Why you get constipated when you travel (and How to Unclog Yourself)
After more than a year of coronavirus quarantines and travel restrictions, you might be planning some trips to make up for lost time. But there’s a looming threat that can literally cramp your good vibes: travel constipation.
If you can’t go number two when you travel, you’re not alone. Up to 40% of people have trouble pooping when they’re away from home. Even if you don’t have the urge to poop, delaying defecation for too long isn’t optimal for your health.
So what’s a dude to do if he can’t “go” on-the-go? And what does science have to say about this bizarre phenomenon? We have those answers and more.
What Is Travel Constipation?
Travel constipation, or vacation constipation, is the inability to have a bowel movement when your daily routine is interrupted. It’s a common and relatively harmless issue that typically lasts a few days until you settle in (or go home). Some people on this reddit threat report going as long as an entire week without the slightest urge to take a dump.
But what exactly does traveling have to do with your digestive health?
What Causes Travel Constipation?
There are two main obstacles to pooping normally when you travel.
1. Changes to Your Regular Routine
Most people get into a habit of pooping at specific times throughout the day. But when you suddenly switch time zones, get jet lag, or change your sleep schedule, you disrupt your circadian rhythm along with your pooping patterns.
“Any time you leave your general habitat, it’s throwing your gut microflora off balance,” says Brooke Alpert, a New York dietician.
2. Stress from Traveling
Did you pack enough underwear? Is your flight on time? How will you handle the dry, scratchy toilet paper in that public restroom?
Travel anxiety is a real thing, and it can affect your butt as much as your brain. Your intestines are lined with millions of neurons, which is why researchers call the gut “the second brain.” You get traveler’s constipation for the same reason you get butterflies before a big event: your brain and your bowels are interconnected.
You might feel off your game if you can’t drop your morning deuce, so let’s explore some tips to conquer travel constipation.
How to Poop When You Travel
Firing blanks in the bathroom while you’re away from home? Try these six tips to restore your regular bowel movements.
1. Drink Coffee When You Wake Up
Coffee starts contractions in your intestinal tract and stimulates bile excretion, which is why a cup of joe sends so many people to the John every morning. One study in Gut, a gastroenterology journal, found 30% of participants had to poop after drinking coffee.
If you’re dealing with travel constipation, take advantage of this effect (ideally in the morning, since your colon is twice as active then compared to the rest of the day.)
2. Drink Plenty of Water
Hydration is key to preventing constipation. It’s easy to forget to sip water if you’re on a road trip, and you probably loathe spending $8 for a water bottle at an airport. But if you want your plumbing to run smoothly, you need enough fluids in your system. Try to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day.
3. Go for a Walk
Movement stimulates your digestive system, so it makes sense that sitting for long periods of time on a road trip or plane ride gums up your GI tract. You don’t need to run a marathon—an easy stroll through the airport or a walk around a rest stop will help loosen up your stool.
4. Eat High-Fiber Foods
Travel snacks like candy, fast food, and other junk can easily clog up your digestive system. Instead, pack snacks rich in fiber to keep yourself regular. That includes whole grains, popcorn, fruits (including fruit juice), nuts, and seeds. Aim for 25-30 grams of fiber each day.
You can also take a fiber supplement leading up to your vacation to make sure you meet your daily quota.
6. Pop a Probiotic
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that live naturally in your gut. But when you don’t have enough, it can cause digestive troubles. You can get probiotics naturally through certain foods like yogurt and cottage cheese. Or, you can take a probiotic supplement to help poop pass easier through your system.
6. If All Else Fails, Take a Laxative
Laxatives (also called stool softeners) are over-the-counter medications that treat temporary constipation. It increases the amount of water your poop absorbs in your gut, which makes it flow through your system faster and easier.
Laxatives such as Dulcolax and Miralax can make you poop within 6-12 hours, so make sure you’ll have access to a toilet when the floodgates finally open. Side effects of laxatives may include stomach aches, bloating, and diarrhea.
Give Your Gut the Relief It Deserves
The longer you go without pooping, the harder you’ll have to strain when your rectum eventually decides it’s okay to let loose. Don’t walk around with a log in your colon—stay hydrated, eat right, and move around so your dumps can be as satisfying as your vacation.
Oh, and don’t forget to pack travel wipes for the aftermath.