Traveling with ulcerative colitis can create unique challenges, but it’s still possible with appropriate planning and preparation.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a form of inflammatory bowel disease. If you have UC, while the condition can cause symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea that make travel hard, going on vacation is still possible with the proper preparation.

Learn more about how to travel with UC, how to prepare for flights, and tips to make flying by air easier.

If you have UC, traveling on a plane is possible, but it often requires careful planning.

A study of 136 people with IBD found that 89% had traveled internationally, but 30% said that IBD had limited their travel.

You likely experience unique challenges when traveling. Research suggests that high altitude may trigger flare-ups in people with IBD.

You might also have an increased risk of blood clots — an important factor to consider when going on vacation.

Traveling can seem daunting, but if you take the time to prepare beforehand, it can make things easier.

If possible, try to organize your plans so that you have plenty of time to consult with your doctor and order medication as needed. It might also be a good idea to buy travel insurance in case you need to cancel your trip.

Make a doctor’s appointment

If possible, it’s a good idea to have a doctor’s appointment before leaving for your trip. Your doctor will be able to advise you on any special precautions that need to be taken, as well as provide official letters for traveling with medication.

A healthcare professional can also provide you with instructions on what to do if you experience a flare-up while away from home.


Your doctor can also advise you about any pre-travel vaccinations.

When it comes to other vaccinations, if you’re taking immunosuppressant medications, you shouldn’t have live vaccinations. This includes shots that are sometimes required, like the yellow fever vaccination.

Pack wisely

You may find it beneficial to pack an “emergency kit” to deal with any bathroom-related issues. This kit could include:

  • toilet paper
  • ointment
  • wipes
  • plastic bags
  • a change of underwear
  • spare clothes
  • hand sanitizer
  • air freshener

Communicate with the airline

Airlines can help you arrange special assistance ahead of time, such as wheelchairs and early boarding if necessary.

You may want to request special meals ahead of time, depending on your dietary restrictions.

Booking an aisle seat can also be a good idea so that you have easy access to the bathroom.

When you have UC, getting through airport security can feel like a daunting process. You might have additional considerations for this stage of the journey, such as standing for long periods of time, locating a bathroom while you’re in line, or knowing the words for bathroom or toilet in other languages.

The Transportation Security Administration’s website has helpful information about traveling with a medical condition. It’s also possible to download a medical card you can give to TSA agents, which advises them that a special screening may be needed due to your medical condition.

If you’re traveling with an ostomy, you shouldn’t be afraid to let security personnel know. They have training to respond appropriately, while still carrying out the required security screening. Most supplies needed for an ostomy are allowed through security.

However, you might need to declare any medications or nutritional supplements that weigh more than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters.

Some airports offer sunflower lanyards that indicate you have an invisible disability. These special lanyards were designed in the United Kingdom to help people living with non-apparent disabilities get additional help in a discreet way. Sunflower lanyards are now provided in over 30 countries by 17 airline companies, including these U.S.-based airports:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth International
  • Denver International
  • Portland International
  • Seattle-Tacoma International

These can typically be obtained from the airport information or assistance desks. The lanyards may help you get to priority lanes more easily if standing in a line is difficult for you.

Carrying medications

It’s important that you continue taking any prescribed medications — even when traveling.

A doctor can provide a signed medical summary that explains your required medications. This may be needed when you’re interacting with customs agents and security.

You should never put medication in your checked luggage. Instead, medication should be packed in your carry-on bags. Don’t forget to bring enough medication to last for your entire trip.

It’s also a good idea to bring your medication in its original packaging.

When on the plane, there are a few steps you can take to make your journey more pleasant.

To avoid blood clots when traveling:

  • Get up and move every couple of hours.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
  • Wear comfortable and loose clothing.
  • Wear compression socks or stockings.

A common symptom of UC is stomach pain due to bloating. This can happen because of a change in air pressure, which causes the gas in your body to expand. To help prevent this or make it worse, it’s a good idea to avoid carbonated drinks and eat foods that are easy on your stomach.

While you can order special meals ahead of time, it may be a good idea to pack snacks and foods that are typically easy on your digestive system, if the airline permits it. Some easy-to-travel items include:

  • crackers
  • applesauce
  • bananas
  • sandwiches

When boarding the plane, make sure you note where the bathrooms are located.

Being able to identify a potential health emergency when you’re traveling is important. A pre-trip appointment with your doctor can provide resources like recommendations for what to do if your symptoms get worse or what steps to take in the case of an emergency.

You should seek immediate medical advice if you experience:

  • high fever with shaking chills
  • profuse bloody diarrhea
  • severe bloating and abdominal pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • an inability to pass stool
  • fainting or dizziness
  • infrequent or concentrated urine

These symptoms could indicate you have bacterial inflammation, ulceration of the intestines, a significant flare-up, a blockage, low blood pressure, or dehydration.

When you’re on the plane, don’t hesitate to ask for the assistance of a flight attendant if necessary.

It can also be helpful to have a list of doctors who are local to the place you’re visiting, in case of emergency. You can ask your doctor for recommendations or you can also use the following resources:

Traveling with ulcerative colitis is possible with proper planning.

If you’re living with UC, you may need to make special preparations to ensure your journey runs smoothly.

You can prepare ahead of time by talking with your doctor before you leave, booking an aisle seat, and packing an emergency kit.