I am very proud to introduce to you Laura from Stomalicious, I have been following her travels round the world with a stoma since just before I had mine formed in April of last year. She recently has moved from Australia to the UK and I got the chance to meet her in the flesh at Christmas. So if you are wanting to travel abroad with your stoma and are looking for some tips trust me Laura is the woman with all the answers, or near enough!!!
I’m a traveller. From a young age, I caught the “travel bug”. If I didn’t go overseas at least once a year, I would get itchy feet! Then I turned 30, and I got a different kind of bug. This one was called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and as many of you know, is far more serious than just a bug.
For 4 years I struggled with very active Crohn’s disease. Most of my travel involved visits to the doctor’s office or hospital. Outside of flares, I managed a few short trips away but always close to home. At times, I honestly wasn’t sure I would ever be well enough to travel overseas again. In 2013, I made the decision (guided by my doctor’s) to have permanent ileostomy surgery. Although I knew this was not a cure, I had failed all medication, and felt I had no other option. I wanted my life back!
Since my surgery, I’ve been blessed with good health, and have been making up for lost time and travelling the world!! Just 6 months after my surgery, I went on the trip of a life time – a 10-month holiday, travelling through 3 continents and 17 countries, with my ostomy in tow! I’ve now had my stoma for 3 ½ years, and have been on many overseas holidays and more recently, relocated from Sydney to live in London! I love getting my bag and my belly out for photos all over the world! The first time travelling with my stoma, I was nervous and apprehensive, but honestly, for me travelling with an ostomy turned out to be far simpler and less difficult than I expected. I’d love to share some of my travel experiences, stories and top tips with you that I hope you will find useful (and entertaining too)!
I like to call my stoma “my little guy”. I talk to him regularly, and the first time I change my bag in a new country, I always make sure I welcome him there too! I thank him for behaving himself (on most occasions), apologise to him if I overeat or eat something unusual that he struggles processing! I let him know we are almost there if he badly needs emptying and we’re on a mission to find a toilet, and often tell him he is doing an awesome job with a little pat of encouragement and gratitude. I know I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to travel and do what I am doing without him!
On my travels, I’ve emptied and changed my bag in all sorts of interesting places! I’ve emptied on planes, and on a train, I’ve emptied on a ferry in the Greek Islands, and a house boat on the Seine. I’ve emptied in portaloos in Poland, and squatties throughout Turkey and Asia, and in countless hotel, restaurant, pub, museum and public toilets all over the globe! Toilets and bathrooms around the world are almost as diverse as people and cultures, and come in all sorts of odd shapes, sizes and styles. Some more memorable ones are those with auto sensor lighting systems. Please tell me, who can do their business and clean themselves up in 60 seconds, even if you don’t have an ostomy?! You’ll be half way through emptying your bag and off go the lights! Then you wave your arms around with poo covered toilet paper in hand, or even stand up with your bag still hanging half open in order get the lights to turn back on! Once I had to do this 3 or 4 times in one sitting!
One of my favourite things about travelling the world is trying the local food (and beverages)! I’ve had several occasions post a fantastic meal when I’ve been caught a little unawares with a sudden very full bag, praying it wouldn’t explode or leak as we tried to find a toilet. I particularly recall the walk back after our Eiffel tower picnic. We’d shared a bottle of Rose as we watched the Eiffel tower sparkling, and for our romantic walk home along the Seine with the glittering lights of Paris and her beautiful monuments around us, instead of holding hands, I was cradling my very full bag of poo! The lentils in Umbria weren’t a smart option either – I’ve had numerous incidents of balloon bag thanks to poor food choices causing prolific gas, but that won’t stop me! I’ve burped my bag in all sorts of places!
Overall, what were in my mind as potential challenges before my first trip with an ostomy – arranging and carrying supplies, emptying and changing the bag in foreign places, eating different foods, even organising blood tests … have become a series of mostly trouble free observations. It’s been smooth sailing (or smooth pooping!) most of the way!
Here are a few of my top tips for travelling with an ostomy:
- Don’t over pack! Make sure you have enough to last, but don’t go overboard. I always take a few extra changes over what I’d normally need for the same period at home. Trust me, ostomy supplies can be heavy to lug around!!!
- Source local ostomy association contacts at your destination in case you need to obtain urgent supplies during your travels. Helpful link
- Pack majority of your ostomy supplies in a small carry-on bag (check airline luggage restrictions). Be careful not to pack scissors or liquids over 100ml (in some countries) in carry on or they will be confiscated. Split up supplies by packing some into your main checked in luggage as well (just in case!).
- Travel certificate / Doctor’s letters – Your doctor and/or stoma nurse can provide a letter explaining a stoma and your need to carry ostomy supplies and medications. Stomawise have created an app for your phone that has a certificate explaining ostomies in several different languages. The travel certificate can be found in this link.
- Changing your bag – You can change your bag anywhere – it might be smaller or less private than what you’re used to at home, but there are ways to improvise! I also learnt to stretch my bag changes out, and sometimes don’t change my bag for up to a week! It’s also good to think ahead a bit and look at your itinerary, early starts, activities etc to help time holiday bag changes.
- BOOMERANGS / Bananas / Secuplast strips can be a lifesaver, giving extra security and enhancing bag longevity by at least a few days!
- A travel HAIRDRYER is great for heating up the base plate for better adhesion and super handy for drying off after a swim/shower (especially if you’re not changing your bag right away).
- Empty your bag whenever you have the chance. Even if it doesn’t need emptying – just do it! You never know how far away the next toilet might be! Learn the local lingo for “toilet” but even in countries where English is scarce, you can always get across an understanding for needing the bathroom! Chains like McDonalds and Starbucks can be saviours! Be sure to carry plenty of tissues and wet wipes though!
- Travel insurance can be difficult to obtain with a pre-existing medical condition, however there are several companies who should cover you. You may need to pay a premium, but it’s worth having. It’s also worth checking any reciprocal healthcare agreements your home country may have with your destination country.
- Listen to your body. Rest when you need to. Eat whatever you feel like within reason. You know what your stoma can and can’t process. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. All common sense for anybody with or without a stoma!
Most of all, relax and ENJOY!!!
I’ve written several posts with more detail on my travel experiences with an ostomy around the world over on my blog here – please check them out if you’re interested. I still clearly remember 2 lovely ladies I met at a Crohn’s & Colitis support group meeting several years ago, long before surgery was even on the cards for me. I was in awe of their positive attitude. They weren’t about to let having a stoma get in the way of living their lives!! And rightly so! They coined the phrase “have bag, will travel” – and that is exactly what I did!
This is obviously only my experience, and I am very fortunate to have had no major issues and have adapted very well post surgery. Whilst there are a few things to keep in mind when travelling with an ostomy, and it can take a bit of extra planning, it certainly hasn’t stopped me from doing anything that I want to do! I have my bag(s)! and I will travel! Whatever your passion and dreams, you can have your bag and fulfil them too.
Happy travels, Laura xx