How to (Successfully) Vacation with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Vacationing with GI issues.

You’ve got wanderlust and you’ve got it bad. You dream of fantastic adventures, plan them, but don’t ever go on them. Because the practical part of you knows that you also have inflammatory bowel disease and you’re scared to travel too far because of your disease.

We have good news for you. With a little preparation, your inflammatory bowel disease shouldn’t slow you down. Here are some tips for that trip you’ve been daydreaming about.

  1. Talk to your doctor about your travel plans.

    You should be in remission before you venture too far from home. Your doctor will help you determine this. Your doctor may also have advice regarding travel vaccinations for certain destinations.

  2. Invest in travel insurance.

    Unexpected flares are a part of life with IBD. Investing in travel insurance in case this (or anything else unforeseeable) occurs will give you peace of mind.

  3. Keep all your medication in your carry on, not your checked baggage.

    In a perfect world, all our bags would reach our destination along with us every time. But the reality is, checked baggage can get lost or even stolen. Your medication is an important part of keeping you healthy during your trip. Keep it with you at all times.

  4. Carry a note from your doctor for the airport security officers.

    Since you’ll be carrying your medication with you, be prepared to explain what it is. Keep your medication in its original bottle with an intact and legible label identifying you as the patient. Bring a letter from your doctor explaining the medications you’re taking and the need for you to carry them aboard your flight (this is especially important if you have any type of injectable medication). For up to date information, review the TSA’s website for travelers with medical needs before you get to the airport:

  5. Know where the restrooms are along your route.

    You probably know the location of every restroom in places you visit regularly, such as the grocery store, shopping malls, and at work. While this isn’t always possible when you travel, you can help yourself by planning ahead. Use travel websites such as AAA to find roads with frequent rest stops. If you’re able to pick your seat on planes or boats, pick one closest to the lavatory.

    Bring along all the necessities: toilet paper, wet wipes, changes of clothing and underwear, and hand sanitizer.

  6. If you’re traveling internationally, learn some key phrases in the local language.

    Beyond typical greetings, phrases such as “Where is the nearest restroom?”, “urgent”, and “emergency” are vital. Be able to ask someone to show you the way to the restroom. Thank them for their help (a big smile goes a long way no matter where you are).

  7. Have a plan in place in case your IBD flares while you’re traveling.

    Research the names of local gastroenterologists and hospitals where you’ll be traveling. If you’ll be traveling internationally, you can contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers, which will provide a list of English-speaking doctors where you’ll be traveling in exchange for a donation. Their phone number is 716-754-4883 or you can go to their website at If you’ll be traveling to remote locations internationally, invest in insurance that includes transportation to the nearest hospital or city with a gastroenterologist.

  8. Check with your insurance carrier about what kind of coverage, if any, you have in different states and in foreign countries.

    Should you need to see a doctor or get a prescription, this will help you know what you can expect to pay out of pocket.

  9. Maintain your home diet while you travel.

    This can be tricky when you’re on the road with limited options. Be prepared. Bring snacks such as granola bars or dried fruit to get you through in a pinch. Book places to stay that have kitchen facilities available so you can prepare your own food to the standard you need. When visiting a restaurant, ask if they’re able to modify the menu items before sitting down. Whenever possible, minimize fast food. Always drink bottled water when traveling and recycle the bottle if facilities are available.

  10. Have fun!

You’ve prepared, you’ve made your lists, you’ve packed, and you’re ready to go. Now all that’s left is to have a great time!