Constipation is one of the most common digestive problems Americans face, with around 2.5 million people affected 1. Nearly 40% of people experience constipation while on vacation. With changes to your body's schedule, lack of enough water, and poor food choices, it may seem like travel constipation is inevitable. With only small changes to your behavior, you can keep constipation at bay. This article will share a few ways to prevent travel constipation, such as probiotic capsules or a probiotic drinkable to keep your digestive system moving and healthy.
What causes constipation, and how long can it last?
Your colon’s job is to absorb water and create stool. That stool is pushed out of your colon and moves through your digestive system to your rectum3. Waste that spends too much time in your colon can become hard and cause constipation. Poor diet and lack of enough water are the main culprits of constipation in healthy individuals.
Pooping regularly is important and indicates a healthy digestive system. Everyone’s system is different, but if your body has gone longer than three days without a bowel movement, that means your stool will become harder and difficult to pass. Most cases of constipation will clear up on their own, but intense abdominal pain or vomiting could signal a more severe condition. If you have been suffering from constipation for over two to three weeks, call your doctor to rule out these conditions.
Occasional constipation is very common, but some suffer from chronic constipation that can impact their daily lives. 16% of the adult population in the United States has chronic constipation3. Signs of chronic constipation include:
- Passing fewer than three stools a week
- Straining to have bowel movements
- Feeling like you cannot completely empty your rectum
- Feeling like there is a blockage that prevents bowel movements4
The causes of both occasional and chronic constipation are the same in most cases. Older individuals and those taking certain medications or have conditions like Parkinson’s disease or diabetes are more likely to suffer from chronic constipation3.
Can traveling make you constipated?
Traveling throws off your routine, and whether you are healthy or not, that may cause some unpleasant effects on your digestive system. Several factors cause constipation for travelers, some more obvious than others. Dehydration from air travel, too much alcohol, or not drinking enough water is one of the biggest culprits of traveler’s constipation.
Another reason includes traveling across time zones and other changes to your circadian rhythms and “bathroom anxiety.” Your body has its own sense of timing, and travel that takes you out of that circadian rhythm is bound to affect it. The changes in time zones and bathroom schedules can cause stool to stay in your digestive system too long and harden in your rectum. Those with “bathroom anxiety” have a fear of using public restrooms, and while on vacation, their desire to wait to use a private bathroom can add to the length of time stool stays in your system.
Keeping your digestive system balanced and healthy while traveling is not impossible. To stay healthy while traveling, you just need to stay aware of what can cause travel constipation and how to prevent it.
How do you prevent travel constipation?
Several factors contribute to travel constipation, but regardless of the reasons, you are more interested in constipation relief. Here are a few steps to prevent and relieve constipation while traveling.
Avoid jet lag
Traveling across time zones can mess with your body’s circadian rhythm. Avoiding jet lag may seem easier said than done, but since your system reacts to any changes in its circadian rhythm, it is worth a try. When planning an international flight, select a flight that arrives early in the evening, and once you land, try to stay awake until 10 pm local time5. Try to get as much natural light as possible when you reach your destination. When finally laying down to rest, use earplugs and a blindfold to remove excess noise and light.
Drink plenty of water
Fluids are necessary to keep your digestive system moving. When we travel, it gets easy to forget to drink enough water and drink too many alcoholic beverages. Dehydration, in extreme cases, can send you to the hospital, but even in less severe cases, lack of enough fluids can cause problems with your digestive system, including constipation. Do your best to hydrate whenever possible. Improving your fluid intake can soften stools and make them easier to pass.
Be mindful of what you’re eating
Half the fun of travel is trying delicious foods that you have never tried before. Keeping to your regular diet while on vacation can be downright impossible! It’s best to be aware of how your body reacts to certain foods and what foods are included in your regular diet.
Types of foods to be mindful of:
High-fiber foods can cause an increase in abdominal bloating and constipation
if your body is not used to certain high-fiber foods or if you don’t drink enough water, especially while traveling. Some common high-fiber foods that can cause an increase in bloating or constipation if your body isn’t used to them are:
- Vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage
- fruits such as pears, peaches, prunes and apples9
High-fat foods like desserts, processed food, chips, pizza, cheese, and ice cream can also cause constipation if eaten in excess and if your body has sensitivities to certain ingredients, you may notice that all of the foods listed contain little or no dietary finger. This can also explain the link between this type of diet and constipation. Do your best to plan ahead when you can, and try to always practice mindful eating to know what your body negatively reacts to!
