10 Tips for Managing the Low FODMAP Diet & GI Symptoms While Traveling

Hey Friends.  To me, there is nothing more fun than exploring another city or country! I love the adventure of experiencing new cultures, new food, as well as all the wonder and the new perspective that comes with travel.

Given the degree of GI symptoms that come and go (from a major small intestinal resection), I find modifying FODMAPs in my diet can be helpful to keep my gut in check–especially while I’m on the road. It’s common for GI symptoms to get exacerbated with travel–your activity, diet and environmental changes that occur when traveling likely play a role.

Here are 10 tips that I have incorporated into my travel routine that I have found helpful:

  1. Hydrate! Don’t forget to bring a water bottle with you. The airlines may offer a beverage during the flight but the amount of fluid may not be enough to keep up with the dehydrating conditions on a plane. Aim for about 8 ounces of water for every hour in flight. Tip: For air travel, after the security line, go straight to one of the airport stores to pick up at minimum a 20 ounce bottle of H-2-O or bring your own bottle–some airports have water-filling stations.
  2. Pack some staples. When visiting family or a place that has a kitchen, pack up some of your favorite staples such as your favorite gluten free pasta, low FODMAP bars, gluten free pretzels, suitable cold cereals, fresh low FODMAP fruit, and packages of rolled oats with suitable nuts and seeds. Oatmeal packs just require adding hot water, which you can get at most airports, on the plane or via the in room hotel coffee machines. You will be ready to fuel up when hunger hits.
  3. Get a refrigerator. If staying in a hotel, ask for a mini fridge in your room, if possible!  This will allow you to go to a local store to purchase fresh berries, lactose free yogurt, water bottles and other comforts of home.
  4. Be creative with in-room appliances. Expand the use of the hotel coffee pot! As mentioned earlier,  the hotel coffee pot can supply the hot water for homemade rolled oat and nut/seed packs. I pack about 1/2 cup rolled oats with 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts and 1 tablespoon chia seeds per ziplock pack.
  5. Be utensil-ready! Bring a bowl, spoon, fork and knife!  Having a spoon at your ready for your in-room morning oats makes eating the oatmeal a whole lot easier.  I will admit though–I have forgotten to bring a spoon, made the oats and sipped them– something I don’t recommend unless necessary. 🙂
  6. Do your homework! Pre-travel, find out what food options are available at your gate (at an airport) or at the railroad terminal. It can be quite helpful knowing in advance what is available to you. I am always happy when Starbucks is nearby–as I can always order oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack, in a pinch. For long car rides with few suitable restaurants on the way, I pack a car picnic with all my favorite foods and beverages.
  7. Keep active! This is especially important for those taking road trips. Sitting idle in the car is not ideal for a sensitive belly. Take breaks on the road and walk around a bit. This helps stimulate the movement of your intestine–moving trapped gas, water and helps keep your regular.  Once you get to your destination, plan to walk around a bit too!
  8. Scope out local restaurants in the area. Advance planning will make dining out less stressful. Make reservations in advance–so you are not waiting too long to get your meal!
  9. Print out the Grab and Go passes. These downloadable low FODMAP diet info cards can be helpful to provide to the Chef to help the restaurant plan a suitable low FODMAP meal, click here to get them.  There is room on the passes to add extra information so you can personalize to your individual diet needs too.
  10. Got laxatives? Bring along some laxatives per your doctor’s recommendations. It’s pretty common to experience constipation while traveling. Stay on top of a sluggish gut with some “rescue” laxatives if prescribed by your GI doctor or primary care physician. Don’t let the constipation go on too long (i.e. try to poop everyday)–as it will be more difficult to rectify the problem and likely impact your vacation if you wait. Prior to travel, discuss with your doctor in advance, when you should or should not use a laxative and what type would he/she recommends for you.

And one last extra tip, for good measure, if traveling by plane, you may find it helpful to reduce FODMAPs in the two meals prior to boarding the plane! Gas in your gut expands in the pressurized cabin, and having a bit less gas in your gut may make the flying experience, well, a bit more enjoyable.

Please share your favorite tips to keep your gut in check while traveling, I’d love to hear from you–and it can be so helpful to other readers!

6 replies on “10 Tips for Managing the Low FODMAP Diet & GI Symptoms While Traveling

  • Linda Bryan

    I recently traveled between Minneapolis-St Paul airport and Fairbanks, Alaska via Seattle airport. I have gastroparesis as well as FODMAP trouble, which means that I have to watch out for fibrous foods and chewy meats and big meals as well as for FODMAP. I do eat FODMAP, but just have to keep track of how much so that I don’t overdo. In Seattle airport, I was appalled by the restaurant hubby had chosen–for its microbrews, natch–and sat out a meal entirely. I knew I shouldn’t prime my stomach for food if there wasn’t a real meal to come and anyway, all the beers seemed to be wrong for me as a low-FODMAPer. Before we got on our connecting flight, I found a Subway sandwich stand which made me a foot-long sandwich with custom ingredients. I only ate a portion of the bread, but I had chicken, a suitable cheese, plain old oil and vinegar for dressing, salt & pepper, parmesan, certain peppers, tomato slices, olives, pickles, and some spinach and lettuce–a regular salad for a very good price and my seatmates were envious as I ate. I used it for two in-flight “meals.” Got a plastic fork to carry with me and plenty of napkins and I kept the plastic bag to protect my possessions in backpack.

