If you’re a new ostomate or you’ve never traveled with an ostomy, the thought of traveling with an ostomy might make you anxious. While those feelings are perfectly natural, there is a great way to decrease anxiety and concern regarding traveling with an ostomy — preparation.
Preparation will put your mind at ease, and you’ll quickly realize that having a colostomy, ileostomy, or a urostomy does not mean you can’t travel — ostomates can enjoy travel, just like everyone else. But ostomy care does require a few extra steps, especially if you’re planning to travel soon after your ostomy surgery.
In this article, you’ll find comprehensive travel tips on how to care for your stoma while traveling, getting through airport security quickly and easily, and avoiding trouble while in a foreign country.
Before your trip
1. Figure out what supplies you’ll need and how many
The first thing you’ll want to do is to add up the number of ostomy pouches, skin barriers, and other ostomy accessories that you typically use per day and multiply that by the number of days you plan to be away from home — that’s the minimum number you should make sure you have with you. It is highly recommended to bring an extra amount of supplies (even double). The further away from home you go, the more extra supplies you should carry with you. This is particularly if you’re traveling to a foreign country where you’re not sure if you’ll be able to find the supplies you need. It is also advisable to find out where these items may be available for purchase in that country.
This way, you can be sure to have all of your needed supplies on hand in case of any unexpected travel delays due to bad weather or any above-average stoma output.
2. Create a travel kit
Create a travel kit specific to the place you’re traveling to. If, for example, you’re going to a place that’s really hot and humid, or if you plan to swim a lot, then your travel kit should include extra supplies or even some special supplies (like wafer extenders) to accommodate those situations which may reduce your wear time.
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.
Items in your travel kit should include things like:
- Ostomy scissors (check regulations if you choose to carry this in your carry on)
- Ostomy pouches
- Skin barriers, wafers, or flanges
- Additional seals or paste
- Ostomy paste
- Barrier film wipes or spray
- Adhesive remover wipes or spray
- Ostomy pouch cleaner or deodorizer
- Gelling sachets
- Clamps for drainable ostomy pouches
- Ostomy belt or wrap
- Small pocket mirror
- Any prescribed medications
- Gauze or sterile dry wipes
- Disposal bags
While you can pack your primary travel kit in your checked baggage, be sure to carry a mini version of it with you in your carry-on luggage or hand luggage as well.
If your plans include air travel, keep in mind that certain ostomy products, like adhesive removers, may be considered aerosols, and you might not be able to pack them in your carry-on.
3. Get an ostomy travel card from your doctor
A note from your healthcare professional explaining your medical condition will help explain to TSA agents why you need pouches, skin barriers, and medications. In the U.S. a travel communications card from UOAA is available in a variety of languages, it is available at this link https://www.ostomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/travelcard_20200911.pdf
Even if you have these travel cards and notes however, you should be prepared to explain to the TSA why you’re carrying medical supplies. It’s best to have these conversations up-front, before you go through a body scanner or metal detector, or undergo a pat down.
To feel more prepared, people with medical conditions traveling by air can always contact TSA Cares 72 hours prior to departure to discuss concerns about screening at toll-free at (855) 787-2227 (Federal Relay 711) or email TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov. TSA agents can give you information about what to expect during the screening process.
4. Obtain or prepare a critical ostomy information list
Find out what language is spoken at your travel destination. It is highly advisable to have a document prepared with critical ostomy information translated into the language of the country you are visiting. The following ostomy dictionary can be a good start: https://ostomyeurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Stomawoerterbuch_08_2017.pdf
5. Double check with your travel health insurance
Before you travel, familiarize yourself with your health insurance policy. What supplies and services are covered domestically vs internationally? Will you be able to bear the cost of a hospital visit if need be?
While you should plan and hope for the best, sometimes emergencies happen. By knowing the facts ahead of time, you’ll be better equipped to handle them calmly and efficiently.
