Vacation Constipation: The malady travelers don’t talk about

Published on: November 16, 2013 | Last Updated on July 16, 2018
Bristol Stool Chart

Travelers tell tales about the foods they’ve eaten and recount the places they’ve been. Understandably, vacation constipation is something seldom spoken about in public.

On the popular online magazine (BA50) few topics are off-limits, including this one. So I was delighted when BA50’s founder Felice Shapiro’s graciously agreed to share this post here.

Pre-vacation organizing makes my head spin and my belly ache (more on that later).  I am always overwhelmed by the packing and organizing piece of travel. The lists are long and challenging.

Trying to go “carry-on” for a 12-day trip is my latest challenge and I’m not sure I will be able to downsize my wardrobe into the overhead dimensions.  Never mind the clothes, I’ve got hair stuff, night cream, sunblock, and anticipatory prescriptions. My cosmetic/ER bag is full to the brim.

We are going to Israel with our good friends and we have put together our own day-by-day tour. Because there’s just the four of us we will be able to make our own decisions of how long to linger and when it’s time to “move along.” However, because we are energetic travelers and we are covering a lot of the country I am anticipating there will be little “down time.”  This leads me to a topic that comes up over and over again when I’m traveling and feeling rushed.

Eating and vacationing are indeed an activity, a sport and a cultural immersion. Whether it’s the spices of Thailand or the pastas of Italy, the sushi in Japan or the wines of France — there is no limit to what I can ingest in a day. The cuisines may vary but the results never do. I am stumped by how I can go days without the satisfaction of a good reason to flush. How can that be? Days into my travels I am inevitably in search of a pharmacy to solve my problem. I have learned how to say constipated in French, Italian, German and Japanese and frankly, I’m not interested in learning how to say it in Hebrew.

The topic seems to be gender specific (but there is no scientific research to substantiate this).  It turns out, that more women talk to doctors about this issue than men but that doesn’t mean men don’t suffer as well.  However, I never hear the men on our trips discussing this travel issue as much as my girlfriends do. Both extroverted and introverted women seem to engage in this topic–it is not really personality specific.  As a teen traveling abroad, a 20-something and beyond–the topic has not dissipated as time marches on.  So, before I take flight, I decided to do a bit of research to better understand this chronic issue and to see if there are ways to ward off the inevitable.

The Googlesphere turned up many sites but this one in particular may capture the attention of travelers:

It turns out vacation constipation is a common risk for travelers. This site’s language is a bit odd but it can be a first stop on getting the low-down on what’s happening inside your colon during travel.  The descriptions border on the elemental and are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a primer on the problem. This is the tone of the site: “What is your gut, what does it look like, and why oh why does it have poo stuck in there while you travel?”  Oh my!

So have I got your attention? Just in case you didn’t have a good visual of the organ at issue — this site has taken the skeleton out of the closet with their bit on “MEET THE COLON.”

After some more research, I discovered a lovely simplistic slide show that gave me specific guidelines combining science and a solid dose of common sense.  Here’s the summary:

1. Eat plenty of fiber (stay away from cheese and processed fast food – isn’t that redundant?)

2. Hydrate often – it will help keep your stools soft.

3. Get off your butt – get moving. Sitting for too long is bad news for the bowels. Get up and move, move, move.

4. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol when traveling – they will dehydrate you further.

5. Suppositories are available and good as a last resort but, if you’re traveling the deserts on jeeps and horseback, the first four are your best bet and will keep you in charge of your body. Once you turn over your “system” to “drugs” you may get results but not on a timetable that’s workable.

Felice Shapiro is the model of reinvention for 50-somethings both personally and professionally. She was the founder and publisher of the Family Publishing Group and Family Marketing Network, a national advertising firm, which she sold in 1998. As an expert in the start-up arena, Shapiro invested in and helped to build small businesses and community organizations, setting them on the path to success while working as an executive coach. Read more about Felice here.

  • Reply
    Neva Fels
    November 17, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    The rhyming title is a funny combination, but that’s where the fun ends. We’ve always worried about this malady and have been lucky so far. It’s also funny that there is a picture chart of all the types. So which types haven’t you experienced – or is that too personal.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      November 18, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      Suffice it to say, Neva, I try to drink as much water as possible when traveling:-)

  • Reply
    Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque)
    November 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Uh oh. This is bringing back some bad memories, but sharing them would really be TMI. Trust me on this.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Great tips, and things that we can easily overlook when we’re travelling. I loved the stool chart, and would have liked more explanation – what causes each type – but that’s a bit squirm making really isn’t it!!! I travelled through India and got constipated – who’d have thought!!

  • Reply
    November 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Hmm- never heard of this. Not a problem I’ve ever had and thankful for that.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    I know it’s not meant to be funny, but that Bristol stool chart just is (and I’m a nurse). My fun challenge is going to be going to Mexico next week with a recently discovered non-functioning gallbladder (no stones), so I’ve been on this strict no fat/grease diet that really works to avoid gallbladder problems, and I’ll have surgery when I come back in ten days. Avoiding the lethal foods in Mexico should be interesting, but I’m doing it now, and am determined to stick to it while there. Fiber is also my friend, lots of fruit, vegetables and grilled fish and constipation is not a problem.

  • Reply
    November 24, 2013 at 8:32 am

    I think my colon just closes down when it hears the words “pack,” “airport,” “vacation.” Maybe I need some colon-meditation?

  • Reply
    January 16, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    I have been traveling for the last 10 years and I never had any issue with my colon so far. Guess I am a lucky one and I really don’t pay attention to any of those. Of course I hydrate then drink alcohol and coffee and enjoy the entertainment systems. I once flew 22h flight to NZ and had a great time. When I read the comment it seems like an issue for a lot of people. ?

Leave a Reply