7 Reasons Your Poop Changes When You Travel — and What to Do About It

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Here's why traveling might cause constipation or diarrhea and how to stay regular.

One of the bummers about taking a trip: Your bathroom habits can get really messed up. Suddenly, regularity is out the window in favor of constipation (or diarrhea!) and the resulting bloating or discomfort it can bring.

That's not how you wanted to feel when you're away, so here are the common culprits causing your BMs to go haywire — and most importantly, how you can stay on schedule.

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Poop Problem 1: Your Schedule Gets Disrupted

Cool fact: Your bowel has its own circadian rhythm, says Elana Maser, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Feinstein IBD Clinical Center at Mount Sinai and an assistant professor of gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"We get our best colonic contractions first thing in the morning, which is why most of us empty our bowels at this time," she says. Another impulse hits around 6 p.m. or dinnertime, although it's not as strong.

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But jet lag and changes to your normal schedule (i.e. sleeping and eating at different times) can throw things off.

Fix it:​ You really need to allow yourself a morning window to go to the toilet, Dr. Maser says, otherwise "you'll lose that precious window to take advantage of your morning bowel push." This can be tough if you have, say, an early morning flight, but don't get up and run out the door — plan ahead so you can linger for a little.

Poop Problem 2: You Travel by Air

Hopping on a plane? The high altitude may slow down your bowels, Dr. Maser says. (If you have irritable bowel disease, you may notice that air travel triggers a flare in your symptoms, per a March 2014 study in the Journal of Crohn's and Colitis.)

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What's more, planes are dry, so you may be parched. And the risk is even greater these days.

"It's important to hydrate when traveling, but you may be less likely to take drinks when your mouth is covered by your mask," Dr. Maser says.

Fix it:​ Drink water before your flight, make a plan to drink water (safely!) when on the plane and rehydrate after. If you have a GI condition, talk to your doctor about a plan for how you can best manage your condition when away.

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Poop Problem 3: You're Afraid of Going in a New Place

"Many people have a fear of using someone else's bathroom. Invariably, they don't move their bowels as much and get constipated," says James Gordon, MD, a gastroenterologist with Banner Health in Sun City West, Arizona.

Fix it:​ Recognize your trepidation with going somewhere new, and think about the underlying issue. Is it fear of making someone else's bathroom smell? Well, then maybe a product like Poo-Pourri could increase your comfort. Is it about germs? Consider carrying disinfecting wipes to swab the seat before you sit.

Poop Problem 4: You Change Your Normal Diet

Your gut likes consistency. "It likes to see the same foods at the same time of day," Dr. Maser says. Traveling might mean you're eating out more or stopping for more convenience foods, and this change in your diet can stop you up.

Fix it:​ Make sure you're eating as close as you can to your normal diet. Meaning: If you normally fill your meals with fruits and veggies, make an effort to seek those out. If you eat three meals a day, then three meals is still your magic number, Dr. Maser says.

Poop Problem 5: You’re On-the-Go and Don’t Want to Stop

Maybe you're on the road or in an airplane and the urge hits — but you know you're not going to pull over or head to the tiny airplane bathroom.

Fix it:​ The best strategy is to be prepared, and again offer yourself downtime in the morning to go. It's not ideal to ignore an urge, but it will come again later in the day. When it does, you should go — continuing to ignore it will only make things worse.

Poop Problem 6: You’re Stressed Out

Stress can make things go either way: For some people, it worsens constipation. For others, the "fight or flight" stress response sends a clear message to your bowels to empty, and you might be running to the bathroom with diarrhea, Dr. Maser says.

Fix it:​ Travel stress may be unavoidable, but control what you can. For example:

  • Leave enough time to get to the airport and catch your flight.
  • Practice deep breathing with an app like Headspace if being on a plane ups your anxiety.
  • Don't drink to calm down, since alcohol is a laxative.
  • Book a hotel room rather than staying with the in-laws if there's enough tension to give you stomach troubles.

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Poop Problem 7: You’re Already Prone to Constipation

Let's say you're already behind in BMs when you leave. Your baseline might just be naturally a bit constipated, and you don't expect to poop on the day you get to your destination. But a day without pooping could turn into two or three, and things can go downhill from there.

Fix it:​ Plan ahead to give your body a little extra help. Dr. Maser recommends starting with a morning coffee, especially if you're not a java drinker to begin with. (Already a coffee drinker? Make it a tad stronger today.) If that doesn't work, use a stool softener or gentle laxative like a Colace soft gel or Miralax.

"None of these will give you urgency or accidents," she says. (Avoid other OTC laxatives, though, as they may result in diarrhea.)

Hotels often have little convenience stores on-property that sell sundries. While they're not often well-stocked, most will sell a little bottle of prune juice, Dr. Maser says. And that's not just a "mom" remedy: Prunes have been shown to improve BM frequency and comfort, according to research.

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker before leaving the house.
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