Living with Crohn's Disease, inflammatory bowel conditions (IBD), or ulcerative colitis brings its own set of challenges. Even more so when one plans to travel…
While some Crohn's Disease patients may feel that staying at home is the easiest solution, IBD is absolutely no contra-indication for travel.
With a bit of pre-planning, good organization, and a few emergency preparedness ideas, you can prevent a flare-up from ruining your travels and holidays.
Ready to board? Here’s a series of great tips for traveling with Crohn’s Disease (and other IBDs)!
What are Crohn's disease and IBDs?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation to the gastrointestinal tract – also called the digestive tract.
It’s a chronic and lifelong health condition that can affect people of all ages. IBD is quite common and affects more than 3 million people in the United States only.
Crohn's Disease's main symptoms can be painful and debilitating:
- Abdominal pain
- Severe diarrhea
- Stomach aches and cramps
- Blood in the stools
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight loss
While these symptoms may be constant for some people, most Crohn’s disease sufferers experience flare-up episodes where IBD symptoms come and go every few weeks or months.
As of today, there’s no cure for Crohn’s disease. However, treatments and therapies have been found to considerably help reduce the signs and help patients live normal lives.
How can Crohn’s disease affect your travels?
Let’s clarify and point out that Crohn’s disease and other types of inflammatory bowel conditions and ulcerative colitis are absolutely no contra-indications for travel! Hundreds of thousands of patients with IBDs travel both nationally and internationally each year and they're doing just fine.
While there are no known increased risks of traveling with Crohn's Disease, your chronic health condition may affect your travels in many ways, especially causing additional stress and awkward situations.
Worrying about a new flare-up during your holidays can be stressful and nerve-wracking.
Suffering from an IBD crisis while traveling is no fun. Stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea often make you feel uncomfortable, in pain, and anxious, which can ultimately prevent you from enjoying your dream holidays.
Besides, throwing yourself into the unknown regarding restroom facilities when you suffer from Crohn's disease is a big concern that may make you feel that staying home is the easiest solution. But there are ways to prevent your chronic health condition from ruining your travels.
How can traveling affect your IBD?
The relationship between travels and IBD is a two-way one. While Crohn's Disease may affect your travels by adding stress and pain, traveling can also impact your condition. Indeed, flare-ups are known to be triggered by factors like:
- Dietary change
- New medications
- Antibiotic use
- Gastrointestinal infections
- Stress and fatigue
All these factors are potential parts of any travel situation. When at a different place, you're trying new foods, you might get infections, need antibiotics or other medicines, etc. Besides, traveling is stressful and tiring. Your sleep schedule is changed and you're often more active than at home…
Tips for Preparing your Travels with Crohn’s Disease (before departure)
Traveling may indeed cause additional stress and increase the risks of a Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis flare-up. However, there are ways to control most of the risks by preparing and organizing your trip in advance.
See your doctor before departure
Your doctor is the most valuable source of advice you have. Before traveling with Crohn’s disease or other types of IBD, make sure to book an appointment with him or her.
Ask any questions and share any worries you may have. Your health care provider will also make sure you have enough medications for the entire length of your stay and provide you with the necessary medical documents.
Bring medical certificate and prescriptions
Whether you’re traveling nationally or internationally with your Crohn’s disease medications, you may be asked to show some documents at the airport or the border checkpoints like a letter from your doctor, your medical prescription, documentation from the pharmacy, or a medical health card for example.
IBD is a common health condition and most of the time you won't be required to show any document. To make sure what documentation is required to enter a certain country with your specific medications, you can ask the US embassy before departure.
Related article: Tips for Traveling Internationally with Medications
Pack your medication properly
Besides the necessary documents you must bring, traveling with medications used for the treatment of a chronic disease requires good organization.
First, make sure to bring enough of your medicines to last throughout the entire length of your stay. It's always good practice to bring more than what you'll need so you are prepared in case your trip is extended, you miss your flight back, or you need to increase the dosage during your stay. If you have a stoma, make sure to also bring extra stoma supplies.
Pack your medication in two different bags in case one gets lost or stolen. If you're flying, always carry your medication with you on the plane. The hazardous atmosphere and temperature conditions in the hold could damage your drugs.
Related article: Traveling with syringes and injectable medicines
Get a medical-grade travel cooler for your medications
Some medications used for the treatment of Crohn’s Disease and other IBDs are temperature-sensitive and must be kept refrigerated or at least protected from the outside heat. It’s the case for most injectable biologics such as Humira, Cimzia, Remicade, Tysabri, Stelara, or Entyvio for example.
The safest and most convenient way to keep your medicine cool while traveling is to use a medical-grade travel cooler like the ones from 4AllFamily.
4AllFamily’s medicine travel fridges
4AllFamily's travel coolers are designed to keep your medicine cool in any travel situation.
Our best-performing model works with USB power and acts like a real mini fridge, keeping your meds refrigerated for an unlimited time when plugged into a power source (household power, car cigarette lighter, portable solar panel, travel power bank, etc.).
