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How to Travel if You Have GI Problems
Digestive issues don’t have to get in the way of a vacation.
If you suffer from gastrointestinal issues like hemorrhoids, diarrhea, or constipation, it can add a whole new layer of planning to your vacations: How long can you handle sitting in a plane seat, and how close is your seat to the bathroom? How far apart are rest stops on a road trip, just in case you need an emergency stop? Can you actually eat any of the local foods that looks so appetizing on Instagram? Things other people don’t think twice about seem a lot more challenging when you’re worried about your digestion. (And even if you don’t have these issues regularly, traveling can still mess with your system.) But packing smart and making these easy adjustments while you’re traveling can ensure you don’t miss out on any fun during your trip.
1. Work exercise into your itinerary.
Whether it’s booking walking tours or just making sure you leave time in your schedule to hit your hotel gym, regular exercise can help keep your GI tract moving. If you want to dedicate every second to activities, consider walking between tour sites instead of driving or taking public transportation, swimming in your hotel pool, or signing up to try a local sport.
2. Pack a cushion for the plane.
Nothing irritates a hemorrhoid like sitting on a plane for an entire day. Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in and around the rectum or anus that are caused by too much pressure in the area; external hemorrhoids occur when the veins just under the skin on the outside of the anus get swollen or distended like varicose veins. A donut cushion has a coccyx cut-out to relieve the pain and tension you may feel from sitting too long, so you can relax comfortably on your flight. It’s not entirely unlike a round neck pillow, so you’ll look right at home (and can use your neck pillow in a pinch).
3. Stock up an emergency supply kit.
Do you know how to ask for your preferred heartburn medication in Spanish? How about laxatives for constipation in Japanese? Probably not. And while some meds are universal, it can be tough to navigate a foreign pharmacy find what works for you, or tough to locate one altogether if you’re on an outdoorsy trip. Make sure to pack travel-sized OTC medicines (and any prescriptions!) in your carry-on or day-to-day bag so you aren’t caught off guard. For hemorrhoids, try a product like Preparation H Totables wipes, which uses witch hazel to relieve itching, burning, and discomfort and are easy to stash in your carry-on or a purse or backpack.
4. Be mindful when trying new foods.
You probably know not to drink the water (or ice!) in certain countries, but if you’re dealing a weak digestive system or GI problems, ask about ingredients wherever you can so you can avoid triggers (like dairy or caffeine for irritable bowel syndrome, or spicy foods for heartburn). And remember that unpasteurized food or beverages (like the milk that comes with that Turkish coffee), greasy foods that are high in fat (hello, fried chicken in Nashville), and unwashed fruits and veggies you can’t peel or cook can also set off even a stomach made of steel, so tread carefully. With that in mind…
5. Bring your own safe foods.
Sure, part of the fun of traveling is sampling new dishes. But if you’re already dealing with the stomach troubles that come with a disorder like IBS or you just have a generally sensitive stomach, you know that certain foods can set you up for an avalanche of GI symptoms. in case you can’t determine all the ingredients of a dish—or can’t understand the menu—have an emergency pack of approved snacks on hand, like protein bars, so you can still eat something without wondering about the consequences.
6. Know where the toilets are!
When you gotta go, you gotta go—and you don’t have time to roam aimlessly through a new city’s streets to find a bathroom. Smartphone apps like Flush, which lists 190,000 public restrooms around the world, and Sit or Squat, which has over 100,000 restrooms listed, do the hard work for you.
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