Coping with IBS on Holiday: How to Prepare for a Holiday Abroad

Unfamiliar places, strange foods and travel-stress can all combine to make coping with IBS on holiday incredibly challenging. If you suffer from this condition, read on…

How to Prepare for a Holiday Abroad

Stay calm! We know, that’s easier said than done, but here are some great ideas on how to keep IBS-triggering holiday anxiety at bay:

  • Talk to travel companions about your travelling anxiety. This not only gets ‘things’ off your chest but also helps make them aware of your needs. If you’re travelling alone, jot your fears and worries down in a journal – complete with ideas on how you might deal with them; be prepared.
  • Book self-catering accommodation or somewhere with access to a kitchen. There are many hotels, hostels and AirBnB rentals that offer this option. Either way, knowing that you will be able to prepare some of your own meals will do much to put your mind at rest and help you avoid giving in to the temptation to try unusual foods.
  • Try not to think too much about what you cannot eat or do and focus instead on everything you look forward to, i.e. lazing on a beach or by the pool; places you hope to explore, and so on.
  • Research local food to get a better idea of what you will be able to eat and learn how to tell waiters what you cannot eat. If you worry about your language skills, make cards showing phrases (i.e. “I cannot eat onions”, “I cannot eat very spicy meals”, etc.) swiped from allergy cards (or straight out of a foreign phrasebook) to show them instead.

It may also be an idea to let someone who speaks the language well check these cards out before using them just to make sure you got all your phrases right.

If all else fails, try to calm yourself using deep-breathing exercises like the one shown at NHS.UK.

Coping with IBS While Travelling

The following tips are designed to help you cope better with your IBS while travelling:

  • Convenience – while window seats are wonderful for getting an early glimpse of your destination, picking an aisle seat will allow you to visit the bathroom quickly, easily and without letting the world (i.e. your entire seat row) know that you’re heading there again.
  • Food Savvy – airline foods on planes may be a risky choice if you have IBS. Take your own food in your carry-on luggage to prevent any disasters. Simple snacks for a short flight or a more substantial meal for long flights or if you are travelling during your usual mealtime.

Carrying snacks when exploring your destination is, by the way, also a good idea, as it prevents hunger driving you to eat things you shouldn’t while you’re out and about. Pack a few favourites in your checked-in luggage and then stock up supplies at local groceries as you go.

  • Staying Hydrated – especially important if you have IBS, so take a reusable water bottle with you. Fill it after you go through airport security and again before you board to ensure you remain hydrated throughout your trip.

Do remember to avoid alcohol and fizzy drinks on the plane, as both can trigger/aggravate IBS symptoms and keep your bottle with you throughout your stay, too, as carrying it will remind you to drink frequently.

Coping with IBS on Holiday

Once safely at your destination, here’s how to prevent triggering symptoms:

  • Stick to your usual routine. Adjust the times you eat so you can keep up with your usual, regular meal pattern even in a different time zone. Most European destinations, for instance, are an hour ahead of British time, so if you usually have your lunch at 12 o’clock at home, have it at 1 o’clock local time in France, Italy, Spain, etc.
  • Order Off-Menu. If a local restaurant’s menu offers nothing you can eat safely, make up your own meal by looking at sides/other meal components, ask for basics any restaurant kitchen should be able to prepare (i.e. rice, steamed vegetables) and/or pick simple salads with your favourite toppings.

The home-made cards we mentioned above should help you make the right choices and survive restaurant meals without unpleasant consequences.

  • Know How to Find Toilets. Familiarise yourself with local signs for public toilet facilities and either learn how to ask for them or prepare cards with relevant phrases like the ones you are carrying to help you avoid trigger foods at restaurants.
  • Make sure to always have plenty of change with you. Many toilets abroad are “pay-for-entry” facilities and the last thing you need when you urgently need to use the bathroom is a desperate hunt for change.
  • Be Strict. Yes, trying out all those delicious looking foreign foods is extremely tempting, but before you give in to that temptation, consider the potential consequences and ask yourself if it’s worth it.
  • Don’t Ignore Symptoms. If your IBS does play up, don’t ignore your symptoms and carry on as though all is well. Look after yourself and take things a little slower for a day or two; get some extra sleep, stay close to a bathroom and, if necessary, adjust your diet until you feel better.

Finally, do try to have a good time without worrying about every taste/bite of local food you do try. Worrying about it can trigger your symptoms even if you never touch a single morsel of food you shouldn’t eat, so relax and have a good time. That is, after all, what going on holiday is all about.

Bonus Tip

Silicolgel may help to relieve the symptoms of IBS and other upper gastrointestinal problems, so make sure to take some with you!


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