    On return trip, we knew we had a very long layover in Seattle. I brought along food in a backpack which a restaurant allowed me to graze from, as long as hubby ordered from menu–flip-top can of mandarin oranges, some wheatless granola bars with little fiber, tuna envelopes, and some gluten-free cookies. (The can of oranges was a bit difficult to bring through the TSA machinery–Woody Allen type situation–but it got okayed eventually. The liquid am’t in the can was apparently the issue, causing them to do some research. I’ve also brought canned vienna sausages through these checkpoints.) This food could be eaten over time, but it was more like prisoner food; I had enjoyed the sandwich much more.

    I’ve also brought along pre-cut up cheese and crackers (e.g. the nut kind, or the potato flour kind), peanuts in a baggie (I have to chew, chew, chew but peanuts are fun to eat), certain candies, Sunbelt granola-type bars of various types. On the plane, I ask for tomato juice, a good source of nutrition in a glass, but remember that there is some onion in it. Orange juice is a back-up choice. Don’t drink their American sweet sodas–high fructose might put you over the edge of your FODMAP allowance and you will be fermenting in tight quarters. Watch out for half-and half as coffee whitener–FODMAP for sure.

  • Philip Paroian

    I used to travel extensively. Even with type 1 diabetes, I was on a plane 6-12 times a year and had traveled to all the continents (except Antarctica) at least twice each. That all stopped about six years ago when my journey with IBS/SIBO started. I haven’t been on a plane for over a year now and not being able to travel has been the single largest effect on the quality of my life (e.g. none of my family live within driving distance, I’ve turned down multiple trips internationally that I really wanted to do, most importantly a trip to New Zealand to see a good friend who lives there now and has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and not being able to travel as much has affected my chance for advancement at work although I’m lucky and they’ve been phenomenal about accommodating my health needs in my current position).

    I’ve now gotten into good enough control that my symptoms are manageable at home, for road trips, and for some plane travel within North America. I follow all the tips you mentioned in your article and agree with all of them. Alas, the one time I traveled internationally, I paid for it dearly. I did a huge amount of preparation, up to and including hiring a personal chef at my destination (found him through the internet), providing him information on my modified low FODMAP diet, and then having him deliver meals and snacks every two days to my hotel that I could keep in my room fridge and heat up in the microwave in my room. I’m lucky in that I can afford something like that, but I’d encourage others to check it out as an option because it was surprisingly affordable and not much more than eating out. The first week went fine, but the last two days I had maybe the worst IBS symptoms I’ve ever had and I swear it took my body about 3 months after returning to get back into balance.

    People talk about the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. With international travel and long flights – dealing with jet lag, bloating, some dehydration no matter how much I drink on the flights, being off my usual schedule, keeping my blood sugars in control as a T1D, etc etc etc – it just seems like a few more “straws” at once than my system can handle. I wish I could figure out a solution but even with all the useful tips I’ve researched – all of which help immensely for US/Canada travel – travel overseas still seems to be a step too far and giving up future international trips and a bunch of destinations that were on my bucket list has been the biggest challenge of learning how to live with IBS/SIBO.

    Would be curious if anyone has found successful strategies for overseas travel (although I recognize that everyone is different and my situation is complicated by other conditions like T1D).

    As always, thanks for sharing tips and recipes!

    • katescarlata

      I wonder if part of your limitation is that your SIBO is still a present problem–and needs better eradication. Just a thought. But, on the other hand, I do know how a change in environment and long international flights can wreak havoc on the gut. Let’s hope we get more responses and ideas on how to prevent life-changing travel-induced gut symptoms.

      • Philip Paroian

        Hi Kate; You are quite right. I have been working with the docs at Cedars-Sinai (although I live in WA state). My SIBO has been eradicated a few times but keeps returning. As you’ve written about, there’s no proven diet to prevent SIBO recurrence. Furthermore, in terms of underlying conditions, although I’m in very good control (my last A1C was 6.4) my type 1 diabetes isn’t ever going away, and I have slight gastroparesis so the slower stomach emptying probably contributes to recurrence, and I can’t always leave 5 hours in between meals because I’m trying to keep my blood sugars in tight control so I frequently go a little low and need a snack to stabilize and get them in a normal range. Add it all up, and the docs have told me that in my case, it’s probably a chronic thing that will regularly recur. So on any trip, in addition to everything else, unless it’s right after a course of antibiotics, there’s a chance that the SIBO is starting to recur.

      • Patricia McDaniel

        Kate// Nestles Pronourish is not available anymore…. do you have any suggest for a shake-without a lot of fruit in it. I’m type 2 diabetes. Blood sugars aren’t too bad.. I enjoyed the Nestles!!! Seems off the market…

      • katescarlata

        Patricia, I might try the Ownyn cold brew coffee plant based drink as an option –4 g sugar for 12 ounces plus 6 gram fiber. Low FODMAP certified by Monash U as well.

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