Preparing for travel can be stressful and hectic as it is, but when you’ve got an ostomy there are a few extra things that you’ll want to be aware of.
Want to fly ahead?
Note: There are many beginner travel guides that offer general tips for travel. This guide will focus primarily on the ostomy side of things.
Whether you’re travelling for work or pleasure, your ostomy shouldn’t come between you and your destination.
I started traveling after having my ostomy, and the experience has been positive all around. It does require some extra planning, but I’m hoping this guide will get you started in the right direction.
Remember that traveling can cause anxiety to anyone (ostomy or not), so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel lost.
Stuff to Pack (Ostomy)
The Golden Rule when packing supplies is that it’s always best to bring more supplies than you’d normally use in the same amount of time you plan to travel for.
Since ostomy wafers and bags don’t really take up much space (especially if you’re using a one-piece appliance), and they aren’t heavy, I will often double or triple the amount of supplies I bring. In my case, since I tend to change my appliance every 3 days or so, I’ll bring enough for a full change per day.
If you are travelling to someplace that’s really hot and humid, or if you plan to swim a lot, then you may want to either bring even more appliances or special supplies (like wafer extenders) to accommodate those situations which may reduce your wear time.
One thing I’d recommend to colostomates or ileostomates who normally have thicker output (like myself) is to bring a gelling agent in case you develop “travelers diarrhea”, food poisoning or some other unexplained liquid output. These gelling products will help to thicken your output and keep things easier to manage.
Depending on where you are traveling, you may also want to check ahead to see if there are any local suppliers who sell ostomy products in case of an emergency.
Now that regular supplies have been covered, let’s move onto accessories.
Accessories would include products like ostomy wraps, stoma guards, pouch covers, etc. These can help to conceal your appliance, keep your stoma protected (skydiving, anyone?), and can help boost confidence.
The type of accessories you choose to bring will depend a lot on what you plan to do, but if you like using specific accessories on a daily basis just pack those along.
I’ve also reviewed many accessories, too! Check them out HERE.
Keep in mind that depending on where you are travelling to, carry-on supplies may be limited to under 1000ml in total, with individual containers being no larger than 100ml (as per the TSA 3-1-1 rule).
These supplies may include:
- Liquid ostomy pouch deodorant.
- Stoma paste.
- Barrier rings.
- Adhesive remover sprays (wipes should not count as liquid, but call your airline to confirm).
- Skin care cream.
While ostomy supplies are medically necessary, and may be exempt from the 3-1-1 rule, I would strongly suggest contacting your airline or local airport authority to see if they allow those exemptions.
I’ve contacted CATSA here in Canada, but they said it would depend on the screening person you have to decide whether any specific supply is exempt from the rule (ostomy bags and wafers are automatically exempt). Rather than risk not being able to bring all my supplies, I just pack with the assumption that no exceptions will be made.
Note that if you are travelling with checked luggage you’ll be able to bring larger containers. Keep only what’s absolutely necessary for an appliance change in your carry-on if you decide to bring extras.
Sample Ostomy Travel Kit
While I do have a travel kit that I take around with me locally, it can certainly be trimmed down for air travel.
Personally, I can get away with using adhesive remover wipes and no other extras, but that’s only if I’m not having skin problems. If you require stoma paste, adhesive remover spray, and barrier rings, it can be a little more complicated.
I would suggest limiting things like sunscreen, shampoo, and liquid soap (which you can easily purchase at your destination) before removing essential supplies.
My basic kit for air travel consists of:
- wafers and pouches.
- adhesive remover wipes.
- portable mirror (try to get one that can be positioned on a flat surface and doesn’t need to be held).
- gauze pads.
- gelling products (I like the Diamonds sachets by ConvaTec).
- medical scissors (these need to comply with your airline rules; i.e. under a certain blade size, rounded tips, etc.). I would pack these with your liquids so they can be easily inspected by security.
- stoma measuring guide (if you are bringing cut to fit).
- pen or marker to trace a template on the stoma measuring guide.
- wafer extenders. These may come in handy if you plan to be in the water a lot.
- pouch deodorant.
Remember that liquid, gels, and creams need to be placed into a single, clear bag with the rest of your liquids if you plan to bring a carry-on.
If you airline allows you to bring both a carry-on (luggage) and a “personal item”, be sure to keep a few extra supplies with your personal item; this can often be a purse, briefcase, small backpack, or similarly size item. You’ll want to do this in case your carry-on luggage isn’t easily accessible when you need it.
If you are traveling with both carry-on and checked luggage, I would suggest keeping supplies in both in case you get separated from your luggage. Remember, always have supplies nearby regardless of how you packed your main luggage.
Stuff to Pack (Other)
Medication and Supplements
If you are travelling with medication or supplements, you should try to get a note from your doctor if possible. Since some medication (like narcotic painkillers) may require additional clearance, it’s best to have supporting documents with you.
For medication which requires refrigeration, like biologics used for IBD, you may want to see which cooling methods are allowed through your airline.
I always plan to pack some Imodium Complete (which does not contain animal ingredients) in case I get a bout of travelers diarrhea. I keep the tablets in the original box so there’s no confusion about what I’m bringing as I pass through security.
