Air travel can be stressful for anyone, but as someone who is acutely aware of the location of bathrooms and the lines in front of them, I find airports to be incredibly anxiety-producing. You can’t really control lines but you can control the way you prep for travel and what you do when you arrive at an airport. Here are some of my best tips for minimal-stress traveling.
Pre-packing your travel bag
I keep a small travel bag ready to go with the essentials. I find it’s easier to keep a small set of things together, and it saves me time when I am inevitably panicking before a flight. These items include:
- Gallon-sized plastic bag
- This is to hold all your liquids. I tend to keep travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, and lotion in this bag so they’re ready to go.
- Quart-sized plastic bag
- This is for your meds. I keep a nearly-empty bag with all my other travel items so there’s less potential for stress if I can’t find a bag the morning I leave. I keep Tylenol in this travel bag so I always have some on hand.
- Empty water bottle
- You can’t take liquids through security but you can fill up your water bottle once you’re through and carry it with you onto the plane. I always need a ton of water (hydration, amirite?), so instead of buying bottles of water at $3 a pop, I just bring an empty water bottle.
- Wet wipes
- You can’t trust the toilet-paper situation anywhere but inside your own home. Do your butt a favor and bring wet wipes so butt burn doesn’t ruin your travel. An added bonus is that wet wipes are great for about 800 other uses.
- Toilet paper
- If you have room, bring a roll. Hotels, restaurants, and relatives do not care about your sensitive butt as much as you do.
- Travel-sized or sample-size Calmoseptine
- This is key! You can buy Calmoseptine in a 4-oz. tube or a 2.5-oz. jar. If you buy a 4-oz. tube just use a little before you travel to get it below that 3 oz. mark and make sure to put this in your gallon bag holding liquids and creams.
- Electrolyte tablets, powders, or drops
- I like Nuun and DripDrop and find that having them on hand eases my mind a bit. Just remember to pack the liquid form with the rest of your liquids.
- Maybe it’s just me, but as I get older the worse my motion sickness gets, which makes my stomach unhappy and my brain really confused. When I’m feeling motion sick, I generally feel nauseous; I try to eat or drink to help but it usually doesn’t, so then I feel awful because I ate or drank. It’s easier on my whole body if I just take a Dramamine before take-off.
Getting through security
Now that you’ve packed the essentials, let’s talk about getting through TSA — always a stressful time for me that makes my stomach gurgle and turn and demand to be heard. I’m never carrying anything illegal but the whole process makes me very panicked, so I tend to pack my whole carry-on with the TSA in mind. Here are a few tips to make your experience slightly less stressful.
When packing your carry-on, place your plastic bags of meds and liquids at the very top. Place your laptop below or next to those bags and just plan to put both of those in separate bins. I usually grab no fewer than four bins just for me when I go through security, which is annoying but also saves me time because I don’t have to send my stuff back through when TSA finds something that I should have removed. Also keep any dry snack foods towards the top of your bag too. I recently got rechecked due to a bag of cashews I didn’t think to remove from my bag.
Wear flip-flops. I don’t care if it’s snowing, I’m wearing flip-flops through security and putting my shoes on after. When you’re approaching the X-ray-tube thing and you have to unlace your Converse high tops and everyone behind you is getting impatient, you’ll thank me. Besides, the faster you get through this line, the faster you can find a bathroom!
If you have an ostomy, stay cool. Nine out of 10 times, TSA agents might pat it down, but you can say “It’s a medical device” and then you’re on your way. However, on that 10th time, they may ask to see it or they may want more information. Try your best to remain calm and confident and just remember your ostomy serves a purpose and it’s not illegal or prohibited. Know you also have rights. If you find a TSA agent is treating you unfairly, or is using his or her own ignorance against you, ask to speak to a supervisor. Ain’t nobody got time for that; you have a flight to catch.
Have any medical papers or doctor’s notes (for specific medications, your ostomy, etc.) on hand for when you may need them. Keep them in an outside pocket of your carry-on if you can and offer them up if you feel like the situation is getting tense for any reason.
Final note about meds: You are permitted to take with you all of your meds, even if it’s a liquid over 3 oz. or in a syringe. Just make sure the prescription label is clear and legible — but don’t be surprised if a TSA agent makes you do the hand-swab test.
One last thing: Do your mind and your gut a favor and spring for the TSA Precheck if you travel often. Then you get to keep your liquids and meds in your bag AND you get to keep your shoes on. It’s a time saver and stress reliever that’s worth every penny in my book. You do have to schedule an appointment for this far in advance, so make sure you plan ahead. You can find more info here.
The whole process of traveling can be incredibly stressful because so much of it is out of our control, but for an easier TSA experience just remember to pack with plenty of time to spare and organize your items. Following these steps will hopefully keep you with a happy set of intestines (or intestine) once you’re through security and on your way to your final destination.
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Jackie Zimmerman is a multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis patient and the founder of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has blogged her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community. In her free time (what free time?!) she spends time with her two rescue pups and plays roller derby. She’s online @JackieZimm.