Here’s How To Keep Your Digestive System From Going Completely Off Track When You’re Traveling, According to a Gastroenterologist
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Since March 2020, many of us have been “grounded,” so to speak–but now it’s time to reap the well-being benefits of exploring new places and experiences once again. With Ungrounded, get expert-backed intel all month long to help you feel confident, safe, and energized as you venture outside your front door.
The whole point of taking a vacation is that it’s meant to be relaxing; a blissful time away, when all you have to worry about is what you want for lunch, or whether you’d rather lounge by the beach or the pool. Which is why it’s super annoying (as in, more annoying than usual) when your bathroom habits get thrown for a loop because while you’re traveling, your digestion isn’t functioning like it normally does.
And, that abnormal-for-you digestion can present in a number of different ways. Perhaps your reliable morning poop is literally days late. Or maybe you’re prone to the complete opposite problem while traveling (meaning you have to be on the lookout for bathrooms everywhere because of it). Whichever end of the digestion-issues spectrum you fall while traveling, according to gastroenterologist Marvin Singh MD, there are a few possible reasons that may explain it. “Traveling often comes together with a shift in diet and hydration levels–and often, stress as well. All these things can impact how we feel because we may get more bloated or constipated, for example, during travel as a result of this shift in our gut microbes and motility,” he says.
“Traveling often comes together with a shift in diet and hydration levels–and often, stress as well. All these things can impact how we feel.” –gastroenterologist Marvin Singh MD
Dr. Singh also points out that the sleep cycle is often disrupted during travel, which can also impact the digestive system. “Often when you have to fly somewhere, you may be waking up sooner than usual, skipping out on your regular routine, and stressfully scrambling to get out the door. This is a recipe for some increased gut symptoms,” he says.
But while you may not be able to change the time of your flight, there are several actions you can take while traveling that can help keep your digestive system on track. Put the five tips below into practice and you can leave your pooping-while-traveling anxiety behind.
1. Drink a lot of water
If you’re about to be confined to a train or car for a prolonged amount of time, your inclination may be to minimize your liquid consumption, but Dr. Singh and Melanie Keller, ND, who specializes in gut health, both say that would be a mistake–particularly if you tend to feel bloated or constipated when you’re traveling. “Drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day in general and consider eight to 16 ounces more during travel, especially air travel,” Dr. Keller says. This is because humidity levels on flights are lower than at ground level, so you need to hydrate more than usual.
Dr. Singh recommends stepping up your hydration game even before you start traveling. “Drink extra water in the days leading up to your trip and be a little extra vigilant to make sure you are having regular bowel movements before the day of travel,” he says.
2. Consider taking a digestive aid the day before you leave
If you tend to experience constipation when you travel, Dr. Singh says you may want to consider taking a digestive aid–such as a digestive enzyme or probiotic–the day before you leave. That way, “if you miss your morning bowel movement on the day of travel, it’s not so much of a big deal,” he says.
But he also recommends not waiting until right before your trip to experiment with anything new for the first time. If you plan on taking a digestive aid before traveling, take it when you’re home and have no trips planned at all first–just to make sure if affects you exactly how you want it to.
3. Up your plant game
Eating a wide variety of plants is a good habit to get into all the time, but Dr. Singh recommends eating even more when you’re traveling–especially on your first day away from routine to help get your gut going and your digestive system to a consistent schedule. If you’re feeling backed up, the fiber can help move things along.
4. Eat magnesium-rich foods
Dr. Keller recommends working magnesium-rich foods–like pumpkin seeds, dry roasted almonds, chia seeds, or leafy greens–into your diet since magnesium is linked to facilitating bowel movements. The nutrient is a natural laxative, working to relax the gut. Because of this, working magnesium-rich foods into your diet while traveling can help ease any feelings of bloat or constipation.
5. If you experience diarrhea while traveling, stick to easy-to-digest foods until you feel better
If you’re traveling and are hit with diarrhea, Dr. Keller says the best thing you can do is stick to the B.R.A.T. eating plan (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) until it passes. That, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. “These foods can often help to firm up stools,” she explains.
For people with sensitive stomachs, Dr. Singh recommends packing your own travel snacks. That way, you don’t end up stranded somewhere with foods you’re worried will hit you the wrong way. Stress can also aggravate the gut, so experiencing anxiety around how something you eat will affect you can only exacerbate a sensitive stomach. If you have snacks on hand that you know make you feel good, you’ll have no need to worry, he says.
“Knowing your body and preparing for what it needs ahead of travel is one of the most important things to keep in mind,” Dr. Singh says. Whether it’s stashing your suitcase with snacks, a digestive enzyme, or an herbal tea that makes you feel relaxed, being prepared goes a long way. Consider it your passport to good gut health while you travel–you don’t want to board a plane, train, or car without it.
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