11 Tips for Avoiding Constipation When Traveling

Most people pay a lot of attention to strategies for preventing travelers' diarrhea, because no one wants to be seriously ill while away from home. What often gets overlooked is the fairly common, and quite uncomfortable, situation of getting constipated when traveling. Here we will take a look at what steps you can take to keep your bowels moving while you are off seeing new parts of the world.

Constipation is typically defined as experiencing less than three bowel movements in a week. But constipation can also be described as experiencing stools that are small, hard, and difficult to pass, along with the need to strain during a bowel movement. If you don't deal with constipation on a regular basis, you may find that when you are traveling you experience the difficulty of straining to pass hard stools, as well having the uncomfortable feeling of incomplete evacuation.

Why Traveling Can Cause Constipation

There are a variety of factors that can change the speed of the workings of your digestive system, causing you to become constipated. These include:

  • Change from your normal routine
  • Change from your normal routine
  • Changes in the size and timing of your meals
  • Changes to your internal body clock
  • Lack of hydration
  • Changes in the foods you eat
  • Increased time spent sitting
  • Your digestive system being affected by the stresses related to travel
  • The inability to respond to urges for a bowel movement due to lack of immediate bathroom access
  • Jet lag—body changes related to the experience of changing time zones

Now let's take a look at some things you can do to keep things moving along nicely within your digestive tract as you are moving along on your travels.

1
Drink Plenty of Water

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One of the biggest contributors to constipation is a state of dehydration. When we don't give our bodies enough fluids, our bodies compensate by drawing water from the fecal matter that is within our intestines. This can contribute to hard, difficult to pass stools. And for some strange reason, the presence of harder stools seems to make our bowels less likely to want to get a bowel movement going. Thus it is absolutely essential that you make a very concerted effort to drink plenty of fluids while traveling.

Try to avoid drinks containing alcohol as well as those containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and colas, as all of these can be dehydrating. Milk also has a reputation for being constipating. Your best choices are plain water, fruit juices, and clear soups. When traveling out of the country you must always drink bottled water so as to avoid the dreaded travelers' diarrhea.

When flying it is important to keep in mind that TSA regulations do not allow for you to bring liquids through airport security. However, once you are through security, you can purchase a large water bottle that can keep you hydrated throughout your flight.

2
Listen to Your Body

Mixed race woman cupping her ear
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If your body is giving you any indication that it is ready for a bowel movement, do your best to get to a bathroom as soon as you can. Ignoring the urge can contribute to the development of constipation as the stool material will just get harder as it stays in your rectum. The harder the stool, the more difficult it is to pass.

Some people have difficulty with the notion of using a public bathroom for a bowel movement. However, when you are traveling, you may not have the luxury of waiting until you are in a private bathroom. To make yourself more comfortable using a public facility, you may want to listen to music through earphones or read a magazine to help you to relax.

Try not to strain. If you find that sitting on the toilet does not produce a bowel movement within five to ten minutes, it is best to get up and wait until a time in the future when hopefully your body will give you stronger indications of readiness for evacuation.

3
Try to Stay on Schedule

woman looking at watch
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Although there is no firm evidence that your body has distinct biorhythms, we do seem to have some inner clocks that influence things like when we are hungry, sleepy, and need to move our bowels. Keeping your body on as close to the schedule as it is on when you are home may help your bowels to move predictably.

To the best of your ability, try to keep to your regular meal schedule and bedtime as both of these things will help your digestive system to stay on schedule.

If you see a regular pattern to your bowel movements when you are at home, do your best to honor that schedule while traveling. Whenever possible, try to make sure that there is time for you to enjoy a relaxed bathroom visit at the optimal time.

4
Take Time for Meals

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One of the things that most of us do differently when we travel is to eat meals on the run. The problem with this is that our digestive systems may not register these on-the-go snacks as a meal. Larger meals can stimulate gut contractions, thus prompting a timely bowel movement. So whenever possible, sit down, slow down, and enjoy a full meal.

