How to Prevent Vacation Constipation—Yes, It’s a Thing
Is a lack of bowel movements ruining your vacation? We hear ya! So we asked a gastroenterologist to explain why it happens and how to get things moving again.
Have traveller’s constipation? So does almost everyone else. Statistics show that up to 48 percent of people suffer from constipation when on vacation, and according to gastroenterologist Edwin Levine, MD, it’s “really a very, very common problem.”
Why does vacation constipation happen?
We stray from our normal routine. “I think that the biggest issue is the change in schedule,” Dr. Levine says. “Time differences occur when you’re travelling, or you don’t have time to go to the bathroom for three or four days—when your schedule is irregular, your body can become irregular.”
We stop listening to our bodies. In our day-to-day routine, we’re more likely to pay attention to our body’s signals that it’s time to go. But when we’re on vacation—on the beach, on a boat, in the forest—it’s easy to miss the bloating, cramps or gurgling. As Dr. Levine puts it: “I think a lot of people don’t even realize that they constipated on vacation.”
We can’t relax in a strange bathroom. Feeling relaxed is often key to moving the bowels, so using a strange restroom or having difficulty finding a clean one (or any sort of privacy) can cause us to clam up and hold things in.
We change our eating and drinking habits. Swapping our high-bran cereal for a yummy but low-fiber continental breakfast each morning may taste great, but it can prevent the digestive system from doing its job efficiently. We may also drink less (especially during our journey), which causes dehydration and constipation. “Any time you start changing your diet around, you start disrupting the usual cycles of bowel movements,” Dr. Levine says. (Here’s what to do if you’re worried about gaining weight on vacation.)
We get stressed and anxious. Fear of flying or just the general hassle of travelling can create tremendous stress—and stress and anxiety are also leading causes of constipation.
How can I prevent constipation?
It’s easier to prevent constipation than to cure it, and most constipation occurs during the first few days of a vacation, so Dr. Levine has some helpful advice to follow before leaving home and on arrival. “Try to increase the fruits, salads, and vegetables that are critical to helping us move our bowels,” he says. He also advocates eating more bran cereals and brown breads to help bulk up your stools and “keep things moving.” (Try incorporating eating these foods to prevent constipation.) Staying well hydrated and relaxed will also help.
By tweaking your food and drink before travelling and by paying attention to your body when you arrive, you can avoid the discomfort of traveller’s constipation.
How can I get regular again?
Don’t be tempted to reach for laxatives. “You’re ready to go out on your day sightseeing, when all of a sudden your laxative kicks in and you need to go find a bathroom,” Dr. Levine says. Simple home remedies for constipation—such as loading up on fibre, drinking coffee, and taking a teaspoon of castor oil—may offer relief. Flaxseed is also known for being nature’s preferred health remedy for constipation.
Next, learn how to sleep well while on vacation.