Search IconSearch
September 25, 2020/Health Conditions/Digestive

IBS: 5 Tips to Control Symptoms When You Travel

You don’t have to limit travel with proper planning

woman suffering with IBS

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), travel can present some not-so-fun challenges. The cramping, bloating and other icky symptoms of IBS can make travel by plane or vehicle anxiety-ridden and stressful. Go by plane and you’re subject to the lack of privacy and micro-quarters of an airplane lavatory. Go by car and you’re subject to the uncertainty and questionable cleanliness of the next rest stop. Change from your routine, potentially different time zones and eating unfamiliar foods can create the perfect storm to worsen IBS symptoms.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

As many begin to plan travel and adventures after a long coronavirus-induced quarantine, being prepared for traveling with IBS can cut your risk of a flare-up, says gastroenterologist Brian Kirsh, MD. He offers the following tips to help minimize your symptoms.

1. Know your unique symptoms

IBS affects the large intestine and symptoms of IBS vary from person to person. Generally, the unifying feature is abdominal pain, but you may also experience:

  • Cramping in the lower abdomen.
  • Excessive gas.
  • Bloating.
  • Hard bowel movements or constipation.
  • Loose bowels or diarrhea.

“It’s important to understand your specific condition and know how and when IBS affects you,” Dr. Kirsh says. It’s also a good idea to get a handle on your condition before you travel. No one wants to travel in the middle of a flare-up.

2. Prepare for a possible exacerbation on the road

With the added stress of travel, it’s good to prepare for a flare-up during your excursion so you can “go” when you’re on the go. Keep these tips in mind:

  • If diarrhea is a possibility, have Imodium® or Lomotil® on hand.
  • Pack laxatives if constipation is a factor in your IBS.
  • Download an app for your smartphone or tablet that helps locate bathrooms around the world, including free ones like SitOrSquat® (the app designates clean bathrooms as “sit” and less-clean ones as “squat”) or Flush Toilet Finder, which lists more than 70,000 public restrooms. USA Rest Stops® is also a great tool for locating upcoming rest areas if you’re traveling by car.

3. Consider simple ways to relax

Because anxiety and stress are often strong triggers for IBS, simply keeping on top of things and allowing extra time for packing can alleviate some of its symptoms.

“Any stress can throw off your gastrointestinal tract. There is definitely a brain-gut connection,” Dr. Kirsh says. “The gastrointestinal tract is more connected to the brain than any other organ system.”

So plan ahead. Make a packing list before your trip to ensure you’ve packed everything you’ll need. Begin packing and making arrangements for travel, such as boarding pets, a day earlier than necessary to give yourself extra time for your departure.

Use simple stress reduction techniques to help calm your nerves before you embark. Try one or more of these:

  • Meditation.
  • Deep breathing.
  • Relaxing imagery.
  • Listening to your favorite music.
  • Exercise.

4. Mind what you eat

For some people with IBS, food doesn’t cause problems. But if you are sensitive to certain foods, consider packing snacks and foods that you know you tolerate well to keep handy for your journey. Here are some other tips:

  • Be assertive when you eat out. If gluten or lactose is a problem for you, ask every time if they are in your meal. Many restaurants now offer gluten-free and lactose-free menu items.
  • Avoid caffeine. This can worsen symptoms.
  • Limit dairy. Consume milk and other products with lactose sparingly.
  • Amp up fiber. Be sure to get ample fiber in your diet to help pass stools.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink three or four glasses of water daily.


5. Choose a friendly destination, if possible

Though not many are traveling overseas yet due to coronavirus, if you’re able to choose where you go, be mindful of your destination and its potential pitfalls.

For example, you may want to avoid any country where food and water are problematic. “Getting a stomach infection can cause IBS flare-ups,” Dr. Kirsh says.

Also, don’t set yourself up for trouble by planning trips where you’ll have to walk for long periods of time with limited access to a bathroom or travel frequently by train.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Illustration of the colon, large intesitine, small intestine and colon in the body with a pain icon above.
August 30, 2023/Digestive
8 Signs That Irritable Bowel Syndrome’s Causing Your Digestive Troubles

Symptoms of IBS usually include abdominal pain, coupled with bloating and more

Person drinking Xiao Yao San tea and reading.
April 24, 2023/Wellness
Benefits and Uses of Xiao Yao San

This traditional Chinese medicine formulation may help with stress, depression and more

Person at home curled up on couch with abdominal pain.
March 27, 2023/Digestive
Understanding the Differences Between IBD and IBS

IBD is an inflammatory disorder, while IBS is a group of symptoms, but both need treatment

Graphic of woman sitting on a toilet while looking at her phone.
May 11, 2022/Digestive
How Often and How Long Should It Take You to Poop?

Everyone poops, but here’s what may affect how often you visit the toilet

A bowl with noodles, cucumbers, leafy greens, tomatoes and chicken meatballs.
November 9, 2021/Nutrition
Should You Follow a Low-FODMAP Diet?

Find out which foods could be causing IBS symptoms

woman with stomach pain on coch
January 12, 2021/Digestive
Stomachaches? Avoid These 3 Mistakes if You Suspect IBS

Best advice from a GI expert

woman suffering from IBS
October 15, 2020/Digestive
How to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome With Your Brain

Behavioral medicine techniques can help ease symptoms

woman eating fruit in kitchen
September 23, 2020/Digestive
9 Ways to Help Tame Your IBS

Tips on tackling irritable bowel syndrome

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims