Beach day and blocked bowels are not a good combo.
By day three of your long-anticipated vacay, you’ve found yourself in a bit of a pickle. On a usual day, you hit the bathroom for your daily BM around 9 AM, just after your morning two cups of coffee; but you’ve been away for a few days now and haven’t pooped once since you left your house.
“People do complain about constipation on vacation or when they’re traveling,” says Anthony Starpoli, MD, gastroenterologist in New York City. “It’s often because they’re out of their element.”
Reasons You Get Constipated During Travel
The truth is, your digestive system is kind of a fussy thing. You might take it for granted that it’s always going to do its job, but little changes to your routine can lead to “slow transit” of food through your colon. When your stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract, too much water gets absorbed from the stool and it becomes hard, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.
Consider what you eat on vacation. Chances are, it’s not the fresh veggies and oatmeal you eat in your own kitchen. The following vacation habits may cause constipation.
You likely eat out more, resulting in a high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar diet (you know, all the foods that can make constipation worse). Excess fat in your meal can increase the transit time of your food through the digestive tract, according to Dr. Starpoli. (That means it takes longer for you to have a BM.)
You eat less fiber. Regional delicacies like Texas barbecue, NYC pizza, or Parisian crepes aren’t exactly known for their high amounts of fiber. With fewer veggies and whole grains on your plate, your digestion may take a hit, resulting in some uncomfortable constipation.
You skip meals. Breezing past breakfast and having a large lunch or dinner instead may wig out your colon; it prefers regular, consistent meal times. Plus, a larger meal can overwhelm your system and lead to constipation on its own.
You drink less water. You may be addicted to your stainless steel water bottle at work, but on vacation, it’s easy to forget about the whole “humans need water” thing. “If you’re prone to constipation, you’ve got to drink your water,” says Dr. Starpoli. It’s generally a good idea to aim for a minimum of six to eight glasses of water a day—whether you’re traveling or not. (Here are the signs of dehydration you should know about.)
You drink more alcohol. For many people, vacations are a time to indulge in a few more spirits than usual. (Did somebody say “mojitos”?) Alcoholic beverages are diuretics, which means they make you pee more often and put you into a “negative fluid balance,” that can contribute to constipation, says Dr. Starpoli. Learn more about the effects of excess drinking here.
Dining habits aside, the simple stress of traveling may also influence your bowel movements. You may experience “traveler’s constipation” as you deal with the frustration of long airport security lines, unnerving turbulence, navigating an unfamiliar city, or convincing your family to just “stop complaining and enjoy the view.” #RealLife
Need more tips on healthy travel?
Dr. Starpoli is a board-certified gastroenterologist who is affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital-Northwell Health, Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel Medical Center, and NYU Langone Medical Center.
Constipation. Washington, DC: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on March 12, 2022 at https://medlineplus.gov/constipation.html.)
Constipation and defecation problems. Bethesda, MD: American College of Gastroenterology. (Accessed on March 12, 2022 at http://patients.gi.org/topics/constipation-and-defection-problems/.)Definition & facts for constipation. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Accessed on March 12, 2022 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/definition-facts.)