Top Tips for Traveling with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Tricia Levasseur
5 min readDec 27, 2023
‘IBD Passport’ photo copyright: Tricia Levasseur

Living with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) bring unique challenges to the lives these conditions touch. More than three million Americans are affected by IBD, that’s about 1% of the total U.S. population.

If someone’s condition has progressed to require daily medication, the thought of being away from home for any period of time can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t need to be.

Being armed with the necessary information to plan ahead can not only reduce stress while traveling, but make it easier to handle any hiccups if discomfort or an emergency happens away from home. You won’t be caught off guard or get stuck if an emergency situation arises.

Top Tips for Traveling with IBD:

  1. Plan ahead. Tools like the IBD Passport can help you get started by providing a step-by-step guide to help manage all the various elements of planning a trip with IBD. Planning ahead includes getting a letter from your current managing physician, ordering prescription medication in advance, and securing travel health insurance — preferably with a medical evacuation option in the event of very poor health.
  2. Pack your daily supplies plus an emergency bag. Remember to bring items you use to stay healthy every day. But it is also useful to pack a second bag in case of emergency with supplies that can support you if discomfort or illness occurs while away from home. The IBD Passport includes a list of key items plus worksheets to help you decide what you need to pack or still buy before departure.
  3. Educate yourself on how to navigate security checkpoints. The IBD Passport has a whole section to explain how to navigate security with prescription medications plus an ostomy (if that applies). Understanding what you need to show security agents can help reduce stress (and confusion!) when traveling by airplane. If a person has a temporary or permanent ostomy, the appliance bag will always trigger alarms and require a full investigation before proceeding. But there are things you can do to manage the situation and keep yourself moving through the lines quickly.
  4. Investigate eateries and toilets in advance. Before you depart, use maps and apps to figure out what amenities will be nearby. This not only helps reduce stress but if a member of your party asks ‘does anyone know where to eat?’, then you can drive the conversation by suggesting a place you already know has suitable options for you. The IBD Passport lists some app options for finding both food and toilets in the USA and worldwide.
  5. Get any required vaccinations for international travel. Be sure to visit your family doctor to discuss where you’re headed and if the location requires any immunizations to enter. This will help keep you in overall good health while on your adventure. However, it is important to note that live vaccines are usually not recommended for anyone who is immunocompromised. This means, a consultation with your physician might impact your travel planning to mitigate risks.
  6. Remember that traveler’s diarrhea (TD) is the most common travel related illness. It is most common for people who live in a developed country to contract something when visiting a developing nation. TD is miserable for someone without bowel disease but it can cause a very serious medical emergency for someone with inflammatory bowel disease. The IBD Passport explains, step-by-step how to manage this away from home and get the emergency help you need including how to find a doctor specialized for IBD.

The importance of saying healthy while traveling with IBD is why I wrote the IBD Passport. It has been designed to be used as a tool to help people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) travel better. Each section has been intentionally designed for the unique needs of a person living with IBD. It can be used for ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn’s disease (CD), indeterminate colitis and others.

The IBD Passport can also be straightforwardly used by your traveling companions to communicate with medical professionals to help you if illness occurs and you need emergency medical assistance.

IBD Passport copyright: Tricia Levasseur

If any upset or emergency occurs, the IBD Passport pivots from travel manual to step-by-step guide, providing a series of worksheets to help find and get help while logging doctors’ visit notes, medical expenses and symptoms.

Additionally, a separate edition has been specially designed for anyone who has had to progress to proctocolectomy with ileum pouch reconstruction — the Pouch Passport.

Copyright: Tricia Levasseur

Ileum pouches are more common among people with ulcerative colitis but select rare cases of Crohn’s disease are also prescribed pouch reconstruction. Unfortunately, having an intestinal pouch of any shape (J-pouch, S-pouch, W-pouch, H-pouch, and continent ileostomies like a Koch pouch) can make a person even more vulnerable to travel related bugs.

Dehydration is the most common complication of traveler’s diarrhea in all people. However, something like traveler’s diarrhea might need very quick management to avoid being hospitalized for dehydration in anyone who has already had sections of bowel removed, especially the entire colon, because the colon is what was originally tasked with filtering out water and some key minerals like salt, potassium and B12.

The Pouch Passport also explains how to deal with episodes of pouchitis while away from home plus how to find a doctor.

Finally, the Pouch Passport is the #1 New Release for December 2023 in Colon & Rectal Surgery on Amazon USA. The book was intentionally designed for the needs of a person with an ileum pouch and I am just so pleased that Amazon has recognized the importance of supporting people who live with an ileum pouch.

Pouch Passport Ranks #1 New Release in Colon and Rectal Surgery

Note: The links I have included to my own books for better managing IBD and ileum pouches while traveling are not affiliate links.

Cambridge MBA | Healthcare Marketing Consultant | Speaker | Author
Follow me on Medium and Twitter @CambridgeTricia

--

--

Tricia Levasseur

Healthcare Exec combining Storytelling & Digital Technology. Patient Advocate. Former Bloomberg Journalist. Cambridge MBA. amazon.com/author/tricialevasseur