IBD Emergency Kit." My kit includes a change of underwear, a change of pants, Imodium, prescription medications, my iPod (which includes calming music and meditation tapes), and a good book.
I find traveling on an airplane to be the most stress-inducing for me. Being trapped in a tin can with hundreds of people and only a few bathrooms has always made me a bit nervous. But, since I travel mostly by airplane I had to figure out how to quell my fears. I usually start the day before I travel. I only eat bland foods that I know won't aggravate any symptoms - yogurt, rice, chicken, toast, applesauce, and bananas. I make sure to stay well hydrated with water and I even pack powdered Gatorade that I can mix into a dilute solution with water. On one trip to the Caribbean about eight years ago I got terribly dehydrated and nearly ended up in a hospital. I am now very careful not to let dehydration become an issue for me and while I find Gatorade helpful in keeping my electrolytes up I find it far too acidic to drink at full strength, so I make it at half strength.
Before fully settling onto an airplane I check with a flight attendant to make sure that all bathrooms on board are in working order. I was appalled to find out two years ago that there are very few laws or regulations mandating that all bathrooms aboard an airplane be in working order before take-off. I also ask for an aisle seat a few rows away from the bathroom. I hate being right at the bathroom door, but I like having easy access if and when it's necessary. I also have a business-sized card that the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America gives to its members which reads: "I Can't Wait: The bearer of this card has a medical conditions that requites him/her to use the bathroom facilities urgently." On longer flights (3+ hours) I usually show this to a flight attendant just to make them aware of the situation. Usually they are very nice and understanding and even offer to help clear a bathroom or get me to the front of a line if the need arises.
Traveling by train is pretty much the same for me as traveling by airplane - I check to make sure the bathroom in the car I've chosen is in working order. Then I usually choose a seat facing in the direction of the bathroom so I can see when it's available.
When traveling by car I usually find the first hour or two are when I get the most stressed out and unsure of my gut. So, my husband and I have worked out that I drive the first leg of the trip. By driving, I feel more in control if I have to make a bathroom stop, but I also have fewer problems because my mind is occupied by the road, not my gut.
The most important thing that my family and I have integrated into my life since being diagnosed with IBD is the idea that all plans can be changed, if need be. I've spent nights in airport hotels when my gut just wouldn't calm down, and I've made trips without a hitch. But, just knowing that it's okay to change my plans takes a huge amount of stress out of my life. I am blessed to have a patient husband and an understanding step-son. But since implementing these tips into my life I have traveled successfully and often with IBD for more than ten years now. If I can do it, so can you.
Prepare ahead and enjoy your holidays!