How to Travel on the Low FODMAP Diet
Does the thought of going on holiday invoke more feelings of stress than of relaxation? Would you love to go away but feel like the effects on your gut just aren’t worth it? Do you get into a panic any time you have to travel for work or even a hen do? It shouldn't be scary to travel on the Low FODMAP Diet.
Aside from eating out in general (click here for tips on that minefield), travelling is always something that causes panic among IBS sufferers. I’m constantly hearing from people that the thought of it makes them so nervous, that they don’t want to do it. Either that or they do it, and their gut plays up because they’ve made themselves so nervous. Believe me, I’ve had my moments of feeling like this. The thing is, I then realised that I didn’t want my IBS to get in the way of me living my life. I’ve travelled to Myanmar, Thailand, Taiwan and Sri Lanka (and I live in Malaysia!) since starting on this journey. I’ve had some bad times, sure, but I’ve also learnt how to travel on the Low FODMAP Diet.
So, I’m sharing what I’ve learnt with you. I hope that you too can be armed with the strategies to go out and travel the world. Even if you only want to travel an hour away, these will help! Don't let the Low FODMAP Diet get in the way of you living your life.
10 PRACTICAL TIPS TO HELP YOU TRAVEL ON THE LOW FODMAP DIET
As you know, the low FODMAP Diet consists of 3 phases (click here to find out more about the diet). The first 2-6 weeks is the elimination phase, followed by the reintroduction phase, where you’ll test your tolerance to different food groups. Finally then, you have the adapted low FODMAP Diet phase, which is the personal diet you’ll be on for a more long term basis. The first 2 phases are quite difficult and you do need to be as strict as possible with what you’re eating. This ensures that you don’t have to spend extra time repeating ‘tests’ and you can get these parts over as fast as possible. Therefore, where possible, I’d recommend getting these phases out the way before planning any major holidays.
Of course, you don’t have to and it is perfectly doable to travel during these phases of the low FODMAP Diet (I did it). However, if you can avoid it, it will make your life a lot easier.
2. STOCK UP ON SNACKS
I’ve learnt to pack my suitcase with low FODMAP snacks before travelling. The first few times I travelled on the low FODMAP Diet, I didn’t do this. I then spent too much time searching local convenience stores for FODMAP friendly products. So, I learnt to bring my own. I’ll buy easily transportable things such as low FODMAP cereal bars, packs of nuts, rice cakes and peanut butter. I’ll normally bring more than I need, just in case I can’t find a low FODMAP meal at any point and need something to fill me up (not ideal, but sometimes necessary). If I ever got my suitcase searched, I’m sure airport security would think I’m insane, but it’s worth it!
3. PLAN YOUR MEAL ON THE FLIGHT
Even just the thought of the flight can make travel on the Low FODMAP Diet sound unappealing. Aeroplane food isn’t that appealing at the best of times, never mind when you’re not sure what’s in it and what symptoms it'll cause. I’d recommend choosing the gluten free meal option when you book your flight, but then calling the airline and explaining your intolerances. I’ve done this a few times and they have been very accommodating and made me up a low FODMAP meal. If you’re still nervous, or to be safe in case you don’t have a very understanding airline, I’d stock up on low FODMAP snacks and potentially even bring your own meal. At least that way you know that you won’t risk eating something that will upset your stomach.
4. USE GOOGLE TRANSLATE
I’ve had several issues where I’ve asked for a meal to be made with no onion or garlic (my worst triggers) and the waiter has smiled and nodded. I have them been brought a dish FULL of the stuff. My favourite was in Sri Lanka, where I was brought a piece of toast smothered in garlic, covered with raw red onion for breakfast. The night before, I’d asked for no onion or garlic in my breakfast and the hotel staff had seemed clear on my request. Clearly, my message was lost in translation. Something that has massively helped me is translating ‘I’m allergic to (insert your worst triggers)’ into the local language. You can do this really quickly on Google translate and then just screenshot it and save it on your phone. This will save you from incidents like the garlic and onion on toast scenario.
