Summer Travel Tips for Those With Ulcerative Colitis
Summer travel with ulcerative colitis doesn’t have to be stressful. Here are some tips to help your trip go smoothly.
Summer travel is supposed to be fun and relaxing, but for those living with ulcerative colitis (UC), this isn’t always the case. The unpredictable nature of UC can complicate travel plans and adds a layer of stress, from uncertainty surrounding food options to keeping track of medications, changes in your typical routine, and the possibility of experiencing a flare-up while far from your healthcare team. Fortunately, a little extra planning and preparation can help you feel more in control and at ease. Here are six tips to make your summer travel less stressful and more enjoyable if you’re living with UC.
1. Pack Safe Foods to Snack On
While traveling, you don’t always have control over your food, which can be especially challenging when you have a condition that impacts digestion. Whether at airports, in rest stops, or on long car rides or restaurants in foreign countries, it’s hard to know if you’ll always have a UC-friendly food option available to you This is why packing a stash of foods to snack on and supplement your meals with can be helpful, especially if you are actively experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.
Some easy-to-digest, packable options include:
- Packets of creamy nut butter paired with rice cakes
- Soft-textured protein bars with ingredients you know you tolerate
- Dry cereals low in sugar
- Instant oatmeal packets
- Squeezable fruit and vegetable pouches
Bring enough snacks to last throughout your trip. While you may not need to use all of them, it’s better to be well prepared and have some leftovers than to run out halfway through your trip.
2. Communicate With Your Doctor Ahead of Time
Before traveling, communicate with your doctor to make sure that you’re clear to travel, especially for longer trips or if you’re traveling abroad. Discuss whether treatment or medication adjustments are necessary and come up with a game plan in case of an emergency.
If you’ll be away for a prolonged period, your doctor may be able to assist you in locating a medical center or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) specialist in the area, should you need one. Additionally, if you have recently had surgery, consult with your surgeon to discuss any concerns or potential limitations you may need to keep in mind.
If you are on a biologic infusion medication, call up your infusion center as far in advance as possible to schedule infusions around your travel, so that you don’t miss or delay a dose. If you are traveling by plane and need to take injectable medications, or if you have an ostomy, plan ahead so you know how to transport your injections or ostomy supplies. Remember that you may need to bring a doctor’s letter with you to avoid trouble at airport security.
3. Bring Medication to Last Throughout Your Trip and for Emergencies
Even while on vacation, it’s important to continue to take your medications as prescribed so that you stay well. Refill your prescriptions in advance and, if possible, bring enough for a few extra days, just in case you lose some or have to extend your trip unexpectedly. If you’re traveling by airplane, pack medications in your carry-on luggage rather than a checked bag. This way, if your luggage is lost, you won’t have to skip doses or worry about finding a pharmacy.
If you take multiple oral medications or supplements, consider using a pill organizer so that you can keep track of your dosing schedule more easily. It may also be helpful to speak with your doctor about the possibility of bringing emergency medications with you, such as steroids. Hopefully you won’t need to use them, but knowing they’re there just in case can give you some peace of mind.
4. Be Mindful of Food Safety and Foods That Trigger Symptoms
Those with active UC should take extra food and water safety precautions, especially when traveling to a foreign country. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, those with autoimmune conditions such as UC may be more susceptible to foodborne illness, particularly if you are taking certain immunosuppressive medications commonly prescribed for UC.
Foods most commonly associated with foodborne illness include raw or undercooked meat, fish, poultry, shellfish, and eggs, as well as unpasteurized dairy products, sprouts, raw flour, and contaminated fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s best to also exercise caution with food from street vendors as well as fresh, unpasteurized juices, as these foods and beverages may be prepared in unhygienic conditions.
In addition to food, the drinking water in certain countries may contain microorganisms that your body is not accustomed to, leading to GI upset or illness. If you are traveling somewhere that visitors are advised to avoid drinking tap water, you may need to stick to only bottled water, avoid raw fruits and vegetables washed in tap water, and even brush your teeth with bottled water.
Symptoms of foodborne illness can mimic those of a UC flare, so if you notice a sudden onset of GI symptoms, seek medical care as soon as possible.
In addition to food safety, be mindful of foods that commonly trigger UC symptoms. These include fatty meats, large portions of full-fat dairy products, and fried foods.
5. Protect Yourself From the Sun
Certain UC medications can increase your sensitivity to the sun’s rays and increase your risk for skin cancer, so taking proper sun precautions is crucial. That means diligently applying sunblock, especially if you’re traveling somewhere warm and sunny.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a broad-spectrum sunblock with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapplying about every two hours, more often if you are swimming or sweating heavily. Pack sun-protective clothing as well, such as sun hats, sunglasses, and lightweight long-sleeved cotton shirts or garments designed specifically for sun protection.
6. Practice Stress-Reduction Techniques
Travel can be stressful, especially if you have active UC. According to research published in 2019 in Frontiers in Pediatrics, there is a well-established link between psychological stress and worsened IBD symptoms. To help calm your mind, try practicing stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, using guided meditation apps, listening to a podcast or audio book that you enjoy, journaling, or listening to calming music. It’s also helpful to make a packing list so that you don’t forget to bring any essentials. If you are traveling by plane, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and through security so that you don’t feel rushed.
Going into your summer trip well prepared is a productive way to not only better enjoy your vacation but also calm travel anxiety.