If you’re more of an outdoor adventurer and won’t always have access to electricity, you may prefer a lighter cooling case that works with frozen gel packs.
Related article: How to Travel with Refrigerated Medications?
Related article: The List of Medicines that Need to be Refrigerated
Travel insurance for Crohn’s disease
When you have a chronic health condition like Crohn’s disease or any other kind of inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis, getting coverage from your travel insurance can be a bit more complicated.
Indeed, most travel insurances exclude pre-existing medical conditions from the scope of coverage. It means that you won’t be able to ask for reimbursement for any incident that can be directly or indirectly related to your condition.
Before departure, make sure you’re covered for any medical incident that could occur during your travel whether caused by your Crohn’s Disease or not. There are ways to waive that restriction clause from your current insurance company or to find a new insurance plan that covers your pre-existing health condition.
Related article: How to find travel insurance for preexisting medical conditions?
Get a list of medical facilities at your destination
Although most emergency care rooms in the World would be able to attend you in case of a Crohn’s disease sudden flare-up, you may find having a list of doctors and medical facilities at your destination to be reassuring. In that case, do not hesitate to do some pre-departure research and get medical care contacts from:
- Your doctor. He or she might be able to provide you with helpful contacts at your destination.
- The Crohn’s Disease Foundation’s database of IBD medical experts (US destinations only)
- The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT)
- The US embassy or consulate at your destination should also be able to provide you with a list of English-speaking healthcare services (for international travels)
Tips for Traveling with Crohn’s Disease and IBD (while at your destination)
You’re now well prepared and organized for your next trip. You’ve got your travel insurance, all the necessary medical certificates, great pieces of advice from your doctor, a list of emergency medical facilities at your destination, your medical cooler if needed, etc. Your hotel is booked and you’re about to depart for your adventure.
But one thing is still bothering you. How to prevent a new flare-up from happening? And what to do if it happens anyway? Fortunately, there are ways to control your inflammatory bowel condition while traveling and to help prevent it from ruining your holidays.
Prepare your flight with IBD
Flying with IBD and Crohn’s disease may cause additional stress and concerns.
You must bring all your medications with you on the plane. Don’t worry, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is well aware of health conditions and allows patients to pass through security checkpoints with their medicines. Do not forget to pack your usual pain medications as well in case a flare-up happens while on the plane.
Choose an aisle seat near the toilet. Most airline companies allow you to select a seat while booking (for an extra fee). If you have not done it, you can ask a flight attendant at the airport checking point or an on-board staff while boarding if they can help you change your seat.
Some people find high altitude and air pressure changes to cause gas and bloating while flying, which could be worse for those suffering from Crohn's Disease. If you have a stoma (an opening made on the abdomen to connect to your digestive system to allow waste out of your body), you can ask your provider to give you appliances with filters to help excessive gas escape.
People with Crohn’s disease, IBDs, and ulcerative colitis may be at greater risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) than others. To help prevent DVT caused by airplane flights, keep moving, stretching, and walking regularly while in the air. You may also consider wearing compression stockings (ask for your doctor's advice first).
Last but not least, inform your airline company about your specific health condition beforehand. Having Crohn's Disease or inflammatory bowel disease may entitle you to special meals on the plane. Let them know about your dietary restrictions. If they can't provide you with an adapted meal, you'll need to bring your own food on the plane.
Avoid trigger foods while traveling
The list of foods known to trigger IBD crisis, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's Disease flares is long… It also varies from one person to the other. If you haven't identified your own trigger foods yet, the most common ones are:
- Fatty and greasy foods
- Fried foods
- Spicy foods
- High-fiber fruits and vegetables
- Raw foods
- Nuts and seeds
- Prepared foods
- Ice cream
- Sugary drinks and foods
Picking your food isn’t always easy nor possible when traveling but try to stay away from trigger foods as much as possible. When in front of a new local dish, always ask the cook for the list of ingredients.
Depending on your travel plans, you may consider bringing your own food. Booking an apartment hotel with a kitchen is also a good idea so you can do your own grocery shopping and home cooking.
Related article: 10 Good Snacks for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Have a restroom emergency plan
Emergency restroom needs make all Crohn's disease patients anxious. There's nothing worse than being in the middle of a crowd with an urgent need to go to the restroom and not knowing where it is. Here are a few tips for an efficient restroom strategy while traveling.
Always look for the bathroom before you need them. When you arrive at a new place, immediately check out where the toilets are so you know where to go if it becomes urgent.
Many people with IBD, Crohn’s Disease, or ulcerative colitis have an “I Can’t Wait” card to explain why they can’t wait in line or may need to use the employee-only restroom. Having pocket change on you and some coins readily available is also a good practice. In some countries, you may be charged a small fee to use a public bathroom.
In the worst-case scenario, having spare underwear and spare clothes with you can save the rest of your day.
We hope this article has helped you out and you’ve found good tips for traveling with IBD, Crohn’s Disease, or ulcerative colitis. Do you have any other tips to share with our community?