5 Reasons Why You Can't Poop When Traveling, According to a Gut Doctor
Every year around the holidays, my immediate family travels to the home of my oldest sister (since she's a mom of two and an ER doctor, she often works on or close to Thanksgiving and Christmas) to break bread, count our blessings and celebrate the season. For the past three years and counting, every time this happens, my stomach gets out of sorts. After 12 hours or so, I begin to feel a bit queasy. And within 24 hours, I can tell that something's off.
I always thought it was just me, until I mentioned it to my mom and she admitted similar symptoms. This is far from rare, confirms Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., a Charleston, South Carolina-based gastroenterologist and the New York Times bestselling author of Fiber Fueled. Whether we're staying a few hours away with family or are across the globe on vacation, our gut doesn't always have as good of a time away from home as the rest of us does.
"We're entering into the holiday season here. Chances are you'll be traveling at some point," Bulsiewicz wrote this week on his Instagram account @theguthealthmd. "Is it just me, or do your bowels get messed up and you can't take a healthy dump while on vacation? Never fear, your friendly neighborhood poop doctor is here to break it down."
Fans chimed in via the comments to validate Bulsiewicz's premise: "This will happen to me just for a day or overnight trip lol! 💀 I call it poop anxiety. 😅 My body prefers going at home—it can be very annoying," one says. "Yeah, good luck pooping when you fly 18 to 20 hrs," another adds. "Once [I'm] at [the] destination, all good. 😌"
So why might our digestion feel "off" when we're away from home? Bulsiewicz dishes in his timely and tip-filled reel.
5 Reasons Why You Can't Poop When Traveling, According to a Gastroenterologist
Once you know why you're feeling stopped up or out of sorts, you can start adjusting your lifestyle to reduce the risk of any gastrointestinal discomfort or constipation—and actually enjoy your time away.
1. You're out of rhythm.
Research suggest that most humans poop fairly regularly in the morning, and rarely do so at night. Traveling to a different time zone and/or experiencing jet lag can shift your usual schedule forward or back by several hours, which may mess with the usual restroom routine. Once you reset to your new time zone, it's often easier to get back on track. (Psst … here's the fastest way to relieve constipation, according to a dietitian.)
2. Your diet has changed.
Be it a holiday spread, airplane food or a multicourse tasting menu, you're likely not consuming a meal plan that looks similar to what your digestive tract is used to back home. We're not suggesting that you pack your meals or skip any special dishes, but take a cue from what Bulsiewicz tells us he eats in a gut-friendly day and try to include more fiber, a wide variety of plants and a probiotic food or two per day, if possible.
3. You're drinking more alcohol (and not enough water).
Bulsiewicz told us that H2O is a huge priority in his day, to aid in digestion and to help him ward off constipation. Feel free to enjoy a glass of Thanksgiving wine or a tropical cocktail on your beach vacation, if you like. Just be sure to drink alcohol in moderation and try to carry around a reusable water bottle that you can refill throughout the day to help meet your daily hydration goals.
4. You're not moving as much.
Travel often involves a lot of time sitting in planes, trains and automobiles. Once you arrive at the destination, you may be lounging more as well (say, around a table, on the couch watching football, in a lounge chair on the beach …). Physical inactivity has been scientifically proven to increase risk for constipation, so if you can add in some steps, your system will thank you. Lace up your sneakers and explore your home away from home by foot, if possible. Half an hour per day is ideal, although any exercise is better than none.
5. You're experiencing more stress.
Family dynamics, potential travel delays, getting familiar with new territory—a lot of aspects of even the most "fun" travel can present higher levels of stress. We know that there are several science-backed ways stress can mess with your digestion, so before you depart, study up on three cheap and easy ways to reduce stress—all of them work wherever your pin is on the map.