Exercise and stay physically active
For your digestive system to keep moving, the rest of your body needs to keep moving as well. Simply living a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to travelers’ constipation. This does not necessarily mean hitting the gym, although many hotels offer that amenity. Get some exercise while traveling by walking around and exploring a new city, or take an off-road adventure and climb a steep hill while you are on vacation. Another way to add exercise to your travels is to include stretch breaks on your flight, car, bus, or motorcycle trip whenever possible. This movement will help keep your digestive system on track.
Get plenty of rest
No, we are not kidding with this one. Sleeping is not exactly a priority when traveling, but getting as much rest as possible will not only help your digestive system10, but the rest of your body will stay healthy.
Do not ignore body signals
Your digestive system has its own rhythm and muscle contractions. Whether you realize it or not, at home, you have a regular bath time schedule. While on vacation, plan for bathroom breaks that match that routine. If you cannot keep to a schedule, make sure to use the bathroom whenever your body tells you to go. If you ignore the urge to go, your body will store and create hard stool, adding to your constipation.11
Use laxatives wisely
If home treatment is unsuccessful, laxative and stool softener options can offer welcome relief for travel constipation. Doctors agree taking laxatives is safe when they are taken occasionally, but consult with your doctor to ensure laxatives are safe for you.
How do probiotics help with constipation?
Adding a probiotic to your travel plans can also help you avoid constipation on your trip. Probiotics are live microorganisms found in your digestive system. Some probiotics may help restore gut health by building up healthy bacteria and limiting the growth of harmful gut bacteria. Probiotics may support your immune system and keep you healthy, helping your body digest food, synthesize certain vitamins, and could reduce inflammation7.
For the best results against vacation constipation, consume probiotics daily for a few days before leaving for vacation, during vacation, and after. This gives you time to choose the right probiotic for you and the best concentration for your digestive system.
There is limited probiotic research on travel constipation, but several studies have shown the success of probiotics in ending constipation, leading to a regular bowel movement, in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In a review of 24 studies, probiotics reduced the severity of constipation symptoms and improved the bowel habits of people living with IBS12. Another study, of 150 people, revealed that supplementing probiotics for 60 days helped improve bowel function and stool consistency13.
Bio-K+® DailyCARE is one of the best probiotics for travel. With 30 billion colony forming units (CFU) and active cultures of Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus acidophilus, this probiotic supplement promotes digestive and immune health. Bio-K+® capsules also have delayed release technology (DR-caps) to protect the healthy bacteria on its way through the digestive system.
Travel constipation is common for many and can cause extra stress to your vacation. Changes to your schedule and eating habits, along with lack of enough water, your digestive system may cause your digestive system to lose its balance. While not dangerous for many healthy individuals, travel constipation can make your trip miserable.
Making a few changes to your behavior and adding a probiotic supplement to your daily schedule can prevent and even get rid of travel constipation. Take the time to speak with your healthcare provider and find a probiotic that works best for your system before your next trip and enjoy your vacation without constipation.
- "What You Should Know About Constipation" Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/constipation.
- "Why the holidays are a prime time for traveler's constipation" The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/12/all-i-got-for-christmas-was-constipation/422046/.
- "10 Causes of Chronic Constipation" U.S. News & World Report, https://health.usnews.com/conditions/digestive-disease/constipation/articles/causes-of-chronic-constipation.
- "Constipation" Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/symptoms-causes/syc-20354253.
- Traveler's Constipation: Why Can't I Poop when I Travel?" Squatty Potty, https://www.squattypotty.com/blogs/blog/traveler-s-constipation-why-can-t-i-poop-when-i-travel.
- El Kaoutari et al. 2014. Gut microbiota and digestion of polysaccharides. Médecine/sciences. 30 : 259-65, https://www.medecinesciences.org/en/articles/medsci/pdf/2014/03/medsci20143003p259.pdf
- Shi et al. 2017. Interaction between the gut microbiome and mucosal immune system. Military Medical research. 4:14, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5408367/pdf/40779_2017_Article_122.pdf
- "Should You Use Probiotics for Constipation?" Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-for-constipation.
- “List of foods that can cause constipation” Medical news Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/list-of-foods-that-cause-constipation
- “Decreased sleep associated with constipation among U.S adults” Healio. https://www.healio.com/news/gastroenterology/20200502/decreased-sleep-associated-with-constipation-among-us-adults
- “How Bad Is It to Hold Your Poop?” Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-bad-is-it-to-hold-your-poop-4156577
- Didari and al. 2015. Effectiveness of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome: Updated systematic review with meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Mar 14; 21(10): 3072–3084
- Mezzasalma and al. 2016. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial: The Efficacy of Multispecies Probiotic Supplementation in Alleviating Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Associated with Constipation. Biomed Res Int. 2016; 2016: 4740907.