Traveling With IBD


Don't avoid a dream vacation or business trip because you suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Whether traveling abroad or here in the States, these tips will come in handy.

Travel Tips for Vacation Time

Locating A Doctor

  • Ask your doctor for the names of physicians in the cities you plan to visit or check out the "find a doctor" link on this site
  • For a donation, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (1623 Military Road #279, Niagara Falls, NY 14304-1745; 716-754-4883; www.iamat.org) provides lists of English-speaking doctors in many countries.
  • The American Embassy's Consulate Section has a list of local doctors broken down by specialization. Please visit: www.usembassy.gov  

Traveling With Prescription Drugs

  • Bring enough medication to last throughout your trip. Filling a prescription abroad can be complicated.
  • Always carry your medication with you on the plane.
  • Keep your medication in its original container. Use pillboxes to carry small amounts needed during the course of a day.
  • A typed statement from your physician, describing your medical history and the drugs you are taking, will be helpful if customs officials question you or if an emergency arises.
  • Let your pharmacist know if you are taking medication out of the country.
  • Get copies of all prescriptions, including foreign brand names or generic names.

International Medical Insurance

It is important to look into international medical insurance options. First, check to see if your current insurance company has international coverage to cover costs for emergency room visits, doctor visits, prescription medication, preventative screenings, and a host of other factors. For resources on international medical insurance, please reach out to our IBD Help Center for a list of options by sending an email to info@ccfa.org or calling 888-694-8872.  

How To Avoid Traveler's Diarrhea

Diarrhea afflicts one out of three U.S. travelers to less developed countries. These tips can help prevent an unpleasant bout of "Montezuma's revenge":

  • "Don't drink the water"--unless you boil it first.
  • Drink bottled mineral water, even when brushing your teeth.
  • Try not to swallow the water when showering.
  • Don't swallow water when swimming in fresh water, swimming pools, or where the ocean may be polluted.
  • Avoid non-carbonated beverages, such as iced tea and fresh juices.
  • Avoid all ice and ice cream; raw vegetables and salads; raw or uncooked meat, fish, or shellfish.
  • Avoid uncooked dairy products unless you are certain that they have been pasteurized and prepared under sterile conditions.
  • Never eat food from vendors' carts.
  • Never eat prepared food, such as potato salad and canapes.
  • Peel all fruits and egg shells yourself.
  • Never eat food that has been allowed to sit until it reaches room temperature.


Remedies For Traveler's Diarrhea

  • Drink plenty of fluids, preferably lukewarm or weak tea. Boil all water first!
  • Avoid ice-cold beverages, sodas, or citrus drinks, which could aggravate diarrhea.
  • Take extra salt to prevent dehydration.
  • Anti-diarrheal medications, such as Imodium®, or large amounts of Pepto Bismol®, may be effective. Never take any of these drugs without consulting your physician.


How To Control A Medical Emergency

  • Ask your doctor for a written plan of action in case your condition worsens while you're traveling.
  • Find out in advance whether buses and trains have toilets. When making airline reservations, request an aisle seat near a bathroom.
  • Give the airline advance notice so it can accommodate your diet needs, or bring a snack of your own.
  • Keep your doctor's phone number and your insurance card in your wallet.
  • Ask your health insurance carrier whether your policy covers foreign travel, as well as previously diagnosed chronic conditions.


Danger Signals for the Traveler with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis

If you experience any of these danger signals while traveling, consult a physician immediately.

  • High fever and shaking chills could represent a bacterial inflammation that requires intravenous antibiotics.
  • Profuse bloody diarrhea suggests marked ulceration of the intestines, caused by a bacterium, parasite, or a major flare-up of colitis.
  • Severe abdominal pain and/or abdominal distension could indicate a complication of your disease, especially if accompanied by severe abdominal tenderness or nausea and vomiting.
  • Dizziness on standing up or an episode of fainting may indicate lowered blood pressure. The cause could be with malfunction of the adrenal gland, an indication that your steroid dose may need to be adjusted.
  • Scanty, concentrated urine could indicate dehydration.

Location, Location, Location (of bathrooms!)

Most patients with IBD have memorized the map of restrooms related to their daily routines. Treat travel time with the same respect. When booking a reserved seat, find out where the closest lavatory is and book one in close proximity. When mapping a road trip, consult AAA or other trip planning guides for rest stops with bathrooms. There is more than one route to get almost anywhere. Plan one that has more off-road stops with public restrooms. Remember, the scenic route may well be one that does not have the amenities of civilization that you require as a patient.

Always travel with your own toilet paper, soothing wipes, ointments and changes of underwear and extra clothes. Keep hand sanitizer handy in small bottles that can go through airport security, if applicable.

Learning the Lingo—(Toilette, WC, Loo, etc.)

If you are travelling outside of the US, make a point of knowing how to say “toilet” or “bathroom” and “urgent” or “emergency” and “pharmacy” and “doctor” in the local tongue. “Where is” could also help. There are many pocket electronic translators available today that could come in handy or apps for your mobile PC’s or phones. Travel guidebooks usually include a lexicon of local vocabulary with phonetic pronunciation. In the US, it is helpful to have a CCFA identification card called “I can’t wait,” available to CCFA members, to explain that you do need to be first in line when there is one.

Feeling Secure with Transportation Security

We continue to see innovations in air- port screenings to make us all safer. In order to achieve this, we all have had to sacrifice some convenience and privacy. If you have an ostomy, alert security personnel. They are trained to anticipate and respond to medical needs in screening travelers. Ostomy supplies are permitted through security checkpoints.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a webpage specifically for travelers with medical conditions. Check it out before you embark on air travel; you may need to make a verbal or written declaration of any liquid medication or nutrition supplement in excess of 3.4 ounces or100ml. Be sure to put medications and essential supplies in your carryon, so you will have them with you at all times. You will be able to purchase water and other beverages after you pass through security to carry on- board.

Once you’re prepared, relax, buckle up for safety, and enjoy the road ahead!



For further information, call CCFA at our IBD Help Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization's resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.

About this resource

By: CCFA
Published: August 15, 2016