Travelling really takes it out of you - except when it comes to poop. That can stay with you for days, making your holiday a lot less enjoyable. Here's what causes that constipation frustration, and what you can do to keep that from happening.
Photo: Mackenzie Greer
You're at a friend's house when nature calls. So you take care of business, then flush the toilet - and nothing happens. After a quick scan of the bathroom, you realise there's not a plunger or toilet brush in sight. Here's what you do.
If you've ever gone on a trip and failed to drop a load for a few days straight, you've experienced vacation-induced constipation (VIC), or travel constipation. You feel backed up, look bloated, and want nothing more than to unleash the crappin'. It's basically the dreadful opposite of traveller's diarrhoea, which is an entirely different gut monster.
According to David Poppers, MD, PhD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health, VIC has a number of causes. For starters, travellers tend to change up what they eat and drink, and that has an effect on your gut bacteria. If you're like me, entering "holiday mode" means eating a lot of carbs, drinking a ton of coffee, and consuming more alcohol than usual. All of that can have a negative effect on your regularity. Other factors include stress (even regular flyers can get nervous); not getting enough sleep (waking up early or staying up late to catch a flight); and sitting for long periods of time in a plane or car (movement stimulates the gut). Last but not least, Dr Brooke Gurland, a colorectal surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, explains that travel often disrupts our royal routine. We usually have a certain time of day when we like to claim the porcelain throne, but travel throws us off that schedule and confuses our body's internal clock.
How do you keep regular? A lot of prevention involves not changing your routine as much as you can. Try not to change up your diet, avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol, get plenty of sleep before and while you travel, and give yourself opportunities to move around. Walk around on the plane, stop at a rest stop and take a walk, and exercise when you normally would at the hotel gym. And if you can, make it possible to poop when you normally would, regardless of what time zone you're in. That might mean an evening delivery when you would normally do it in the morning.
Brooke Alpert, a registered dietician in New York City, also recommends you drink plenty of water to help out your intestines, and suggests you snack on fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha. It isn't always easy to eat healthy while you travel, but microbiologist Elizabeth Bik explains that you can make choices that encourage normal gut activity. High-fibre foods such as fruit and vegetables are helpful, and choosing a salad over a pastry at the airport food court could be just enough to save you from carrying some extra luggage. Of course, if none of that works, you can always try a dose of a nonprescription laxative.