Travel seems like a glamorous lifestyle. Trend-setters and the movers and shakers of the world are on the move all the time, here one day, gone the next. Countless travel blogs, Instagram accounts, and book writers showcase the vibrant aspects of a life of travel.
Sometimes, though, things are not what they seem. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, oh no; there are downsides to such a lifestyle.
One of the less pleasant aspects of travel is, politely named, travel constipation. This morass of bloating, cramping, discomfort, and irregularity can make travel unpleasant and can leave you spending altogether more time than you'd like in the washrooms of your destinations.
What Causes Travel Constipation?
So what is it about traveling that causes this distressing ailment of the bowels? As it turns out, there are a few different contributing factors. Travel always requires a disruption of your natural schedule.
What might change?
- Getting up at a different time sets your circadian rhythm into disarray. When your body isn't able to rely on sunlight and the day/night cycle to keep regular, you may experience dysfunction.
- A strange schedule means you may forget to take medications at the right times.
- Your diet may change; your breakfast might be rushed the day you set out, and you skip lunch in favor of plane fare, then you eat an exotic dinner at a local restaurant.
- You might eat fast food, which is rarely good for your digestive health. Unless you're eating particularly greasy food – which is never preferable for the comfort of your fellow passengers – you're likely going to back up.
- Dehydration is almost always a factor. Any form of travel means you're limited in both your ability do consume more water, and your ability to urinate freely. Bathroom space is limited on planes and trains, after all.
- In particular, dehydration on a plane is higher than you might think. The recycled air is often dehumidified to limit the potential spread of disease and odors, so you're losing moisture through skin, mucous membranes, and breath.
- Travel is also stressful. Stress can lead to all manner of changes in your body, and constipation is a frequent side effect. Biology didn't evolve for your body's stress reaction to cause you to have to stop in place to defecate, after all. Rather, you evolved to be able to move abruptly and for a prolonged time to keep yourself safe.
Travel involves all of this and more, so it's no wonder that certain bodily processes change for the worse when you're on the move.
Of course, longer travel has worse effects. A travel a few hours across the state might not be that bad, but a cross-country journey by plane will be drastically different.
So how can you combat travel constipation and stay both more regular and more comfortable on the go? Here are fifteen options to consider.
1. Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration is one of the leading cases of both bodily dysfunction and travel constipation. Drinking more water throughout the day, both when you're traveling and when you're spending time at your destination, is a crucial part of staying healthy.
As an added bonus, drinking plenty of water will help keep you awake, and will help keep your body fueled up and ready to fight off disease. Being in a foreign place – even one that's only as "foreign" as a city a hundred miles away – exposes you to a different set of germs from what you're normally encountering. Keeping that immune system going helps you fight them off.
2. Be Wary of Local Water
Everyone knows the legends of Montezuma's Revenge. While it's most likely that such symptoms are caused by a lack of sanitation in some areas, it can still be a good idea to avoid local water sources and opt for the bottled stuff. Even changes in the basic mineralization and pH levels of the local water can throw your body off kilter just enough to disrupt your bowels, in both ways.
3. Eat More Fiber
Fiber is well-known to be a bowel regulator, which is why it's recommended – and even prescribed – for both constipation and diarrhea.
Eating more foods with fiber in them, or taking a fiber supplement, can help keep you regular even through disruptions in your schedule and your diet. As a prebiotic, fiber can also help a lot with general bowel health and an overall bodily feeling of well-being.
4. Eat Fruits
Everyone has a favorite fruit they recommend for fighting off constipation. Prunes are probably the biggest and most recommended among them, thought of as an "old person" fruit to deal with bowel troubles, but there are a bunch of different fruits that can help. Apples, pears, and figs are all good.
One of the best, surprisingly, is kiwi. Kiwi contains plenty of fiber, but also a nice balance of other nutrients that help minimize the associated gas you may have to deal with otherwise. You can also try vegetables such as spinach, chicory, artichoke, and rhubarb. Basically, any fruits or vegetables high in fiber are good here.
5. Eat Probiotics
Probiotics are one of the modern world's cure-alls, and while they aren't necessarily going to fight off every disease or relieve the daily stress of living, they can help smooth out your gut health, restore your gut flora, and generally help digest foods in a healthy way.
Probiotics such as yogurt and kefir might be tricky with their dairy considerations, and you don't want to be That Person on the plane with the gas that just won't quit. Other kinds of probiotics are often better, including supplements. Try them out ahead of time and find what works best for your body.
