With the school year well underway, you may be questioning the title of this blog. Traveling with IBD? Why talk about travel at this point in the year? There are several reasons why talking about travel now is timely. First, as a parent to a child with IBD, it is my hope that you are able to take the main discussion points from this post into consideration as you plan upcoming family trips. Maybe your family would like to schedule a vacation over winter or spring break this school year. Maybe you are already planning a summer vacation for next year! Hopefully the information in this blog equips you to adequately prepare in advance for these types of trips. Second, sometimes travel is unexpected! You may need to travel with your child for a family emergency or another similarly sudden situation. The information that you read about traveling with IBD today may be fruitful to your family at a later date. Third, while this blog is mainly geared towards parents or caregivers of a child with IBD, there is a diverse audience of readers. Individuals diagnosed with IBD who travel for work or personal reasons may benefit from some of the tips suggested in this post. Traveling is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and it’s something that everyone should have the opportunity to experience if desired, regardless of their health condition! Individuals with IBD may face unique challenges when it comes to traveling, but with careful planning and preparation children and adults with IBD can explore the world while effectively managing their condition. It is my hope that this post imparts valuable tips to empower you and your child to travel with confidence and peace of mind!
Before we begin, please note that this page is not intended to be a substitute for a professional medical opinion. For more detailed information regarding IBD or if you have questions pertaining to your child’s individual treatment plan, please seek out the professional medical advice of your child’s doctor. Additionally, please note that this page only provides a brief overview of traveling with IBD in the form of suggested tips. For more comprehensive information, you can communicate with your child’s doctor or another healthcare professional. You can also talk to other parents of children with IBD for more suggestions on how to smoothly travel with an IBD diagnosis. The support groups at IBD Connect would be a great opportunity to ask these types of questions to other people! Now, let’s dive into the content.
Tip #1: Talk with your child’s doctor.
The first step in creating travel plans is to talk with your child’s doctor to ensure that your child’s condition is stable and well-managed. Remember, you will not be in close proximity to your child’s treatment team and the medical facilities in which you are most comfortable with. If your child is in flare, going through a medication change, or has an upcoming colonoscopy, it may not be an appropriate time to plan an extended trip or vacation. If traveling is a necessity, let your child’s doctor know so that you are able to follow medical advice and the best course of action for your child’s health and wellbeing. If you are traveling to a different time zone, discuss your child’s current medication schedule and ask about any dose and/or schedule adjustments you may need to make. If you are traveling internationally, inquire about the vaccination requirements/recommendations for your child.
Tip #2: Research physicians, pharmacies, and hospitals in the travel destination.
Before your trip, research medical facilities, including: hospitals, gastroenterologists/IBD specialists, and pharmacies in the areas you'll be visiting. Keep a list of the name, the address, and the phone number of each facility that you find. You may choose to type your list out on your phone or other electronic device to ensure you don’t lose access to all the information you’ve gathered in lost/delayed baggage. If you choose to write out your list with traditional pen and paper, make sure you carry it within your carry-on bag. Better yet, take a picture of your list on your phone so you have it in two locations! For help with gathering information, you can ask your child’s doctor for the names of physicians in the areas you plan on visiting. If you are traveling internationally, you can also consult the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers https://www.iamat.org/. They will be able to provide you with a list of English-speaking doctors in several countries. You can also look up the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country you will be visiting. There should be a list of healthcare providers that you can access during your stay.
Tip #3: Make a plan for prescription medications.
If your child is on prescription medications, it is important that you have a medication management plan for travel. As previously mentioned, prior to travel, you should discuss your child’s medication schedule with his or her physician. There may need to be dose/schedule changes to account for different time zones or travel circumstances. You will also want to request a typed, signed document from your child’s physician describing your child’s medical diagnosis and any current medications your child is taking. Make copies of this document and carry it in several different locations, as it may be necessary with customs officials or in an emergency. Similarly, you should bring copies of all the current medication prescriptions for your child. If you are traveling internationally, you may want to research any foreign brand names of your child’s medications so you are well prepared if there is an emergency. Contact your child’s pharmacist if you are planning on taking any medications out of the country, as other countries have different medication laws. Certain medications that are legal to take or have a prescription for in the United States are illegal in other countries. Your pharmacist should be able to help you determine how to navigate these types of situations. Ensure that you pack more medication than you anticipate needing in case you run into travel delays or have a medical emergency. Make sure to pack the medication, as well as any nutritional supplements, in the original labeled container. Finally, pack your child’s medication in a carry-on bag to prevent lack of access if baggage is lost, delayed, or misplaced.
