Any travel requires some planning, especially if you’re going camping, hiking, or doing other activities outdoors. When you have ulcerative colitis (UC), you need to think even more about where to go, what to pack, and how to find the nearest bathroom.
Having UC shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the outdoors. You just need to do a little preparation to ensure that your trip is fun and worry-free.
When you have UC, the need to use the bathroom is often sudden and urgent.
If you’re driving to your destination, locate all the rest stops along the way. Choose the route that has the most public restrooms, even if it’s longer. Bring along an “I Can’t Wait” card to get access to bathrooms in restaurants and stores on your route.
Call ahead to ask about the bathroom situation at your campsite or the park where you’ll be hiking. Make sure your campsite has the type of facilities you’ll be comfortable using.
An outhouse may not cut it during an emergency. You may prefer a bathroom with private toilets and showers. Ask whether the campsite or park has bathrooms for people who need extra support.
Check that a restroom is close to where you’ll be sleeping. Hiking a long distance in the middle of the night won’t be fun or safe.
To avoid the bathroom issue entirely, consider renting a camper van. Then you’ll have your own toilet whenever you need it.
Along with your clothes, pack an ample amount of toilet supplies, including:
- toilet paper
- plastic bags to carry soiled clothes
- hand sanitizer
- a flashlight (to find the restroom at night)
Also bring several extra changes of clothes and underwear — more than you’ll need for the number of days you’re staying. Bring detergent to wash your clothes in a restroom sink or stream.
If you have an ostomy, bring along extra supplies like belts, barrier strips, and wipes. Carry more than you think you’ll need since your bowel habits can change when you travel.
Bring enough of your medications to last the entire trip, plus a few days extra. It’s good to have more on hand in case you get stuck and you can’t get home right away.
If your medication is refrigerated, pack it in a cooler. Make sure you’ll have access to a refrigerator or buy enough ice to keep your medications cold the whole trip. Some camper vans come equipped with a fridge.
Carry a copy of your prescription and your doctor’s phone number for refills or other emergencies. Also keep your insurance card with you.
Bring along any over-the-counter medications or supplements you might need while you’re away, including:
- antidiarrheal medications
- pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- iron, folate, vitamin B12 or vitamin D supplements
Call your health insurance company and ask whether they’ll cover any medical care you need while you’re away. That way you won’t get a surprise bill. Consider buying travel insurance that will reimburse you if you need to cancel your trip for medical reasons.
Stick to your UC diet plan while you’re away. Food choices may include:
- low fiber fruits and vegetables, such as melon, bananas, asparagus, potatoes, and squash
- white bread, white rice, and other refined grains
- lean protein, such as chicken and eggs
Bring a few snacks for each day. Eating five or six small meals may be easier for your body to tolerate than three large meals.
If you’re on a liquid diet, ask your doctor if it comes as a powder that you mix with water. Then you won’t need to refrigerate it.
Invite your partner or a friend on the trip. Make sure it’s someone you trust and who knows about your condition. They’ll give you company, plus some extra help in case you run into trouble.
Drinking plenty of water is important if you have frequent diarrhea. Bring along bottled water and sports drinks to replenish the sodium and other electrolytes you lose from UC. Take sips throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Be careful about drinking water from sources that could be unclean, like the sink or shower at a campground. Avoid swallowing water if you swim in a lake or pool. It could be contaminated with bacteria or chemicals.
Let your doctor know what you’ll be doing on your trip. Check that you’re cleared to travel and that you’re healthy enough to do any physical activities planned.
Work with your doctor to create a plan for UC flares while you’re away. If you have an ostomy, ask your nurse how to care for it during your trip.
You never know when your disease might flare up. It’s a good idea to have the name of a gastroenterologist and a hospital near your campsite in case of emergency.
Ask the doctor who treats your UC to recommend someone. Or, search the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s database.
UC shouldn’t limit your ability to stay active. If you want to hike, kayak, or climb a mountain, do it — as long as you’re healthy enough.
Tailor your activity level to how you feel. Don’t try to do too much when you’re in the middle of an active flare. Rest and give your body time to recover.
UC shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the great outdoors. You can go hiking, camping, and do just about anything else you enjoy, provided that you prepare for it in advance.
Check with your doctor before you go, look into the bathroom situation at your destination, and bring along all the supplies you’ll need for your stay.