I literally write for the internet full-time – I’m about as far away from being a doctor as I could be. But, at the same time, I’ve been dealing with Crohn’s Disease for the last 9 years and have had to do a lot of traveling during that time, so I’ve picked up on a thing or two that’s really, really helped me get through these long days. I’m not saying any of this absolutely works, I’m not saying I have the answers. All I’m saying is that I know how hard and stressful it is to travel if you have Crohn’s Disease, and I’d like to share the things that have helped me the most.

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The Day Before: What I Eat

I’m sure most of you have experienced the Crohn’s hangover: feeling terrible when you wake up after a day of eating really unhealthy foods. It took me a long time to realize that what I eat on a Monday can still be having an effect on my by Wednesday or Thursday.
Now, in the past year or so, I’ve completely changed my entire diet which has greatly improved my health, but I’m especially, especially careful on the day or two before I travel. It’s kind of annoying when you’re craving a cheeseburger or some Oreos the day before your flight, but I promise you that you will feel so much better if you eat extra carefully the day before traveling.
What I eat: Basically anything that instinctively looks or seems clean to you. Scrambled eggs with onions and peppers, grilled chicken, fruit and vegetables, organic rice, almond butter, pistachios, salmon (I literally just put it on a pan with olive oil and salt, and bake it in the oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. So easy, especially if you’re a lazy cook like me). If you’re seriously craving a snack, try some made-in-the-store guacamole or pico de gallo with the chips that have saved my life, Beanitos. They contain very few ingredients and are so easy on my body that I can even eat them during flare-ups. If you’re lazy, just research healthy restaurants around your area; I’m all about that Freshii lifestyle. Like, I eat it 3 times a week.

What I avoid: Pasta is a serious no-go for me. I also stay away from bread, chocolate, soda, dairy, sugary snack foods, and candy.

The Night Before: Try Ginger Root Tea

Sounds complicated, but it’s not. Buy some ginger root at the store. If you’ve never bought it before, go to the vegetable section; it’s usually around the potatoes or garlic. That night, put a pot of water on the stove and peel your new ginger root friend. When the water’s at a full boil, add the ginger, turn off the heat, put on the lid, and let it sit there for 10 minutes. Boom, you’re done. Oh, and then drink it. You can make it tastier by adding cinnamon, lemon, or a few other things. This recipe is helpful.
Ginger has so many great benefits, but it’s especially helpful to people who suffer from IBS. It has a very calming effect on your stomach, so drink up. Here’s a list of all the various health benefits of ginger.

Some Thoughts On Alcohol

I get it, sometimes you’re just in a situation where you want a drink. I usually avoid alcohol at all costs if I’m traveling the next day, but there are certain situations where sometimes I cave. Like if I’m visiting friends and this is our last night together, or I had a long day and I really need a glass of wine. What I will say is there are certain drinks that make me feel less awful than others. I’ve permanently avoided beer at all costs, because the wheat just irritates the hell out of my system. But I’ve also learned to avoid really sugary drinks the night before I travel, like champagne, cider, and certain sugary wines like Prosecco or Moscato. (I once had a travel day from hell after a couple glasses of Prosecco the night before, so I highly emphasize avoiding that one.) If I really want to drink the night before, I’ll stick with red wine or whiskey. Again, these still usually irritate me, but not as much as other drinks.

Medications That Help Me

Taking Imodium for Crohn’s sometimes feels like taking Tylenol if your leg gets chopped off – it’s kind of like, what’s the point? But if I use it in moderation, it usually works really well. Even if I wake up feeling great, I’ll still take some Imodium a couple hours before my flight and it really helps, both physically and mentally. I’m a lot less panicked about getting sick on the plane, because simply having that medicine in my system makes me feel more reassured. Obviously talk to your doctor first, but if they give you the OK, try it.
And some thoughts on anxiety medications: A couple of years ago, I talked to one of my doctors about the severe anxiety and panic that I feel when I’m traveling, and he gave me a Xanax prescription that changed my life. This is not my way of saying play the Crohn’s card so that you can try out some Xanax for fun. All I’m saying is that when I’m in a situation where I feel very nervous and anxious and uptight, it actually takes a physical toll on my body and almost always upsets my stomach. So I only use my anti-anxiety medication during travel or when I’m having a particularly scary flare-up, and it really helps to calm me down, both mentally and physically. For a prescription like this, I would talk to your general physician as opposed to your GI doctor. Normally GI doctors don’t deal with this kind of issue.

Keeping Yourself Calm And Comfortable

There are certain things I do and/or bring with me that help me feel relaxed and distracted while I’m flying, which keeps my mind from wandering and keeps me from getting my stomach riled up. Here are some of the things I always do:

  • If it’s an option, I always book an aisle seat, even if it means I have to choose a seat further back in the plane. Simply knowing that I can get up quickly to run to the bathroom, or stretch, or switch into a more comfortable position for my stomach, always puts me more at ease.
  • I choose a movie or an audiobook ahead of time. Sometimes I’ll download something to watch on my laptop, but what I usually prefer to do is to download an audiobook or podcast onto my phone, so that I can listen to it even during take-off and landing. Movies on laptops are nice too, but you have to stow that during take-off and landing and that’s usually when I need the most distractions.
  • When I’m traveling alone, which is usually the case, I bring a picture or a card from somebody that makes me smile. I keep it in the back of one of my books, because it’s a nice way to feel less alone or nervous while you’re flying.
  • If I’m flying Southwest or any airline where there’s no assigned seats, I always set an alarm the day before to remind me to check-in. That way, I’m one of the first people on the plane and can choose an aisle seat that’s towards the front. This always, always calms me down and makes me feel more in control.

Some Last-Minute Tips

  • Chug, chug, chug, chug, chug water. Such an overused piece of advice, but so helpful. The more hydrated I feel, the more relaxed and in control of my body I feel. Your stomach’s probably going to be worked up on the day you travel which will dehydrate you quickly, so the more water you can drink the day before and the day of, the better.
  • Consider not eating fruit the day of. I used to try to have a banana or an apple for breakfast since they’re healthy foods. But they still have tons of sugar in them (even though it’s natural) and I’ve found that sticking to eggs and vegetables in the morning helps me a lot more.

It’s probably never going to be fun to travel with Crohn’s Disease, but you can certainly make things a whole lot easier on yourself, so that you can concentrate on relaxing and enjoying your trip instead of worrying about your stomach. Happy travels!

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