Expert-Approved Tips for Traveling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome Expert-Approved Tips for Traveling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal condition that causes abdominal cramping, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas. It affects between 7% and 16% of people in... Expert-Approved Tips for Traveling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal condition that causes abdominal cramping, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas. It affects between 7% and 16% of people in the United States. Those most commonly affected are women and young people. Although it’s unclear what causes IBS in some individuals, there’s no denying it causes a lot of discomfort, pain and potentially embarrassment for those who have it. I was diagnosed with IBS as a teenager and have since been able to manage it to the best of my ability — even though I have flare-ups from time to time. It’s a tough condition to manage on a daily basis if it isn’t treated, but it can be extra stressful while traveling for someone with IBS.

You shouldn’t have to deny yourself a trip you’ve been dreaming of taking because of your condition. That’s why it’s helpful to have some tips for handling it in your back pocket. We consulted experts for advice on how to best manage IBS and keep the symptoms at bay while you’re traveling and far from home. 

The different types of IBS

Doctors have considered IBS a disorder linked between the gut and brain that’s usually brought on by stress. Recent studies have found that genetic susceptibility may be tied to mood and anxiety disorders that usually present themselves in the nervous system or the gut. Along with this research, data shows a link between IBS, anxiety, neuroticism and depression. There are three subtypes of IBS, and they can affect everyone differently. The subtypes include IBS constipation (IBS-C), IBS diarrhea (IBS-D) and IBS mixed (IBS-M), when you experience both constipation and diarrhea. 

IBS-C is associated with discomfort or bloating along with constipation. If you are constipated, it means you are passing stools infrequently (less than three times per week) and you have difficulty in doing so. Stools are typically hard and there is difficulty in passing them, which can lead to straining.

IBS-D is when you have abnormal bowel movements and they’re looser and more watery than they should be. Typically symptoms tied to IBS-D include abdominal discomfort and bloating as well as the frequent urge to go.

IBS-M is correlated with both constipation and diarrhea and is accompanied with a combination of the symptoms experienced through IBS-C and IBS-D. The difference is that these symptoms alternate when they occur.

Tips to manage IBS while traveling 

It’s no surprise that disrupting your normal routine can make IBS feel worse. “Stress is well known to aggravate IBS, and often during travel you become stressed, you experience a change in routine, you don’t know where the bathrooms are or you are worried about arriving on time and getting to your destination safely,” says associate registered dietitian Pia Williams. Other aspects that can contribute to flare-ups include dehydration and change in diet if you’re not drinking enough water or if you’re eating foods you’re normally not used to.

Avoid trigger foods: People with IBS are generally aware of their triggers, but while you’re traveling, it’s safest to avoid alcohol, fatty foods and caffeine. It’s important to not make any drastic changes to your diet just before your trip or during it. If your IBS has been problematic prior to your trip and  you’re able to, book a hotel that has a kitchen on the premises, so you can make your own “safe” foods while away from home. However, if you want to enjoy your trip to the fullest and want to try more local foods, make sure to do your research beforehand. See what the local cuisine has to offer and look for the food you know is least likely to aggravate you, suggests registered dietitian Paulina Lee. 

Check out local markets: Sometimes, however, there isn’t a local food option that works for you and you may need to look at other restaurants and not eat as the locals would. “Stop by the local market to pick up some foods that you can tolerate well and pack safe snacks and meals for your trip and stay, if possible,” says Lee.

Check local menus: If eating out is the only option, check the restaurant’s online menu, if available, and plan your meals ahead. Don’t be afraid to ask for alternatives or special accommodations to your meals.

Locate bathrooms beforehand: Another way of managing your IBS, regardless of type, is by factoring in bathroom breaks and learning where they are, double checking you have all the important paperwork before you set off, and making sure you know the route you are taking well. 

Other options while traveling 

Sometimes taking certain supplements helps alleviate or prevent IBS symptoms. If you’re planning on taking supplements make sure you’re already familiar with them and know your body is used to it. The last thing you want to do is try something new that’ll make your symptoms worse. Some recommended supplements to bring with you if you already take them include probiotics to help improve your digestive system.

 “Probiotics reduce the chances of developing traveler’s diarrhea that can be caused by food poisoning and change in water,” explains Williams. Additionally she recommends packing peppermint capsules which help with bloating and abdominal pain. 


Remember that IBS flare-ups can be unpredictable no matter how much you prepare. Try to make the traveling experience as comfortable as possible. Avoid wearing tight pants, in case of bloating, and try to relax as much as possible. Worrying beforehand will just increase stress and increase the chances of having an IBS flare-up. Do your best planning your meals during your trip and don’t be afraid to ask for any dietary accommodations if needed. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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