Getting away for a little vacation always feels good. Except, uh, to your gut where the literal crappiness of travel constipation can bring your good vibes to a halt.
It goes without saying that this kind of cloggage can seriously cramp your holiday. So what can you do about it? Here’s why skipping town always seems to plug up your pipes — and how to stop vacation constipation once and for all.
Basically, your GI tract is sensitive to change. Lots of little things can throw your system out of sync, and traveling tends to involve a lot of them all at once. That can create a perfect storm for poop problems.
Case in point? All of these are common constipation culprits:
- Not eating enough fiber. Like trading your usual oatmeal or smoothie for decadent brunch pastries or having a burger for lunch instead of your usual salad.
- Not drinking enough water. It’s easy to forget to sip when you’re out and about. Both flying and drinking lots of alcohol can make you dehydrated too.
- Changing up your schedule. A different daily routine or jetlag can both disrupt your usual bathroom timing.
- Sitting for long periods or not getting enough exercise. Not moving around — like when you’re stuck in the car or on a plane or just vegging out by the pool for hours — can definitely gum up the works.
- Putting off a trip to the bathroom when you do have to go. When you don’t feel like waiting in line for the airplane bathroom or trying to find a decent public restroom, your poop shute pays the price.
Don’t worry, you’re not doomed to have constant constipation during travel. The key is taking preventive pro-poop measures, starting with your flight or long drive. Some smooth sailing (er, flying) strategies to try:
Pack fiber-rich foods
Fruits like berries, peaches, apricots, plums, and raisins are an especially good choice. In addition to fiber, they’ve got natural sugars like fructose to stimulate a BM. Plus they’re super portable.
Other high-fiber snacks that are travel-friendly: Nuts, seeds, granola, hummus with whole grain crackers, and popcorn. Just try not to overdo it by eating way more fiber than you usually do, since overloading your system can actually trigger constipation problems.
Drink plenty of water
Good ol’ H2O keeps digested food moving through your pipes to ensure a smooth, easy exit. Obv, you should be aiming to guzzle lots of liquid every day, but it’s especially important when you’re flying, since plane rides are major dehydrators.
Lack of exercise is a major plugger-upper. If you can’t get your usual workout in, at least try not to sit for too long. Stroll around the airport before your flight, take a few standing breaks while you’re in the air, and plan for a nice long walk after you land.
Snack on yogurt containing live active cultures including Bifidobacterium, or pop a probiotic with the same good-for-you bugs. Some findings suggest these good bacteria can boost your bowel movements and make them easier to pass.
Limit the coffee and booze
Skip the in-flight java, wine, or cocktails. Both caffeine and alcohol can have a dehydrating effect, which you definitely don’t need when it comes to pooping.
Landing in a new time zone doesn’t just mess with your body’s sleep-wake cycle. It can also send your organs and digestive system into a tailspin and cause issues in the pooping department.
Taking some preventive steps to minimize jet lag means you’ll have more energy during the first few days of your trip — and are less likely to be plagued by “pipe” problems.
- Start adjusting ahead of time. Move meals and sleep closer to your new time zone over the course of a few days. Bump bedtime up by half an hour or so each night if you’re traveling east; do the opposite if you’re traveling west.
- Time your flight right and dive right into your new zone. Aim to arrive at your destination early in the evening and try to stay up until 10:00 p.m. If you get there earlier and are totally zonked, it’s ok to take a short nap. Just keep it under 2 hours.
- Get some sunlight. Exposure to daylight will help regulate your body’s clock quicker, so spend time outdoors.
- Skip the caffeine and alcohol near bedtime. Both will mess with your sleep and further exacerbate the jet lag.
- Avoid exercising near bedtime. Again, it’s sometimes another thing that might make it harder to doze off when you need to.
- Use earplugs and an eye mask to get some rest. They’ll block out noise and light when you need to sleep, so you can get the rest you need and get on schedule faster.
Despite your best efforts to avoid travel constipation, you might still find yourself in a bowel battle while you’re traveling. You can still score a deuce if you play your cards right. Here’s your game plan.
Try to eat at your usual times
That whole thing about your GI tract having its own little schedule? Keeping to your typical mealtimes can support that and keep your system from getting stuck. You don’t have to be a total stickler, but if you usually eat dinner at 6:00 p.m., try not to plan a week’s worth of super late reservations.
Don’t indulge 24/7
Food’s part of the fun when you’re traveling, obviously, but try to keep some balance. Too much rich, fatty fare will clog you up, so try to stick with one treat meal or snack each day instead of going all out, all the time.
Have a warm drink when you wake up
Hot drinks seem to get things moving. Since caffeine can have the same effect, we’d def suggest making time for a cuppa joe first thing in the morning. (Just don’t overdo it on the coffee, since it can still be dehydrating, which could make constipation worse.)
Plan for bathroom breaks (and listen to your gut)
Sometimes a BM takes time, so even if you’ve got a busy schedule, make sure you’re giving yourself time to sit and go. And if the urge to poop strikes, find a bathroom ASAP. Holding it in only exacerbates the blockage problem.
Again, STAY HYDRATED
No matter what your plans are for the day, keep drinking plenty of water and go easy on the booze. When you drink, down a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage. (Bonus: This will also reduce your chance of getting a hangover.)
Move it to lose it
Physical activity keeps those GI juices flowing, so make sure you’re getting some exercise every day. (Splashing in the pool, playing volleyball on the beach, and dancing til the wee hours all count.)
Don’t spend the whole time stressing
Feeling anxious about pooping will only plug you up more, so try not to think about it too much. Your body will do its thing in due time. And if it seems like that’s not happening, you can bring in the big guns.
If all your constipation relief efforts aren’t cutting it, over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives can help. But since these poop producers can have side effects, it’s worth getting the green light from your doc before popping one. Depending on your situation, your doc might recommend:
- Stimulant laxatives. Options like Ex-Lax cause the walls of your intestine to contract and make you poop. Oral ones work within 6 to 8 hours and suppositories work within an hour.
- Osmotic laxatives, softners, and fiber supplements. Options like Milk of Magnesia, Miralax, Dulcolax, Benefiber, and Metamucil add extra water and bulk into your stool to make it easier to pass. They can take 12 hours to a few days to work, and you should drink a lot of water with them.
If your poop probs have gone on for more than 3 days or you’re super bloated, nauseous, or uncomfortable, check in with your doc to see what they recommend.
And definitely seek help for bigger red flags, like constipation with:
- bloody stool
- low back pain
- unintended weight loss
- inability to pass gas
Traveling can create a perfect storm for constipation, especially when you’re flying to a new time zone. But you can beat the backup by prepping ahead of time and taking steps to keep up a healthy(ish) routine on your vacation.
And if the problem persists for more than 3 days, touch base with your doc. They may suggest laxatives or find that something else is going on in your bowels.