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Holidays with an Ostomy

One question a lot of us ask when we have surgery is: "Can I go on holiday again?"

One answer: Yes!!!

When embarking on a journey for the first time or the 120th time with a stoma there are a few tips and tricks when planning for your time away. There are some extremely good guides out there which can provide a load of tips on insurance, baggage allowance etc. and my favorite one can be found by clicking here

Stoma nurses are excellent at helping with the technicalities of coping on holiday. Although I am here to help with confidence and answer some of the things that aren’t discussed in your everyday information sheet.

Obviously they advise a lot of things which you shouldn’t do and things which you should in an extremely practical way. However, they can’t begin to tell you how you feel about going away. Yes, they can tell you that you should be careful and being nervous is normal but nothing comes to close to how it feels to be away from home managing an ileostomy.

So I figured I’d do this in a bullet point version for you all to have a read and maybe it will help prepare you for when you first step into the airport, boat or car!

  1. Read the practical information sheets. Yes, they help a lot but I must warn you on reading these it made me so apprehensive so just bear in mind the essential pointers in regards to equipment, insurance and how to access supplies abroad. The guide I suggested above is fantastic for all of this.
  2. Order your supplies in advance, don’t try any new fancy products when you are away. Just stick to your normal routine and bring more supplies than needed, unless you are well accustomed to how many you use in a week then just add a couple extra. Lay it all out, check you have got everything with you. Although it is possible to get some supplies when you are away, it is best to avoid it. So make sure you have it all prior.
  3. Get yourself some swimming trunks or a swimsuit/bikini which you feel confident in. High-waisted is always a safe bet for confidence boosting (you can find some here) but you can also wear normal swimwear with or without a cover if you feel confident. There is nothing in the rule book which states you cannot do so, so if you’re feeling confident or hate tan lines then go for it. Just be prepared that people may look but remember it’s what they don’t know that scares them. Sarongs and cover-ups can help with confidence massively as well around the pool or hotel. A good thing to point out is that swimming and going in and out of the pool & not allowing yourself to dry fully can cause your bag to “fur” which is when the adhesive looks a white colour rather than the normal skin tone. This is okay but it does mean that it is not as secure as normal. By no means will it come off but be mindful that in the hot weather the adhesive will be more malleable anyway so have some respite in between of dipping in and out of the pool and dry off fully. One way you can always test your bag in a pool is to either have a bath with it on or go swimming and try it! That way you can feel well practiced and not apprehensive about swimming abroad.
  4. If you are mad like me and decide to backpack around India or sail around Croatia on a small boat, then obviously you must tailor your bag accordingly. Make sure you take clothes which are comfortable and allow for some bloating/filling in the bag to stop the worry of finding the nearest toilet or corner ASAP. If you are going on a lot of adventures there are products which can help you feel a little more secure when doing activities which are a little more adventurous. A stealth belt is great for high impact sports like coasteering, rock climbing or surfing (yes you can do ALL of these!). There are hernia support wear products which are more supportive if you feel you need the added protection. We also sell a product which is great for when you really need to strip off, shower and change your bag at the same time due to space and lack of toilet facilities. This is called the stoma cup (see here). A super handy little device which can go over your exposed stoma to stop waste leaking if you’re in a shared bathroom all the while being able to wash all the skin around which is needed in hot weather!
  5. Know who you’re going away with. If you’re traveling alone then make sure when you meet people at least inform one person in case of an emergency. If you are going away with a group of people, it’s a need to know basis but for your piece of mind let someone know in case you need to stop off quickly, have an issue which you can’t manage or just need someone for a bit of reassurance.
  6. Alcohol. Of course, every professional will recommend you don’t drink to excess however, in reality we all know that Pina Colada’s can sometimes taste too good and you can get carried away. It’s not the effects of alcohol which is the problem, it is dehydration. When on holiday you can get dehydrated very quickly regardless of over-doing it on the alcohol or not. Do not over drink plain water. This does not work if you have an ileostomy. I would recommend following the same advice if you have a colostomy as well. Drink Dioralyte or sports drinks. I would recommend Dioralyte or an equivalent over any sports drinks as the sugars in the sports drinks can help expand the waist band a little more than needed and usually contain less of the essential salts in a concentrated volume. Just pour the sachets into your bottle of water by the pool or whilst you are backpacking and just sip throughout the day. It is better to sip and stay hydrated throughout the day than to blow out after a session or when you’ve forgotten.
  7. Airport security. This is one which is touched upon but actually being frisked in person then being asked “what is under your clothes?” in front of everyone and then explaining you have a bag is actually pretty degrading. So my advice if any, if the thing buzzes, tell them they have to frisk you in a private area. If you are abroad, chances are most speak English. If they do not you can get a phrase book, phrase in your phone to show them to take you to a room or you can get a certificate from your stoma nurse or GP which will state that you have an ostomy in different languages. It is your right as a human to be frisked in private. However, if they do proceed to carry on then just say it’s a bag. Say nothing else - you don’t need to explain that you poop into a bag until you are in a room. Above all else - to avoid this just do not wear ANY metal and look confident. When you are nervous they think you have something to hide, technically we do but it only needs to be found on a need to know basis. This will hopefully avoid the situation altogether.
  8. Another is being on the plane. Long or short haul this is a worry for most Ostomates. Having experience on both there are tips which can be used for flying in general. Usually, when on a short haul you can manage the situation by emptying before you get on & when you get off (if you’re lucky). However, here are some tips when on the plane:
    1. Taking Loperamide to slow transit is helpful.
    2. Try avoiding bubbly drinks or foods known to make your output higher than normal.
    3. Book an aisle seat where possible. This just stops the worrying of “op, sorry, squeezing by, sorry” every time you need the loo.
    4. In your hand luggage make sure you carry a spare bag which is pre-cut, this is essential as you are not allowed sharps on the plane.
    5. For comfort you can use flange extenders if there is a need for some extra security in the leaking department.
    6. Letting out air. There are devices that can be attached to the bag as an outlet to let out air without having to open the bottom. These can be very helpful when you are getting fed up of the bag inflating, this way you can use the blanket and just let some air out casually. I mean, everyone else is farting away. So why can’t you? I would advise to add some drops into the bag as this will make it more pleasant for everyone. Might even improve the smell!
    7. If you are worried, then let the air hostess know who seems to be covering your area. This way if you feel worried you can get a little extra back-up if you need the loo in a rush.

One question which is on everyone’s mind is the worry about food. If you’ve allowed yourself to recover fully before going away, you should have a good idea of what foods can trigger a higher stoma output or blockage risk for you. This differs between person to person so you must bear them in mind when you are away. If you are going to high risk countries such as India, then my advice would be to go vegetarian. The meat is the highest risk for stomach bugs. As you are always told, avoid ice, tap water and salads washed in local water. These are all generic tips which are recommended for someone without a stoma. One thing I would suggest is if you are going to a country where local food is a complete change in diet then try the food for a couple of days before going. See how it affects your output, whether it makes you uncomfortable and then this will give you a little more confidence when eating out there.

Above all else, do not let your stoma stop you from embarking on your lifelong dream to travel to exotic places. Although it can cause unwanted complications and extra preparation you will still enjoy the trip just as much. Maybe even better if you’re not running to the toilet every five seconds. If you are going somewhere where-by the cleanliness of the toilets is not in your favour - guess what, you can stand! So there are always positives.