Yes, There’s Actually a Reason You Can’t Poop on Vacation—Here’s Why

Traveler's constipation ruining your vacation? A gastroenterologist explains why it happens—and how to get things moving again.

Psst! Got traveler’s constipation? So why are you whispering? Research suggests that about 40 percent of people suffer from constipation when on vacation, and according to Edwin Levine, MD, a gastroenterologist based in Trumbull, CT, it’s “really a very, very common problem.” (Kids get constipated too.) Here’s why it happens:

We stray from our normal routine. “I think that the biggest issue is the change in schedule,” Dr. Levine says. “Time differences occur when you’re traveling, or you don’t have time to go to the bathroom for three or four days—when your schedule is irregular, your body can become irregular.”

We stop listening to our bodies. In our day-to-day routine we’re more likely to pay attention to our body’s signals that it’s time to go. But when we’re on vacation—on the beach, on a boat, in the forest—it’s easy to miss the bloating, cramps or gurgling. As Dr. Levine puts it: “I think a lot of people don’t even realize that they constipated on vacation.”

We can’t relax in a strange bathroom. Feeling relaxed is often key to moving the bowels, so using a strange restroom or having difficulty finding a clean one (or any sort of privacy) can cause us to clam up and hold things in.

We change our eating and drinking habits. Swapping our high-bran cereal for a tasty but low-fiber continental breakfast each morning may taste great, but it can prevent the digestive system from doing its job efficiently. We may also drink less (especially during our journey), which causes dehydration and constipation. (These are the signs of dehydration to pay attention to.) “Any time you start changing your diet around, you start disrupting the usual cycles of bowel movements, Dr. Levine says.

We get stressed and anxious. Fear of flying or just the general hassle of traveling can create tremendous stress—and stress and anxiety are also leading causes of constipation. Here’s how to fly stress-free.

How to prevent travelers constipation. It’s easier to prevent constipation than to cure it, and most constipation occurs during the first few days of a vacation, so Dr. Levine has some helpful advice to follow before leaving home and on arrival. “Try to increase the fruits, salads, and vegetables that are critical to helping us move our bowels,” he says. He also advocates eating more bran cereals and brown breads to help bulk up your stools and “keep things moving.” Staying well hydrated and relaxed will also help. So will packing a fiber supplement like Metamucil

Simple home remedies may offer some relief as well, but don’t be tempted to reach for laxatives. “You’re ready to go out on your day sightseeing, when all of a sudden your laxative kicks in and you need to go find a bathroom,” Dr. Levine says. (Try these home remedies for constipation relief.)

By tweaking your food and drink before traveling and by paying attention to your body when you arrive, you can avoid the discomfort of traveler’s constipation.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD, on August 14, 2019

Elizabeth Manneh is a freelance writer focusing mainly on healthcare, digital health & technology, and health & wellness. Her work has been featured on Readers Digest, MSN, AOL, The Family Handyman, and Paysa. A retired primary school principal and education consultant, Manneh has a continuing passion for education and learning. Visit her website: Elizabeth Manneh.