Tip #4: Make a bathroom plan!
Bathrooms are always a concern, aren’t they? To make sure you and your child are at ease, try to map out bathrooms the same way that you currently do in your day-to-day life. If you are flying, try to book seats as close to the bathroom as possible. If your child is old enough to go to the bathroom alone, you may consider having him/her sit in the aisle seat to minimize disruptions. If you are planning a road trip or staying within the U.S. for your travels, you can download the “We Can’t Wait” app by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/wecantwait). This is a restroom finder app that uses participating businesses/establishments and crowd sourced restrooms to provide a simple way to quickly locate public bathrooms. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation also has an “I Can’t Wait” card that you can use to show business owners or managers to help explain IBD in easy to understand language. This will hopefully help to grant your child access to an employees’ only bathroom or skip a long bathroom line. According to this Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, this resource is available by calling 888-GUT-PAIN (888-694-8872). More information is available at this link: https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/get-involved/become-member/individual-membership. You can also make a “to-go” bag for urgent bathroom needs that contains an extra change of clothes, extra underwear, plastic bags for soiled clothes, toilet paper/wipes, hand sanitizer in small TSA approved containers, and any other essential bathroom items your child may need. If you are traveling internationally, try to learn certain words or phrases that may help you with locating a bathroom. You can also download translation apps onto your phone.
Tip #5: Pack extra supplies.
Packing for a child with an IBD diagnosis requires extra preparation and planning, as there are additional items that need to be considered. Some of these items were mentioned previously, but here is a more comprehensive packing list of the “extra supplies” you may want to consider when traveling:
· A typed and signed note from your child’s physician describing your child’s medical diagnosis and list of prescribed medications
· Copies of your child’s prescriptions
· Health insurance card/information
· Contact information of your child’s doctor
· Prescribed medications, including spare medication, in the original containers
· Nutritional supplements in the original containers
· List of local hospitals, gastroenterologists/IBD specialists, pharmacies in the area you are traveling to
· “To-go” bag with a change of clothes, extra underwear, plastic bags for soiled clothes, toilet paper, wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
· If your child has an ostomy, make sure to pack ostomy supplies. Pack more than anticipated in case of travel delays or unexpected circumstances.
· Food and snacks that you know will not cause your child any discomfort and align with any dietary restrictions
· Bottled water and rehydration packets
· Travel insurance documentation
Tip #6: Familiarize yourself with TSA guidelines.
Make sure you familiarize yourself with the TSA guidelines for disabilities and medical conditions found here: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures. They also have a downloadable card that you can find on their website, print, fill out, and hand to an agent. If you have an ostomy, you may need to alert the agent. All ostomy supplies should be permitted through security. Finally, keep in mind that if your child has any liquid medication that exceeds the 3-1-1 rule (3.4 oz), you may need to make a verbal or written declaration of this to the TSA agent. This is where documentation from your doctor may be helpful as well.
Tip #7: If you are traveling internationally, be aware of some extra considerations.