5. DO SOME RESEARCH ON THE LOCAL CUISINE
If you’re travelling somewhere exotic, it’ll pay to do a bit of research on the local cuisine. There are hundreds of food and travel blogs out there that will give you an overview of the key local dishes. You can do a bit of research into ingredients and then pull together a list of local dishes to look out for that you know are safe. You’ll then know, if you spot them on a menu, that they’re safe to eat. If you’re going to Sri Lanka, you’re in luck, as I’ve done this work for you…
6. WARN THE HOTEL
If you’re staying at a hotel that includes breakfast, or is all inclusive, then warn them before you go. Just drop them an email or give them a call to explain the things you’re avoiding. If they’ve got lots of advance warning, there’s no reason that they won’t be able to cater for you. On the other hand, if you wait until you arrive, then they may not have time to buy different ingredients for you. I’ve done this several times and have always been accommodated. Even if you’ve only got a bed & breakfast, at least if you can be confident of a hearty low FODMAP breakfast, you’re off to a good start!
7. BOOK SELF CATERING
If you’ve got the choice, and you like to cook, book a self catering apartment or an AirBnB. This gives you complete freedom to cook whatever you want, without relying on the hotel or eating out.
Movement stimulates the digestive system and helps it to function properly. Holidays typically involve a lot of inaction - sitting on a plane for a long time or synbathing all day. Hell, you’re on holiday, and that should mean you get to relax, right?! Well, this doesn’t do your gut any favours, and can cause all sorts of symptoms, especially if you suffer from constipation. Now, I’m not suggesting you do a run every morning of your holiday ( you do need to relax, after all), but try to incorporate some sort of movement. If you’ve just got off a long flight, go for a walk around the town or the hotel. If you’re sunbathing by the pool, go for a swim every now and then. This movement will make sure that your gut is also moving properly and not causing any extra problems.
9. STICK TO YOUR ROUTINE
Your body LOVES a routine! It basically gets used to sleeping and eating at certain times and your digestive system functions around that. Travelling completely messes up this routine! With the different time zones and the irregular eating times, it throws your digestive system out of whack. It may sound boring, but trying to keep to the same sleeping and eating patterns as normal whilst you’re away will really help to make it easier to travel on the Low FODMAP Diet. Your digestive system will have enough ‘new’ things to get used to, with you eating a variety of different foods. If you can at least try to eat meals at roughly the same times you do at home and wake up and go to sleep at roughly the same times, then at least that’s not another new thing for it to get used to.
I tried this on a recent flight back to the UK from Malaysia. I get an overnight flight, so normally arrive at Heathrow at 6am not only feeling completely jet lagged, but have a severely bloated stomach. The flight leaves KL at 11pm, so they normally serve ‘dinner’ at about 1am, which I happily eat because there’s nothing else to do. This time, I chose to eat dinner at the airport before I took off, at about 8pm. I then put my eye mask on as soon as the flight had taken off and tried to sleep from about 11.30pm, rather than staying up to have dinner. I then waited until after I landed in Heathrow, to have breakfast at about 8am. These small efforts to keep to my normal routine really paid off and I actually had a good tummy day after I landed. Massive win!
10. BRING BACKUP
Even if you follow all of this advice, travelling involves a lot of changes for your gut. It's definitely easier than you think to travel on the Low FODMAP Diet. However, there are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong and for gut symptoms to occur! With this in mind, I’d always make sure you travel with any medications you normally use to relieve symptoms. Whether that’s a fibre supplement for constipation, Imodium for diarrhoea or peppermint capsules to ease the bloat, it’s always good to have it with you. Even if you don’t have to use it (yay!), it’ll put your mind at rest having it with you. Anyway, less stress always leads to a happier tummy.
YOUR 10 TIPS TO TRAVEL ON THE LOW FODMAP DIET - SUMMARY
Think about Timing
Stock up on Snacks
Plan your Meal on the Flight
Use Google Translate
Do some research on the local cuisine
Warn the hotel
Book self catering
Stick to your routine
So, there’s nothing left for me to day but ‘happy travels!’ I hope these tips have given you the confidence to travel wherever you need or want to go. It is definitely possible to travel on the Low FODMAP Diet and a fear of it shouldn’t get in your way.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. If you found any of these tips useful, please let me know in the comments below.