Electric Razor / Razor Blades
If you’re like me, you’ll likely need to shave the skin around your stoma, so don’t forget to bring something to do that while you’re travelling!
You may prefer to purchase razors at your destination, but if you decide to bring an electric razor be sure that it’s fully charged (if it runs on batteries) or that the voltage rating is appropriate for your destinations power – some are NOT universally compatible with international voltages, but many travel electric razors are.
Generally speaking, foods have similar restrictions as personal items. That means liquids such as orange juice, apple sauce, maple syrup (eh!), will be subject to the 311 rule (max 1000ml worth in containers 100ml or less), but solid foods are fine.
Here’s the thing, though, if you do bring “liquid” food they’ll have to share space with your liquid ostomy supplies and personal care items – you’re gonna run out of space very quickly!
Instead, I would suggest packing foods such as energy bars, cookies, crackers, and similar snacks in your carry-on as they are not restricted. If you’d like to keep a drink with you (and you should because travel tends to be dehydrating) you are free to purchase beverages after passing through airport security.
Personally, I love to bring Clif Bars with me because they are high calorie, taste great, don’t cause me any trouble with my ostomy. They are also fortified with vitamins and minerals, which are important if you won’t be eating much for a while.
When I travel, I also opt for an electrolyte powder that can be easily added to bottled water. My current preference is the Vega Electrolyte Hydrator sachets, which are easy to travel with and taste great!
Be sure that if you pack food for your flight that you keep them with you or in your “personal item” bag. If you put them in your carry-on or checked luggage you may not have access to them until after you land.
- What Can I Bring? (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority)
- Traveling with solid foods: http://www.catsa.gc.ca/travellingwithfood
Things to Consider
Pick your seat (if you can)
Planning which seat you’ll be on can be helpful when you have an ostomy because you’ll likely need more access to the bathroom while on a flight and not all seats are convenient to get in and out of easily.
Some airlines allow you to choose your seat. When I fly with Delta, they even allow me to choose the seat through their mobile app or website, and I’ve been able to pick a better seat closer to my departure time as other seats become available.
I’ve been in all seat positions: next to the window, in the middle of the row, and the aisle seat. There are advantages to the window and aisle seat, but I would recommend avoiding middle seats (honestly, they are horrible).
Pros/Cons to each seat:
- Great view!
- A bit more privacy.
- Easier to sleep in.
- You won’t be disturbed when another passenger needs to use the bathroom.
- You control the window shade.
- Harder to access the bathroom, because you’ll have to disturb the passenger(s) next to you.
- If you’re afraid of heights, this might not be a good option.
- Not as easy to get your meal, drinks, etc.
- Not as easy to access the overhead compartment (if you need to).
- Very easy access to the aisle (great if you need to use the bathroom often).
- Easy to get your meals, drinks, or whatever else from the flight attendants.
- Makes it easier to get up and walk around on long flights.
- Easy access to the overhead bins (no need to ask other passengers to get up).
- You may be disturbed more if the passengers next to you need to get to the aisle.
- Aisle traffic may bother you (especially if you are near the bathrooms).
- You don’t get a very nice view.
Obviously, if you are traveling with family or friends, some of the concerns about disturbing other passengers may not be so much of an issue. But if you travel alone, then these options should be considered.
In general, if you are going on a short flight then I’d recommend the window seat hands down (keep your camera handy!).
However, if you will be on a long flight, especially overnight, take an aisle seat.
There’s a really cool website called SeatGuru that gives more information about which seats are best for a whole whack of airlines and airplanes. Keep in mind that they don’t consider the needs of an ostomate, but it’s a great resource nonetheless.
Some people may qualify for pre-screening, and the TSA has their own program that frequent travelers may want to look into. The TSA Pre program will help you move through the security checks much faster as you won’t be required to remove shoes, belts, or liquids (among other things).
You can find out more about the TSA Pre program here: https://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck
If you are a Canadian residence, then we also have a similar program called Nexus: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/prog/nexus/menu-eng.html
Depending on where you travel, you’re going to want to find out which (if any) vaccines are required. Travel advisories can be found through most government health agencies, and they’ll give you a good idea whether a specific vaccine is needed or not.
Sites About Travelers’ Health
- CDC: Travelers’ Health
- World Health Organization: International Travel and Health
- Government of Canada: Travel and Tourism
- Public Health Agency of Canada: Travel Health.
You can also visit a local travel clinic as they’ll be able to tell you which vaccines are required, and they can administer them there.
** Note: Not all vaccines are covered by your healthcare system or insurance provider, and may need to be paid for out-of-pocket.
For my trip to South Africa, it was suggested that I be vaccinated for both hepatitis A and B, but since I’ve already had a hepatitis B shot, I only needed to get the hepatitis A shot. This particular shot is given in two doses, and the first shot is enough to cover me for a year while the second provides immunity up to 25 years.
Because I have Crohn’s Disease, getting any shot makes me nervous, since I do appear to have reactions to them (affecting my joints) for some time after the shot is received. You should speak with your GI or family doctor to go over potential complications.
It’s important to remember that some vaccines take time (and possibly multiple shots) before they provide full immunity, so don’t get one a few days before your trip!
Now that you’ve planned and packed for travel, the next step is to get to the airport and hop on that plane! I’ll be covering that part of your trip in part two of this series.