5
Eat a Good Breakfast

eggs with mushrooms and asparagus
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For many people, bowel movements are more likely to occur in the morning. You can enhance this natural boost by eating a large breakfast, and preferably consuming foods that contain healthy fats. Large meals and dietary fat intake can both trigger the release of certain hormones within your body that can trigger the urge for a bowel movement. The experience of a satisfying bowel movement at the beginning of the day can certainly enhance your enjoyment of your trip.

6
Drink Something Warm

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Another way to encourage your bowels to empty at the beginning of your day is to drink a warm liquid in the morning. This warm drink could be coffee, tea or soup.

If you are a coffee drinker, have that morning cup of joe. There are compounds in coffee, both caffeinated and decaffeinated, that can serve to stimulate a bowel movement. However, you may want to avoid drinking caffeinated coffee through the rest of the day, as caffeine can be dehydrating, which could lead to excess water being drawn from your stool and thus causing you to experience constipation.

7
Get Your Fiber In

plate of chicken and vegetables
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Dietary fiber is so important for keeping your bowels moving consistently. Eating high-fiber foods when traveling can be a bit of a challenge, but with effort and attention you can find what you need. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables and whole-grain cereals and breads.

Whenever possible, it can be quite helpful to pack such foods for yourself. Fruits, high-fiber protein bars, trail mixes, cereals and granolas all travel well.

When traveling out of the country, you need to be careful about eating raw vegetables, fruits, and salads so as to avoid bacterial infections that can lead to travelers' diarrhea. You are safest to only eat fruits and vegetables that have been cooked. Fruits that have thick skins, that you have peeled for yourself, are also a safe option.

8
Take a Pass on Junk Food

Person eating a hamburger
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People tend to eat more junk food while traveling for two reasons: The first is that choices for healthy, whole foods are more limited. The second is that we get into a "vacation mindset" in which we rationalize that it is okay to "treat" ourselves.

The problem with junk food is that it typically tends to be low in fiber, which can contribute to the problem of constipation when traveling. Try to avoid fast food, processed meats, chips and baked goods. Instead look for salads, whole grain options like oatmeal, and lean meats. Yogurt is an especially good choice as it contains some probiotics which are generally thought to be good for the functioning of your digestive system.

9
Move Your Body

Businesswoman stretching in airport waiting area
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Travel often requires a lot of time sitting, whether that be in the car, on trains, in airports, or on airplanes. Moving your body can help your digestive system to keep moving as well. While waiting for your plane, you can walk the perimeter of the airport. If traveling by car, try to plan for road stops, so that you can stretch your body and perhaps do a little walking. While away, take advantage of hotel pools and gyms to get your exercise in.

10
Stay Relaxed

Man practicing Zen meditation in busy airport
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Although the purpose of a vacation is typically for relaxation and a break from ordinary routines, travel itself can be stressful. Try to follow the rule that "the journey is part of the vacation." Be prepared for delays, traffic, and other hassles. Make sure that you bring along things that will amuse you - reading material, books on tape, music, and smartphone game apps.

It can also be helpful to use relaxation exercises such as deep breathing techniques, yoga poses, meditation, and muscle relaxation to compensate for the stressors involved in travel. Keeping your body in a state of relaxation, as opposed to it experiencing all of the body changes associated with the stress response, will help to keep your digestive system functioning as it should.

11
Talk to Your Doctor

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If you typically find that travel causes you to be constipated, have a conversation with your doctor before you go. Your doctor may recommend that you use a laxative prior to leaving on your trip as a preventative measure, or perhaps they will recommend a product that you can take with you should you become constipated. Either way, it will be reassuring to be choosing a product based on your doctor's recommendation, as opposed to being stuck with limited options because you are in a strange or remote destination.

Sources:

"Constipation" Cleveland Clinic Website Accessed June 20, 2016..

"Constipation" National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Website accessed June 20, 2016.

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