Vacation Constipation: The Malady Travelers Don’t Talk About

Vacation constipation Bristol Stool Chart

Vacation constipation is something seldom spoken about. Travelers tell tales about the foods they’ve eaten and recount the places they’ve been but tales of the gut remain under the radar.

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.

It’s been recently updated with an interesting study that hailed the benefits of Kiwis to relieve constipation.

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 “downtime.”  This leads me to a topic that comes up over and over again when I’m traveling and feeling rushed.

Vacation constipation can crop up anywhere

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.

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

It turns out that 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.

Kiwis: Another aid to avoid vacation constipation?

Not only an aide for vacation constipation, kiwis benefit digestive, immune and metabolic health
Kiwis benefit digestive, immune and metabolic health

Editor’s Note:

While I was updating this article, I came upon a new research study reported in Medscape that offers another tip to help avoid vacation constipation. 

In a multicenter, randomized controlled trial, researchers found that consumption of two kiwifruits per day (among healthy patients with functional constipation) was associated with:

  • increased bowel movement frequency,
  • improved GI comfort,
  • reduced straining (which can exacerbate hemorrhoids), and
  • softer stool consistency

The study compared kiwi consumption with the use of psyllium (a fiber supplement commonly used as a laxative) and concluded that the kiwis were more effective.

Functional constipation was defined as “intermittent or occasional symptomatic alterations in bowel habit, in the absence of warning signs for more serious conditions.

This study reminded me that many times, whether at hotels in Europe or on cruise ships, kiwis are often available on the breakfast buffet. In addition to their promise for the gut, kiwis are nutrient-rich and exceptionally high in Vitamin C.

I guess it can’t hurt to eat two of these delicious fruits each day.

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.

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Practical Tips to Avoid Vacation Constipation
Practical Tips to Avoid Vacation Constipation

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