Seeing the World through a New Lens: Traveling with IBD

Written by Kacy Holloway, National Council of College Leaders member

Traveling has always been something I’ve loved doing, and there is so much of the world that I still want to see. Traveling can take anyone out of their comfort zone – a new location with unfamiliar foods and places, maybe even an unfamiliar language. Add a chronic illness on top of all of that, and it can be intimidating to travel the way you want to. When I was first diagnosed at 15, I didn’t think about how this disease would affect my urge to be adventurous and travel.

As I learned more about my new life with ulcerative colitis, I realized every aspect of my life would be affected. I haven’t been in the best of health since my diagnosis, but that hasn’t stopped me from traveling. One of my most exciting adventures was when I went to the Netherlands my senior year of high school with one of my best friends.

Sometimes just getting to your destination can be the most difficult part of traveling.

Airplanes present a different challenge for everyone, whether it’s anxiety or just the logistics of making it through airport security and sitting on a plane for an extended amount of time. If you are flying, make sure that you allow for plenty of time to get to the airport. Consider the time of day, traffic, and check for flight delays. Airlines offer accommodations, so consider asking for them! You can get priority boarding and seating, just ask ahead of time. Getting through security seems daunting, but isn’t the most terrible thing. Know the rules and be prepared ahead of time. The agents are usually very kind and understanding, but also know how to properly pack and get your ostomy/medications/medical supplies/formula/etc. through security.
Click here for more information about flying with IBD.

Road Trips
Traveling in a car can be scary because you’re without knowledge of where the closest restroom is. My biggest piece of advice for being in a car for an extended amount of time is to plan for frequent stops and bring your own toilet paper. I will usually stop and go to the bathroom every couple of hours or whenever I see a restroom in case that is the last one for awhile. I also have to get out and walk and stretch a little because I get restless legs easily. I always have toilet paper in my car, because gas stations are not known for having the best quality, and you never know when you will need to make an emergency stop on the side of the road.

If you are worried about traveling, here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you are preparing for your trip:

  1. Make sure your travel companions know about your health condition.
  2. If you are traveling outside of the country and/or will need to refill prescriptions where you are going, let your doctor know and make sure you have plenty of medication or supplies to last the trip. Even going so far as to researching the hospitals near where you are traveling to can put your mind at ease that you have a plan if something were to happen.
  3. Be sure to check if any vaccines are recommended by your doctor prior to travel.
  4. Pack snacks!!! This is something I always make sure to have plenty of. I tend to eat smaller meals more frequently, and it always helps to have a bar or some other snack on hand in case of a hunger emergency. Also, if you know a lot of foods don’t agree with you, it helps to have IBD friendly foods with you at all times.
  5. Bring enough medicine and medical supplies! I always bring more medicine and supplies than I need and pack it in a carry on and my actual luggage, so I make sure I always have it in case of lost luggage or it’s packed in the car where I can’t reach.

Since being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I have learned to appreciate the world and traveling much more. Don’t let the stigma of being sick stop you--go out and explore!!

Click here for more information about traveling abroad with IBD.