6. Try a Magnesium Laxative
Magnesium is nature's laxative, once you discount fiber as nature's laxative. Magnesium is a naturally occurring mineral, and it's essential that your body gets enough to function. Magnesium Citrate is a combination of magnesium and citric acid in the form of a mineral salt. It has a variety of uses in food and in medicine.
One primary use is as a laxative. Taking a large enough supplement of magnesium citrate can help "gently encourage" the bowels to move, and is frequently a short-term cure for constipation. Just don't use too much!
7. Move When You Can
Part of the cause of constipation is the static nature of your bowels and digestive system when you're stuck in place for hours at a time. On a plane, on a train, even on a long road trip, you're stuck in a seat for hours with nothing to do. It kind of just locks your digestive system in place.
To help solve this, get up and move! You can walk down the aisle of the plane a couple times, or travel from car to car in certain trains. It's harder on a car ride, but you can pull over off the highway or at a rest stop to get up and stretch your legs. Do a few stretches to get the blood circulating and the bowels moving when you can.
8. Try a Bit of Booze
Normally we avoid recommending alcohol to people, but as it turns out, a little bit of alcohol can help soothe your nerves, take the edge off a trip, and even out the bowels.
The key here is two-fold. First, don't drink so much that you really feel the effects. A light buzz is plenty enough; getting hammered is just going to get you thrown out by security. Obviously, don't try this method if you're driving, either. Also, make sure you drink plenty of water to counteract the dehydration effects of alcohol.
9. Avoid Dairy, Wheat, Garlic, and Onions
While a lot of foods have fiber and probiotics that can help you with your bowel regularity, some are going to have the opposite effect. Dairy in particular can have a constipating effect. Wheat is a carbohydrate that leads to excess gas production, which can lead to uncomfortable bloating and uncomfortable situations. Garlic and onions, meanwhile, have additional, erm, sulfurous effects on gas and will make it altogether unpleasant for everyone involved.
10. Get Enough Rest
Getting plenty of sleep is important pretty much all the time. Travel doesn't always allow the time to sleep, but when you can get it, get it.
If you can't get sleep, take the time to rest here and there, to let some of the stress fade away. Even taking five or ten minutes of break time in the middle of sight-seeing can be enough to help keep you regular. Rest also helps keep your immune system up, too, so you don't have to worry as much about illnesses you get while you're out.
11. Avoid Caffeine if Possible
One of the more common side effects of caffeine is diarrhea, or at least an abrupt and urgent need to go. Many of us experience this with our daily morning cups of coffee and subsequent rush to the restroom. Caffeine exacerbates bowel issues, so if you're prone to diarrhea, you'll probably get it. Conversely, if you're on the edge of constipated, caffeine is going to make it that much worse. Cut back on the caffeine if you can. More importantly, cut back on it before the day you travel, to avoid wrecking your trip with the caffeine withdrawal headaches and other side effects.
12. Make Sure to Eat Breakfast
Breakfast is crucial to enjoying a good trip. For one thing, it's difficult to really get up and moving in the morning if you don't have some food to give you energy. For another, that food can get your bowels moving. Once you kick-start the digestion process, things proceed further along, and you'll have to make room for that breakfast to make its way through.
For a good, healthy breakfast, skip the hotel cereal bar and opt for something larger, with healthy dietary fats. Eggs are great for this, giving you plenty of nutrients, fats, and vitamins.
13. Try to Maintain a Bathroom Routine
When do you usually go to the bathroom? Not many of us actually keep track, unless it's a fixed part of a daily routine, like a break during a 9-5. Still, it might be worthwhile keeping a little note of the common times. This way, when you're out, you can still try to stick to that routine. Your body is a machine of habits, after all, and sticking to those habits can help minimize other forms of dysfunction.
14. Go When You Need To
Another crucial aspect of keeping yourself regular while you're traveling is keeping an eye on your body as you go about your day. At some point, you're going to feel the urge to go. Whatever you're in the middle of doing, if you can get to a restroom, make sure you give it a go. Keeping to these habits is important.
15. Be Wary of Going Overboard
Almost all of these methods, particularly the ones that rely on you eating or drinking, can have unpleasant consequences if you take them too far in the other direction. Constipation isn't the only form of bowel trouble you can face down on vacation, after all. Everything in moderation.
Travel constipation is an ailment that has just as many folk remedies as it does scientific studies, so we'd like to hear from you.
Do you have a sure-fire trick to staying regular? Let us know!