At the airport
1. Avoid eating too much
It can also be helpful to not eat large meals right before you get to the airport, so you can avoid a bag change until you get onto the plane.
Ideally, you should do your last change at home and then avoid eating too much while you’re on the go.
2. Do one last change
Avoiding a bag change while en-route isn’t always possible though, especially if your journey is a long one. Don’t worry though!
If you need to change or empty your bag, try to do it before you board your flight. Airport bathrooms aren’t always the best but they’re significantly bigger than the bathrooms on the plane, especially if you’re able to access the handicapped stall.
3. Choose your seat
If you haven’t already chosen a specific seat on the plane, now is the time to talk to someone from your airline and request an aisle seat that’s close to the restroom.
If you haven’t already, you might also want to request vegan meals or meals for special diets. However, if you know you need specific foods, or you know that your stoma might act up while en-route, it’s best to carry them with you.
While on the plane
1. Stay hydrated
While on the plane, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting enough fluids to keep hydrated (something ileostomates will need to pay extra attention to!)
2. Be prepared for tiny airplane bathrooms
Airplane bathrooms are notoriously small so be prepared with sanitary wipes and even a little cup of water so that you can easily clean your bag after you empty it out. You might also want to set an alarm on your phone that will remind you to visit the bathroom regularly so you can avoid any unexpected leakages.
Sometimes the slight change in air pressure may cause the bag to balloon, in that case, simply go to the bathroom to release the air from the pouch. There is no need to tell the flight attending crew about your ostomy, however, if it makes you feel more at ease than you may choose to do so or use the travel communication card.
3. Get some sleep
Insomnia can be a common issue for many travelers, but if you’re one of the lucky few who can get some good rest while flying, you absolutely should. This will ensure you arrive calm and well-rested. Just remember to empty your ostomy bag before you fall asleep.
If you’re on a longer journey, you might also want to set a series of regular alarms on your phone to remind you to visit the bathroom and check on your bag and stoma.
At your destination
1. Try to keep your diet consistent
Traveling can bring lots of changes to your regular routine — different schedules, environments, and diets. While trying new foods is an exciting part of travel, it could have negative consequences on your ostomy.
As far as possible, try to keep your diet consistent with what you eat at home. Here are some tips that will allow you to try new foods while avoiding any serious mishaps.
- If you have an intolerance or sensitivity to certain ingredients, you should ask your server or host to make sure you aren’t accidentally eating them
- One of the biggest risks to travelers is consuming contaminated water. The easiest thing you can do is to drink only bottled water only, or beverages that come in sealed bottles. Remember, this includes ice!
- Always keep your mini travel kit with you. This should include things like sanitary wipes, gelling agents, imodium, and some extra supplies
2. Always carry an emergency kit of supplies
A mini emergency travel kit is probably the single best thing you can have with you while you’re traveling.
A few tips for preparing your ostomy supply kit:
- Keep it small: your kit should be small enough to fit inside your purse or backpack so make sure it only contains what you need for a given day.
- Make sure it’s waterproof: the last thing you need is your emergency supplies getting wet or damaged. Keep your supplies in a clean, sealed bag (even a hefty Ziploc gallon bag will do!)
- Be aware of your environment: if you’re traveling somewhere extremely hot or cold, take that into account when packing your supplies.
- Carry extra bags: extra Ziploc bags are always handy. Make sure your emergency kit has a couple of extras stashed away so you can use them to dispose of used supplies. Medical tape is another item that can be handy in emergency situations – you can use it to tape up any tears in your ostomy bag or wrap delicate products in it to keep them safe.
Traveling with an ostomy doesn’t have to be scary or difficult — with just a little knowledge and preparation, you can travel anywhere you please and have a great time. Better Health’s team of ostomy experts can help you prepare for a trip of any length and make personalized product recommendations that will keep you safe and worry-free. Call us at 415-475-8444 for a free consultation today!