21 Top Tips On How to fly internationally with SIBO
Does the thought of travelling with SIBO terrify you? Are you worried you will never be able to leave home again?
The good news is that having SIBO does not mean you need to be a hermit. I am an avid traveller, having visited many countries since my SIBO diagnosis. And I am here to tell you that it IS possible to travel with SIBO.
In the past month, I have travelled to and from the US twice. That's 4 long-haul flights plus shorter domestic flights. I have collated mine and The Healthy Gut community's top tips on how to fly internationally with SIBO for you.
Before You Fly
1. Select A Reputable Airline
If you're going to invest in an international trip, don't skimp on the flight. The experience you have with an airline can make the start and end of your trip fantastic or horrible. You want to enjoy your flight, and the airline you choose can play a big part in making that possible.
Consider what is important to you:
The speed which you can reach your destination
The number of connections you will need to make or a direct non-stop flight
Seat pitch and width
When I am travelling for longer than a few hours, I always put my comfort as a top priority. I choose airlines that allow upgrades to a more premium cabin and offer a good in-flight service. I fly Virgin Australia to and from the US because you can submit a bid for the Premium Economy and Business cabins. I buy an Economy seat and then bid the lowest amount possible for an upgrade. If I don't get it, I haven't paid anything, so it's a great option. I have only missed out on an upgrade once, and have been lucky enough to be upgraded to Business on several trips.
I have also flown Air New Zealand to the US on several trips, and their Premium Economy and Business cabins are fantastic, plus their service is outstanding, although they don't offer the bid option like Virgin Australia do, but often have great sales so you can pick up a fare for a good price.
Of course, if you can afford to buy a premium seat, do it! It makes flying so much more enjoyable.
I have flown cheaper airlines internationally in the past, but have arrived exhausted after being crammed like a sardine for hours, and was even sexually assaulted on one flight with Royal Brunei Airlines (London to Melbourne), where the staff and airline did nothing about it. I had purchased that flight because it was so cheap; it seemed too good to be true. It was and I will never go for the cheapest airline again.
"Travel is a wonderful experience. Don't let SIBO stop you from doing the things you love."
2. Select Your Seats
I always fly with airlines on long-haul flights that allow me to select my seat in advance. When you have SIBO, you have enough anxiety about getting to the toilet. You do not need added anxiety about not having a comfortable seat.
On long-haul flights, I always choose an aisle seat, so that I can get up to the toilet easily and don't have to climb over strangers or bother anyone by my constant toilet visits.
If you are taking a nighttime flight, you may like a window seat so that you can rest against the plane while you sleep. Personally, I get too anxious at the thought of not being able to go to the toilet, so I will always prefer an aisle seat to a window seat.
Want to see what the best seats are on your flight? Check out Seat Guru where you can enter your airline and flight number, and they will show you what the best and worst seats are on the plane.
3. Select Your Meal
Just as your seat selection is important for reducing your toilet anxiety on the flight, choosing to fly with an airline who offers a wide range of in-flight meals is also important.
Scroll down to see my thoughts on eating on a plane, but I do think it's important to have a meal available to you, even if you don't end up eating it.
When flying Economy, you will receive a standard meal (no flashy menus here) and will generally be given 2-3 options. However, you can submit a special meal request ahead of time. Most airlines require 48 hours' notice but check with your airline so you don't miss out on getting a suitable meal.
Pick the type of food that's most bothersome for you. For me it's gluten. While there's not currently a Low FODMAP meal option available on airlines, you can choose from a range of meals, including:
Bland meal (no onion, garlic, spices, strong seasonings)
Vegetarian and vegan
Sadly, you can't combine 2 or 3 meal types. For instance, you can't request a meal that's gluten and lactose-free and bland, which is what most SIBOers will need.
When flying in Premium Economy, Business or First, you will be presented with a lot more meal options. I have found that I can pick regular meals off the menu, rather than having to pre-order a special meal, because there's always a gluten free option.
4. Prep food for the flight
There are fluid restrictions on long-haul flights (maximum of 100ml per container) but there aren't currently food restrictions. However, it's always advisable to contact your airline to double check if you have any doubts.
If you want to eat on your flight, you might prefer to bring your own food and snacks for the flight. You can purchase an insulated bag with ice pack inserts (like this one). Some great meal and snack options include:
Grilled chicken pieces
Slices of cooked beef or lamb
Tins of tuna or sardines (your neighbours might not love you for this though)
Salad or cooked vegetables
100ml container of salad dressing
Pieces of fruit
Nuts and seeds
Nut butters in individual portions
Individual portions of cheese (if tolerated)
SIBO friendly crackers
Potato or vegetable chips cooked in suitable oil and seasoned with salt
You won't be able to take your food into your arrival destination so don't go crazy - just bring as much as you think you can eat so you don't have to throw a lot of food out at the end of the flight.
