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Going on Holiday with IBS

Dr Adam Simon

As travel companions go, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is nobody’s first choice. That said, if you’re looking for an enjoyable holiday, the two of you will have to try and get along.

As travel companions go, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is nobody’s first choice. That said, if you’re looking for an enjoyable holiday, the two of you will have to try and get along.

Whether you’re experienced in dealing with your symptoms, or you’ve recently been diagnosed and are worried about your next trip, there are steps you can take to manage IBS while you’re abroad.

Of course, everyone’s IBS is different, so there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. We recommend you cherry-pick from the advice below and develop a system that works for you.

Preparing for a flight.


For many people with IBS, travel is the most worrying part of the holiday, particularly if you’re going by train or plane.

It’s understandable that you might feel a little nervous in these situations, but there are things you can do to prepare:

Leave plenty of time

As stress is often a trigger for IBS, you should do your best to avoid putting yourself in stressful situations. Get to the airport nice and early, with all your travel documents in one place.

Sit within easy reach of the toilets

When booking travel, choose an aisle seat with easy access to toilets. No one really wants to sit right next to the toilet door, just try to find a happy medium and make sure you won’t have far to go if needed. You should also note where all the toilets are in case your first option is occupied.

Keep moving

Research such as this 2011 University of Gothenburg study has shown that even gentle exercise can help relieve symptoms of constipation. If you’re on a long journey, try to get up and stretch your legs at some point, rather than sitting in one position for the whole trip.

Plan a route

If you’re driving anywhere, it’s important to plan your journey. Schedule stops along the way, such as service stations or small towns to ensure you know exactly how long you have until the next toilet stop.

You don’t have to stop at every location you identify, but having plenty of options available will give you peace of mind and make for a more relaxing journey.


For many people with IBS, a carefully-controlled diet is necessary to manage symptoms. Naturally, the prospect of achieving this while in a foreign country can be daunting.

Unfamiliar foods and menus in languages you don’t understand can make mealtimes a risky affair, so once again your research will be key. You know the sort of food your gut agrees with, so you’re the best person to look after it.

Ask your accommodation

When choosing your accommodation, have a look at their menus to make sure they offer meals you’ll be able to eat.

Many people ultimately choose self-catering accommodation, on the basis that it’s easier and less stressful if you have full control over what you’re eating. At the very least, try and find somewhere that provides a fridge in your room to store your own food.

Learn the lingoVisiting a local restaurant for dinner.

You don’t need to be fluent, but if you’re visiting the local restaurants, a few phrases will be helpful. You should learn the words for foods you can’t tolerate so that you can recognise them on the menu, while you could also prepare some questions for the staff so they know what you can’t eat.

While you’re at it, why not learn how to ask where the bathroom is? To help you out, we’ve come up with a few translations:

Ou sont les toilettes, s’il vous plait? (French)

¿Dónde están los baños, por favor? (Spanish)

Dove sono i bagni, per favore? (Italian)

Wo sind die Toiletten, bitte? (German)

Wèishēngjiān zài nǎ'er, qǐng? (Chinese)

Avoid anything you’re not sure about

Adopt a safety-first approach with your food. If you’re not sure what something is, don’t eat it. Equally, if you’re offered something you’ve never tried before, now might not be the best time to experiment.

Days out

Even after you’ve arrived at your destination, IBS might make you hesitant about going off exploring. This will of course vary depending on what triggers your symptoms, but if you’re keen to exercise caution, here are a few things to remember.

Make sure toilets are always nearby

Depending on your symptoms, you might feel more comfortable visiting attractions that provide adequate toilet facilities. Museums and galleries are a safe bet, but if you have your sights set on something more rural, it’s time to get the maps out.

Consult local guidebooks and plan stopping off points throughout your route, be it a public toilet, a bar or even a hidden gem of a tourist attraction located away from the crowds.

Bring supplies

Don’t assume the toilets in question will have everything you need. We’ve all been in that unfortunate situation where you finish up and discover there’s no toilet paper. Don’t let yourself get caught out.

Remember also that not all toilets will be free to use, so make sure you keep some loose change handy.

Carry a Can’t Wait Card

Available from the IBS Network, a Can’t Wait Card can be shown in places such as shops and public buildings as a way of letting staff know you urgently need to use their facilities.

You can purchase a version of the Can’t Wait Card where this request is translated into several languages, allowing you to use it abroad. Sure, it’s not a legal document, so you’re still relying on the kindness of strangers, but it’d take a hard-hearted soul to turn this sort of request down.

Less is moreEnjoying a stress-free day out.

We already know that stress is an IBS trigger for many. As such, a packed itinerary is sometimes not the best way to go.

Planning something more sedate means you’re less likely to feel under pressure to squeeze everything in, allowing you to relax and enjoy yourself without your symptoms flaring up.

Stay hydrated

As anyone who has suffered from constipation or diarrhoea as a result of IBS knows, water is your friend. If you’re constipated, it can help keep stools soft and easy to pass, while if you have diarrhoea it’s essential that you replace the fluids you’ve lost.

Of course, some countries have a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to their water. In these instances, stick to bottled water only and don’t accept tap water in restaurants. You should also think twice before asking for ice in your drink.

Want to Know More About Managing IBS Symptoms?

If you’re still apprehensive about dealing with IBS symptoms while you’re abroad, we’re here to help. 

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Topics: Health, Diet, IBS