Traveling with IBD

If you are ready to pack your bags and head out of town, don’t let your Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis stop you.


Traveling, whether for business or for fun, may seem daunting when you live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). We can help you prepare so that all you have to do is enjoy your trip!



Finding a Doctor

Having a list of doctors or specialists local to the area you will be visiting is helpful in an emergency and it can put your mind at ease.

  • Ask your doctor for the names of physicians in the cities you plan to visit.

  • Search our database of medical experts.

  • Reach out to IAMAT. They provide members with lists of English-speaking doctors in several countries.

  • If you’re traveling internationally, look up the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country you will be visiting for a list of doctors and healthcare providers. Some countries even include names and information for local specialists.

Finding Bathrooms

Being able to quickly locate a bathroom is one of the top travel concerns for people with IBD. Take the time to map out restrooms on your trip the same way you may have mapped them out for your daily routine.

  • If you are flying, book an aisle seat or  a seat closest to the airplane bathroom.

  • If you are taking a road trip in the U.S., download We Can't Wait, the Foundation's restroom finder app. We Can't Wait shows you restrooms near your current location. Search locations in the app prior to traveling to find restrooms along your route and at your destination and use the Favorites feature to save these restrooms to a list. AAA or other trip planning guides can also be helpful. There is more than one route to get almost anywhere in the U.S., so choose the plan that has more public restroom stops even if that route isn't the most scenic.
  • Always travel with your own supply of toilet paper, soothing wipes, ointments, plastic bags for disposal or to store soiled clothes, and changes of underwear and clothes. Pack hand sanitizer in bottles small enough to go through airport security if you are flying.

  • If you are traveling internationally, make a point of learning how to say certain words in that country’s native language, such as toilet, bathroom, urgent, emergency, pharmacy, and doctor. There are many different types of electronic pocket translators and apps for your phone that could help you.

  • If you are a Foundation member, you can receive an “I Can’t Wait” identification card that explains why it is a medical necessity for you to be first in line for a bathroom or even use an employee-only bathroom. You can get access to a digital "I Can't Wait" card by downloading We Can’t Wait. The “I Can’t Wait” card can be provided free of charge to anyone with IBD who may need it. To request a card, please call 888-MY-GUT-PAIN (888-694-8872).



Traveling With Prescription Medication

  • Request typed and signed statements from your physician(s), describing your medical history and the medications you are taking. This will be helpful if customs officials question you or if there is an emergency.

  • Let your pharmacist know if you are taking medication out of the country.

  • Make copies of all prescriptions, including foreign brand names or generic names.

  • Bring enough medication to last throughout your trip.

  • Always carry your medication with you on the plane in case the airline misplaces your luggage.

  • Keep your medication in its original container. Bring pillboxes for when you arrive, so that you can carry smaller amounts with you during the day.  



International Medical Insurance

If you will be traveling outside of the U.S., it’s important to consider your options for medical insurance.

  • Check with your current insurance company to see if your policy includes international coverage for emergency room visits, doctor visits, prescription medication, and any other medical services you may need while you are away.

  • Reach out to our IBD Help Center for a list of international medical insurance resources.



Medical Emergency Preparedness

No one wants to have to plan for a medical emergency. But knowing what to do ahead of time can help alleviate stress and worry. And if the worst happens, you will know exactly what to do.

  • Ask your doctor for a written action plan in case your condition worsens while you're traveling.

  • Find out in advance whether buses and trains have toilets.

  • Give the airline advance notice so it can accommodate your dietary needs, or bring a snack of your own.

  • If you are flying, consider accommodations that might make your trip easier or more comfortable, including early boarding, pre-check at security, or a wheelchair.

  • Keep your doctor's phone number and your insurance card in your wallet.



Symptoms of a Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis Emergency

If you experience any of these dangerous symptoms while traveling, seek immediate medical treatment:

  • High fever and shaking chills

This could indicate a severe bacterial inflammation that may require intravenous antibiotics.

  • Profuse, bloody diarrhea

This could mean marked ulceration of the intestines, caused by a bacterium, parasite, or a major flare.

  • Severe abdominal pain and/or abdominal distension (bloating)

Bloating and severe pain could indicate a complication of your disease, especially if your symptoms are accompanied by severe abdominal tenderness or nausea and vomiting. An inability to pass stool could indicate a possible blockage.

  • Dizziness upon standing or an episode of fainting

This could mean your blood pressure is too low, possibly caused by a malfunction of the adrenal gland, or an indication that your steroid dose may need to be adjusted.

  • Scant, concentrated urine

This is a sign you may be dehydrated.



Navigating Transportation Security

Airport screening procedures are meant to keep us all safe, but they can be complicated for people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

  • If you have an ostomy, alert security personnel. They are trained to respond appropriately and sensitively to medical needs.

  • Read the Transportation Security Administration’s website for travelers with medical conditions. The TSA also offers a downloadable medical card that you can give to an agent notifying them that you may require special screening due to your medical condition.

  • You may need to make a verbal or written declaration of any liquid medication or nutrition supplements in excess of 3.4 ounces or 100ml.

  • Remember that ostomy supplies are permitted through security checkpoints.

  • Again, remember to pack medications and essential supplies in your carry-on bag, so you will have them with you at all times. You will be able to purchase water and other beverages after you pass through security.



How To Avoid Traveler's Diarrhea

Diarrhea affects one out of every three U.S. travelers to less developed countries, an unpleasant experience that’s been dubbed"Montezuma's revenge.”

Here’s what you can do to avoid travel-related diarrhea:

  • Don’t drink tap water, unless you boil it first.

  • Drink bottled mineral water, even when brushing your teeth.

  • Try to keep the water out of your mouth when showering.

  • Don't swallow water when swimming in fresh water, swimming pools, or where the ocean may be polluted.

  • Avoid non-carbonated beverages, such as iced tea, lemonade, and fresh juices.

  • Avoid all ice and ice cream, and raw vegetables and salads.

  • Avoid raw or uncooked meat, fish, or shellfish.

  • Avoid uncooked dairy products unless you are certain that they have been pasteurized and prepared under sterile conditions.

  • Never eat food from vendors' carts.

  • Don’t eat prepared food, such as potato salad and canapes.

  • Peel all fruits and egg shells yourself.

  • Never eat food that has been allowed to sit until it reaches room temperature.



Remedies For Traveler's Diarrhea

If you are stricken with a bout of traveler’s diarrhea, there are a few things you can do to alleviate your symptoms.

  • Drink plenty of fluids, preferably lukewarm or weak tea. Again, remember to boil the water first or use bottled water.

  • Avoid ice-cold beverages, sodas, or citrus drinks, which could aggravate diarrhea.

  • Take extra salt to prevent dehydration.

  • Over the counter anti-diarrheal medications may help slow your symptoms, but do not take any of these over-the-counter drugs without consulting your physician.