How To Keep Your Body Feeling Regular During And After A Vacation

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Everyone loves a summer vacation. There’s nothing better than traveling to new places, having fun adventures, trying new foods. The only one who doesn’t love a break from the everyday routine? Your digestive system. And it lets you know by leaving you constipated and unable to go — or worse yet, wrecking your vacation by having to go all the time.

“Your gastrointestinal (GI) system gets confused when your routine is off,” says Ashish Zalawadia, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Henry Ford Health. “So even when you’re traveling or on vacation, you should avoid as many changes to your normal routine as possible.”

Why Travel Throws Us Off

All of the things that make traveling fun and exciting can also upset your digestive system. “Constipation is a very common problem people have when they’re traveling,” says Dr. Zalawadia. “Changes in your diet are the main culprit, but being less active, not getting enough sleep and not having access to a bathroom when you want one all contribute to the problem.”

The opposite problem — traveler’s diarrhea — can affect people who travel to places where they might encounter bacteria or parasites in the water. Drinking tap water, swimming in affected waters and eating any food that might be contaminated can all lead to a case of traveler’s diarrhea.

How To Keep Your Digestive System Happy Away From Home

Luckily, there are steps you can take to help keep constipation (or diarrhea) from wrecking your vacation.

  1. Maintain a healthy diet: “Eating too much junk food and not enough fruits and vegetables can leave you short on fiber,” says Dr. Zalawadia. Without adequate fiber, stools become harder and more difficult to pass. Do that for too many days and you’ll end up constipated.
  2. Drink plenty of water: Your digestive system needs to be well hydrated in order to function properly. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water every day.
  3. Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol: Not to take all the fun out of vacation, but too much coffee (or other caffeinated drinks) and alcohol can leave you dehydrated.
  4. Stay active: Too much sitting (in the car, on the plane, lounging by the pool) isn’t good for your overall health. And it’s also not good for your digestive system. In order to keep your GI tract moving, you have to move your body too.
  5. Don’t try to hold it: While you can’t always find a bathroom as soon as you need one when traveling, whenever possible, try not to hold it. “Listen to your body and go when you need to,” advises Dr. Zalawadia.
  6. Avoid tap water where necessary: In some more remote or rural international locations, it might not be a good idea to drink the water. “It can harbor bacteria or parasites that infect the GI tract and cause diarrhea,” says Dr. Zalawadia. When in doubt, drink bottled water or boil the tap water before drinking.

Tricks To Getting Back On Track

If your system was off during your trip, it might not immediately snap back as soon as you return home. “It can take a few days of being back to your normal routine before your GI system recognizes that and becomes regular again,” says Dr. Zalawadia. Return to your pre-vacation healthy habits, and soon your bowel movements should get back on track too.

If constipation remains an issue, Dr. Zalawadia recommends taking a mild laxative (such as Miralax) for a few days until you feel regular again.

For traveler’s diarrhea that lasts for a week or more, he suggests talking to your doctor. You may need medication to help kill off bacteria in your GI system and cure the infection. If your diarrhea is severe enough to make you dehydrated or weak, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.


To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Ashish Zalawadia is a gastroenterologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus.

Categories: FeelWell