In case the security screening confiscates your ice packs, always pack a leak-proof zip lock bag says Monica Hardy from our SIBO Bi Phasic Diet Facebook Group. She asks the flight attendants to fill it with ice once she gets on the plane so she can still keep her food cool.
5. Decide If You Will Eat or Fast
You don't have to eat on a long-haul flight. Instead, you may choose to use the time to fast and just sip water or herbal teas.
Personally, I find having an empty stomach easier on my body than having it full of food. I always bloat on flights, no matter what I do, so the more I avoid food, the easier it is on my system.
I do find that I get very hungry on long-haul flights, so even if you decide to fast, I would recommend you have a back up in case you change your mind. When everyone else is brought their food and the cabin is full of food smells, it can be very difficult to maintain your resolve to keep fasting.
6. Organise comfortable clothes
Because I always bloat on long-haul flights, I always wear loose fitting clothes with stretchy waistbands that will allow my belly to grow over the course of the flight. There is nothing worse than being stuck in tight-fitting clothes, in pain from the bloating, and not able to do anything about it.
I also like to layer my clothes. This helps hide the bloating. I take a long scarf, a long cardigan and a jacket. That way I can layer up if I get cold or strip down to a lighter top if the plane is hot. Most of the trips I've done recently are freezing cold, so I'm always glad I've got multiple layers.
I also spray my scarf with perfume or essential oils so that if there are smells on the plane that I don't like, I can bury my nose in my scarf and avoid them.
Finally, pack a spare pair of underwear and clothes. I always plan for the unexpected. If you have an upset tummy and have an accident, you can feel better knowing you can change your clothes. Or, if your luggage goes missing, you at least have one outfit and new underwear to wear.
7. Organise your medication
Talk to your Practitioner about your forthcoming trip. They will review your medication and may even suggest some additional supplements to support you. Before I flew to Thailand, I saw my Naturopath and we added in some extra herbs to help prevent potential food poisoning.
Choose where you will carry your medication. I put it in my hand luggage. That way, if my main bag is delayed, I still have my medication with me. Get a small cooler bag for any medication that needs to be kept refrigerated.
Ensure you have enough for the duration of your trip. You don't want to run out in a foreign country, where you might find it hard to get replacements.
During the flight, you may want to take some supplements to help with any symptom you experience. Dr Allison Siebecker has a handout with a range of supplements for each type of symptom. Some common supplements to pack include:
Electrolyte replacement or oral rehydration
8. Get ready for your new time zone
Changing time zones? Get ready for your new time by getting to bed earlier or staying up later in the days leading up to the flight and before you head home. Timeshifter is a handy app that helps you prepare for your new timezone by giving you tips on when to avoid or get things like sunlight, caffeine, sleep and melatonin.
9. Organise your entertainment
Most international flights come with in-flight entertainment. However, I have been on a handful of flights where the entertainment system has broken. For this reason, I always have a backup plan. I download Netflix movies and tv shows onto my iPad, which I can watch when I'm offline. I have a couple of books available in my Kindle app on my iPhone and have enough podcasts and audiobooks downloaded that I can listen to them for the full duration of the flight if I need to.
If you're an anxious flyer, why not download a meditation app to your phone, so you can do some meditation while you're flying?
During The Flight
10. Sanitise Your Area
Aeroplanes are notoriously germ-ridden places. Everything from faecal matter to Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria has been found hiding in the passenger cabin of planes.
Pack anti-bacterial wipes in your carry-on bag and use them to clean your armrest, tray, seat belt clip, toilet door handle and flush.
I also use the Biocidin Throat Spray during the flight. It helps ward off any germs that are spread if people are coughing and spluttering on the plane.
My SIBO Coaching client, Sharon Treadgold packed these items for her recent trip to Australia from the US. The face masks gave her an added sense of security that she wasn't breathing in other peoples' germs.
11. Enjoy Home Comforts
Whether you plan to be awake or asleep on the flight, bringing a few home comforts with you can help you feel more relaxed. I travel with noise cancelling headphones, my own blanket, a revitalising moisturiser from Ecology Skincare, a neck pillow, eye mask and ear plugs. I also wear flight socks and have a pair of flip flops handy so I can walk into the toilet with shoes on.
Studies have shown that the blankets you receive on the plane are not overly hygienic, as they aren’t regularly cleaned, despite coming in new plastic wrapping. You can only imagine the things people use them for: wiping dirty hands, blowing noses, changing nappies on, or other equally unpleasant activities. It’s not something we want to snuggle up with.
12. Drink Plenty Of Water
Aeroplane travel is extremely dehydrating. The longer you spend on a plane, the more dehydrated you will become. It is important you are constantly sipping water to keep your body hydrated. Avoid alcohol as this increased the dehydration and can also cause digestive distress.