Double check with your current insurance company to see if your health insurance policy covers any international medical services (hospital visits, doctor visits, prescription medication, etc.). If necessary, do your research and purchase comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, including IBD-related complications. As previously mentioned, you may want to familiarize yourself with the foreign brand names of your child’s medications, as well as words/phrases in the local language that will assist you in finding bathrooms or explaining a medical emergency. Be sure that you have an app, browser, or device that will assist you with translation should you need it. Finally, be aware that traveler’s diarrhea is fairly common with international travel. Diarrhea can cause dehydration, which can worsen IBD symptoms and lead to further complications. There are several things that you can do to try and prevent your child from developing traveler’s diarrhea. For example, never have your child drink tap water, unless the water has been boiled first. This even includes the water used while brushing teeth! Avoid ice, ice cream, raw meat, raw vegetables, uncooked/unpasteurized dairy products, and food from vendor’s carts. This is not a comprehensive list of interventions. If you are traveling internationally, you can discuss further interventions with your child’s healthcare provider to get a more thorough understanding how to prevent any illness.
Tip #8: Plan for ways to make sure your child’s basic medical and emotional needs are met throughout the day.
Use your best judgement and common sense when traveling with your child with IBD. If you have the opportunity to plan your trip over an extended period of time, ensure that the travel days are not significantly overwhelming or stressful for your child, as stress can trigger or exacerbate symptoms. If you are planning on a road trip, plan for frequent bathroom breaks and rest stops. Pack “safe” food and snacks that are gentle on your child’s digestive system and align with any dietary restrictions. Ensure access to safe, clean water (i.e. bottled water), as well as rehydration solutions. It may be helpful to research the menus of restaurants in your travel destinations ahead of time. Make sure there is something on the menu that your child is able to eat and enjoy! Be mindful of infection risk and practice diligent handwashing. Finally, make sure your child has some comfort items packed, such as a blanket, pillow, favorite toy, favorite book, travel seat cushion, etc.
Tip #9: Have an emergency plan in place.
As previously mentioned, ensure that you pack a typed and signed note from your child’s doctor explaining their diagnosis and list of current medications. It may be helpful to also have a typed action plan from your child’s doctor in case your child’s condition suddenly worsens, as well as the doctor’s contact information. Ensure that you pack your health insurance card/information, any additional traveler’s insurance information, your list of doctors/hospitals/pharmacists in your travel destination, current medications, and any medical supplies you may need. Trust your instincts. Research and understand emergency symptoms that require immediate medical attention in an IBD patient. Be smart and be safe!
Tip #10: Have fun!
Finally, the last tip is to have fun traveling! If your trip is a planned family vacation or special trip, take the time to enjoy it! You, and your child, will be able to relax and enjoy the trip more if you take the time to do your research and plan in advance for the unexpected. Remember, traveling with IBD requires preparation, but it's entirely manageable with the right approach. By following these tips and embracing the adventure, you and your child can explore the world with confidence and experience the joy of travel while managing your child’s condition effectively.
Hopefully, the information on this page gives you a little more confidence in your ability to travel with your child with IBD. With the right knowledge and support, you can enjoy your journey with confidence, explore new places, and create lasting family memories! If you would like more information or support, feel free to email me or contact another member of the IBD Connect team through our main website. My email address is linked below. If you are interested in connecting with a support group to discuss topics like this one more thoroughly and gain some practical insight, feel free to click the link below for more information ! Finally, I would just like to give one final reminder not to use this page as a substitute for a professional medical opinion. For more detailed information regarding IBD or if you have questions pertaining to your child’s individual treatment plan, please seek out the professional medical advice of your child’s doctor. Stay strong IBD Warrior families, and safe travels!
Hi! My name is Emily Fournier, and I am a wife, mom, and registered nurse currently living in MA. I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in May of 2020. Since graduation, I have had experience working as a registered nurse in both a hospital intensive care unit and a community health center. Throughout my nursing career, I have had several opportunities to care for IBD patients of all ages, which has allowed me to gain a thorough understanding of IBD from a medical perspective. Through my friendship with an individual diagnosed with Crohn's disease at a young age, I have also been able to see how IBD affects every aspect of an individual, whether it be physically, socially, mentally, or emotionally. With Emily’s Gut Check, I hope to combine my medical expertise with a more holistic approach to IBD care in order to provide support and encouragement to anyone affected by IBD, but especially to parents of a child diagnosed with IBD. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, need advice, or have an idea for a blog topic to cover. Thank you all for being on this journey with me!