When you leave for a vacation, you're looking forward to a chance to unwind and relax. But if you have trouble pooping away from home, vacation can be a pretty stressful experience. If you're able to use the bathroom regardless of where you are, you're probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about, but vacation constipation is real, and those of us who deal with it often spend most of our time away from home feeling uncomfortable. If you've ever found yourself on vacation completely unable to poop, you're not alone. According to Reader's Digest, 40 percent of people have trouble pooping while they travel. Dr. Daniel Motola, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, says that humans are "creatures of routine," and when we change things up, our digestive systems are affected.
"Our bowel movements are controlled by a number of factors that are both internal and external," he tells Bustle. "Our daily routines set the pace for our motility and bowel habits."
Traveler's constipation can manifest in different ways. Maybe you find yourself unable to poop even though the urge is there, or maybe you don't feel the need to go to the bathroom at all. Regardless of your symptoms, the constipation struggle can be real. (You may also struggle with the opposite problem, traveler's diarrhea, which is just as unpleasant as it sounds.)
According to Motola, if you get freaked out about using unfamiliar bathrooms, you may also experience gut discomfort. When you're traveling and can't use the toilet at home, sometimes you just can't go.
"Going to the bathroom is a personal experience, and some people just don't like doing this in places they are not familiar with," he says. Intentionally holding in your poop is a bad idea, though. Motola says he once had a patient who had to undergo physical therapy because she had trained herself to ignore the urge to go.
Christy Moran MS, RD, says poop anxiety is normal, especially if you're forced to share a bathroom with other people as you travel. "Many people are concerned about making noises or producing foul smells while in a public bathroom, so instead they wait," she tells Bustle. Unfortunately, something pretty unpleasant happens as you hold your poop in on vacation.
"The feces sits in your rectum and dries out, which exacerbates the constipation," she says. "My number one tip: when you have to go, go. Everyone poops. It’s a normal human function."
So what's the best way to avoid traveler's constipation? Both experts say hydration is super important. "Flying can be very dehydrating, so we go into vacation dehydrated. Vacation often includes indulging in alcohol. The more alcohol we drink, the more fluid we lose through urination," Moran says. "If you’re flying, bring an empty water bottle to the airport and fill it up after you get through security."
Motola agrees that staying hydrated is one way to keep everything regular. Another solution: traveling with laxatives. This isn't the most glamorous solution, but if you want to make sure you don't spend your vacation dealing with pain and bloating, medication may bring relief. He recommends a "gentle laxative," like Miralax. Both Motola and Moran also recommend taking probiotics, which can help with constipation symptoms.
It's also a good idea to be mindful of diet changes. Eat what you want on vacation (and any other time), but if your fiber intake is lower than usual, you may have some trouble.
The good news is that you'll likely feel better once you're home, even if you spend your entire vacation unable to go. If you don't, it's best to talk to a doctor. If you're traveling for the holidays, just remember you don't have to spend the trip feeling miserable. If you prepare ahead of time, your poop routine may not change at all.