I take an empty water container through security and then fill it up before I board the flight. I then ask the staff to fill it up with water during the flight.
13. Get Up And Move
When you are sitting down for many hours at a time, your digestion can slow down and get sluggish. Whenever possible, get up and move your body on the flight. I like to walk up and down the aisles or I will go and stand down the back of the plane and do some simple stretches. If you have a layover, use it as an opportunity to stretch your legs. I walk up and down the terminal, moving constantly until I need to get back on the plane.
14. Change your clocks to your new destination time
On my most recent flight to the US, I departed Melbourne at 11.30am. As soon as I got on the plane, I changed my watch to US Pacific Time and started telling myself that it was 6.30pm. As soon as we had been fed dinner, I told myself it was bedtime and took a melatonin tablet and went to sleep. When I arrived at LAX at 9am, I was relatively refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
When You Arrive At Your Destination
15. Get Sunlight and Fresh Air
The first thing I do when I arrive at my new destination is to go outdoors and get some fresh air and sunlight on my skin. This helps acclimate to my new timezone and environment. Even if I have arrived at a winter destination, I wrap up nice and warm and head out.
If the weather is warm, I like to touch the ground with bare feet. Dave Asprey of Bulletproof fame talks about how earthing helps return the body to a neutral current. I personally find it beneficial and make an effort to touch the ground with bare feet whenever I can.
16. Move Your Body
After many hours crammed into a plane, there is nothing better than moving your body. It helps to get fresh oxygen to all parts of your body, and can also help reset your circadian rhythm to your new timezone. I always pack a sturdy pair of walking shoes and hit the pavement of my new location. It's a great way to check out your new neighbourhood while also exercising. Check out a local yoga or pilates class for some structured exercise or do a walking tour.
17. Eat Simple and Small
You might be off the plane, but it doesn't mean your body isn't still recovering from the impact of long-haul travel. Keeping your food simple will help ease the pressure on your gut. I love nothing more than some steamed or grilled fish and steamed veggies when I first arrive. Also keep your meal sizes small to give your gut a chance to process the food. As tempting as it might be, avoid alcohol as this will contribute to your dehydration and can interrupt your sleep cycle.
18. Intermittent Fasting
I always incorporate intermittent fasting into my travel routine. It helps my gut calm down from the pressure of travelling, and I find I sleep better when I haven't eaten a lot.
You might like to ensure you get at least 12 hours break between dinner and breakfast, or if you're like me, you can skip breakfast entirely and just eat lunch and dinner.
Spend the first few days of your new location focusing on hydration. Your body has been put under enormous pressure on the plane, so be kind to it and drink lots of good quality, filtered water.
20. Get Into Your New Timezone Quickly
Doing all of the above will help re-set your circadian rhythm. If you arrive in the morning, stay awake as long as you can, ideally going to bed at your normal bedtime.
If you must take a nap, keep it short so you don't confuse your body and further disrupt your sleep cycle.
If you are still struggling to sleep, you might like to take a sleeping aid. I use Integrative Therapeutics Cortisol Manager to help re-set my cortisol levels. If this isn't enough support, I will also take some melatonin at bedtime. This will normally put me to sleep within 30 minutes of taking it.
If you wake during the night, try to avoid turning on any electrical devices. The blue light emitted from these devices can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. Instead, try some meditation, deep breathing or relaxation techniques. If that fails, I will lay in bed and read a book until I get sleepy again.
It is estimated that for every 1 hour of timezone change, it can take 1 day to recover. Be kind to yourself during this recalibration to your new time zone. If sleep isn't coming easily, stressing about it will make it worse. You will get into your new timezone eventually.
21. Enjoy Yourself
It is a privilege to travel and see new parts of the world. Yes, SIBO can be frustrating, but you have control over how you think. If you choose to approach travel with fear, it's highly likely your trip will be extremely stressful. Instead, if you approach your trip with interest and intrigue and allow for situations to happen that are outside of your control, you will enjoy your trip much more.
I love the uncertainty of travel. I love meeting new people, tasting new food, learning new languages, smelling new smells, seeing new cities and landscapes, and even when things go wrong, I find a way to laugh about it.
Before you go, brainstorm a wide range of possible scenarios and think about how you will handle those situations. The more prepared you are, the easier they will be to cope with.
What are your top travel tips?
Do you have your own fool-proof travel hacks? I would love to hear them. Simply put them in the comments below.
Need personalised SIBO Support?
Rebecca Coomes has coached SIBOers from all over the world, supporting them to achieve their SIBO goals.
Looking to travel this year? Why not book in for a private 1:1 SIBO Coaching Call with Rebecca. She will help develop a plan with you that will ensure you have a wonderful vacation, no matter the location.