How to Travel the World with IBS
From a young age we’re taught to accept that many things are outside of our control. We can try all we want in shaping our future, but there still is no way to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow. We can't change other people. We can't make money grow on trees. But what about the one thing that we are taught to always have within our control? What happens when that goes out the window? I’m talking about our body; the sacred temple we are told is ours and ours alone. What happens when your own body rebels against you?
For a long time, I’ve suffered from IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. If you’ve never heard of IBS before, let me give you a brief rundown. It’s a common, chronic disorder, which affects the intestines and causes all kinds of awful symptoms like cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation (this is undeniably the least appealing way to start a blog post, but it’s the truth). The exact cause of why some people have IBS is unknown, although there are numerous factors that aggravate symptoms including diet, stress, and hormones.
I first started experiencing symptoms when I was a teenager, but I wasn’t diagnosed until much later.
In the beginning, I believed my symptoms were a part of my body and my life because they occurred so regularly. As time went on, the pain became worse. Some days I felt better, some days I would be doubled over clutching my stomach in agony. Sometimes I felt so exhausted it was difficult to concentrate on the simplest of tasks.
I began changing my diet for extended periods of time, but nothing alleviated the pain. I tried going gluten free, then dairy free, then vegetarian, or sometimes everything at once. Nothing seemed to help. IBS affected my concentration, my mood, my work, and personal life. I hated being anywhere quiet where I feared others would hear my stomach grumbling loudly. I avoided going out for drinks with friends because alcohol increased the severity of the symptoms. I ducked out of making afternoon and evening plans, as this was when my symptoms were at their worst.
Although IBS originates as a physical disorder, what it really became for me was a social disorder. I felt sick a lot and it was making my life miserable.
After I was officially diagnosed with IBS I decided to spend some time improving my health. With the help of a local Naturopath and some much needed answers from a food allergy test, I finally knew what to focus my energy on. I began to see positive results when I changed my diet, adopted a more active lifestyle, and took part in a short fast, but I was often left wondering how I would deal with symptoms while traveling.
Over many years (and 25+ countries later) I’ve learned, tried, and tested several things to decrease the severity, or even completely prevent a bout of IBS. Here are my favorite things to help deal with IBS while traveling.
The beauty of supplementing with Betaine HCL is that it increases the levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This way the stomach can properly digest the foods we eat and absorb nutrients. In my case, low stomach acid is one of the root causes of symptoms. My stomach doesn’t produce enough acid to properly digest meals, resulting in an increased frequency and severity of IBS flare-ups.
Today, I don’t go anywhere without Betaine HCL. It allows me to eat a meal without any distress afterwards, even getting me through meals full of gluten, dairy, and heavy red meats when I have to. It really is a lifesaver.
Betaine HCL can be bought in pill form, which makes it super easy to pack. For a handy guide to determining what amount of Betaine HCL is right for you, read this: How to Supplement with Betaine HCL for Low Stomach Acid.
L-Glutamine, an amino acid that plays an important role in gut healing, is another supplement that goes everywhere I go and takes up hardly any suitcase space. L-Glutamine can also be found naturally in fermented foods such as cabbage, sauerkraut, kimchi, and basically anything else that can be pickled.
Like Betaine HCL, L-Glutamine can be bought in pill form for easy transport.
Herbal tea & hot water with lemon
It's incredibly important to stay hydrated if you have IBS. Both hot water with lemon and herbal teas are easy to find almost anywhere in the world, and are a great alternative to just drinking plain water.
Hot water with lemon helps to flush out toxins from the body, support digestive enzymes and acid production, while herbal teas ease digestion and bloating.
Walk or bike everywhere
If you haven't already heard the news, sitting is incredibly bad for your health, and especially so when you have digestive problems.
Not only is walking or biking great exercise to stimulate your digestive system, but both are also free methods of transportation, great ways to connect with your surroundings, and meet people you wouldn’t normally get the chance to interact with if you were driving.
Sometimes, bloat belly happens. If you often travel on long flights or bus rides, then Yoga Jeans are the pants for you (sorry, ladies only on this one!).
I have yet to find anything more comfortable to wear than Yoga Jeans. They have the look and feel of jeans, but actually stretch like yoga pants. From crops to full length, to army green to classic denim, there is something for every taste.
Gone are the days of having to unbutton my pants on long plane rides!
Deep Breathing & Meditation
Travel is difficult on the human body. From being 30,000 feet in the air, to sitting for 10 hours in a cramped bus, to walking and standing longer than you ever have in your entire life, the many forms of travel and sightseeing can take their toll on your body.
I believe in the power of breathing exercises and being mindful by focusing on the positive to de-stress. Take some time out of each day for a few moments of peace. Even just spending five minutes for yourself at the start of the day can put you in a calmer head space, resulting in a healthier gut.
On top of that, breathing exercises and meditation can be done wherever you want, anytime you want.
Obligatory disclaimer here, I am by no means a medical professional or doctor. I am simply sharing my personal experience and my understanding of IBS. Also, some of the links in this article are affiliates, which if you choose to purchase, will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.