Stress-Free Ways to Travel With Crohn’s
You’ve booked the trip, submitted your time-off request, and you’re ready for a little R&R. Unfortunately, you have an unwanted travel companion: Crohn’s disease. It’s hard enough to manage this form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) on a normal day, let alone on a road trip to an unfamiliar destination. How best to prepare? We asked the experts for their top advice on traveling with this chronic disease so you can sit back and enjoy the journey.
First, a Note About COVID-19
The pandemic has changed a lot of things, not the least of which is how we travel. If your Crohn’s has resulted in a weakened immune system, it puts you at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, says the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. You may want to rethink your trip, or at least, take major precautions. “Have extra masks and hand sanitizer, and plan how you’re going to mitigate social interaction,” says Sara N. Horst, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. If you do decide to travel, these tips can make it easier.
Plan Your Bathroom Stops
If you’re traveling by car, know where the rest stops are before you hit the road (a lot of navigation apps include them). “Build bathroom stops in before you think you need them,” says Dr. Horst. And if you’re traveling with people you’re not super close with, it may help to broach the topic before the journey, to relieve some of the stress during your trip. “You might say, ‘I have Crohn’s,’ or ‘I have this medical condition, and I need to stop a little more frequently—thanks for your patience,’” she suggests.
Pack Your Meds
Be meticulous about packing any prescription or over-the-counter medication you may need for your Crohn’s (put them in your carry-on, not checked luggage, if you’re flying), says Neilanjan Nandi, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia. “If you’re flying and going through TSA, you may want to get a letter from your doctor that allows you to transport your biologic or self-injectable medicine,” he adds. Your doc may also prescribe you some “just-in-case” antibiotics or prednisone to calm an unexpected flare.
Navigating meals while traveling can be a minefield when you have Crohn’s. Planning ahead—way ahead—is key. “Some people even think about what they’re eating the day before their trip, because it could affect bathroom habits the day of travel,” says Dr. Horst. “If you’re eating at restaurants, really think about what kind of places you should go to or how you can replicate what you eat at home.” And when you’re traveling somewhere where it’s tough to meet your dietary needs, pack snacks and protein powder if you can, Dr. Nandi suggests.
Pack a Go-Bag
Having a go-bag ready for IBD emergencies is a great idea, says Dr. Nandi. Things to include: electrolyte hydration powder, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, adult diapers (especially if you’re traveling by plane and have incontinence issues), and extra ostomy supplies if you have an ostomy. “Some people like to bring their own toilet paper, too, because people with IBD may spend extra time in the bathroom,” adds Dr. Horst. A change of clothes may be wise as well.
Cover Your Bases
Traveling with Crohn’s means making sure you’re covered in the case of a medical emergency. “Bring all your insurance cards or have that information stored on your phone for easy access,” says Dr. Horst. Medical travel insurance might be a good option if you’re traveling internationally, says Dr. Nandi. And if driving a long distance, you definitely want AAA: “The last thing you need is your car to break down while you’re having a flare or issues,” he says.
Getting enough fluids is key with Crohn’s since diarrhea can lead to dehydration. “Drink more water than you typically would,” recommends Dr. Horst, especially if you’re flying, which can cause dehydration on its own. “Bring an empty thermos and fill it up at the airport after you get through TSA—that way you don’t need to buy an overpriced water bottle,” suggests Dr. Nandi. Another tip: In some countries, the local tap water can lead to serious G.I. issues, so make sure you’re drinking bottled water and washing produce with it as well.
Have a Backup Plan
Plan A: You take your meds and your vacation goes off without a hitch. Plan B: You have a major flare in an unfamiliar city, but you don’t panic because you have all the medical emergency info you need right in your phone. Don’t wait for a Crohn’s emergency to realize you have no idea who to call. Make a list of numbers and addresses of in-network providers and major hospitals before traveling. Also, “your doctor may have an after-hours number you can call,” says Dr. Horst.
Bring Your Comforts
In addition to medical supplies and prescriptions, packing items that bring you comfort can make a big difference psychologically during a flare, says Dr. Horst. Let’s face it—travel can be stressful, and you know that stress can worsen your IBD symptoms. So anything that makes you feel calm—whether that’s a favorite blanket, scented candle, or a playlist of your favorite chill music—can be an asset during a flare (and a nice-to-have regardless, when you’re trying to relax).
Know the Vaccine Requirements
Before choosing an international vacation destination, check out the country’s vaccination list (ask your doc or google it). Some countries require certain vaccinations prior to entering the country, and that can be a problem if you’re taking a biologic for Crohn’s. “Most biologics will contraindicate a live vaccine in their label,” says Dr. Nandi. “Check with your doctor about this. You may need special permission to enter country without the vaccine, and you may want to think twice before going in case you were to contract the disease.”
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, by plane or by car, once you’ve done the legwork to prepare for your trip, having Crohn’s shouldn’t detract from your journey. It’s natural to feel anxious about having a flare but remind yourself you’ve got all the phone contacts you need for help—plus a bag of supplies at the ready—should anything go awry. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy!
Crohn’s and COVID-19 Information: The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. (2020). “High Risk Groups.” crohnscolitisfoundation.org/coronavirus/high-risk-groups
Managing IBD Flares and Symptoms: The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. (2019). “Managing Flares and IBD Symptoms.” crohnscolitisfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2019-07/managing-flares-brochure-final-online.pdf
Traveling With IBD: The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. (2019). “Traveling with IBD.” crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ibd/traveling-with-ibd