Gut Health on the Road: Dealing with Digestive Issues
First of all: this article is not entirely about poop, if you were wondering. I’m talking about general gut issues: nausea while driving/flying, stomach cramps, weird hunger patterns due to jet lag, and of course, too little poop or too much. Being on the road a lot, and with a lot of different people in the last 10 years, has shown me something: no one’s stomach reacts the same to travel, but it’s pretty rare that people get through a trip, especially a multi-day driving one or a cross-ocean flight, without dealing with some stomach problem. Some are more mild than others, but whatever your level of stomach discomfort while traveling, there are a few basic things I’ve learned for soothing your stomach.
This sounds obvious, but when you’re in a van for 10 hours at a clip, it can get tedious to stay hydrated, especially when bathroom breaks mean lost driving time. The same is true for flying—in-plane air is notoriously ultra-dry, and you’re not given a ton to sip on. If you sleep through one water hand out, you’re missing 1/4 of the water you’ll get for 10 hours! But if you’re not hydrated, that’s when cramping, nausea and constipation can be tricky. So, in the car, I’m a huge fan of starting with a massive water bottle (1.5 liters) and trying to drain it over the course of the drive. (That way, you always know about how much you’ve been drinking.) And don’t fret bathroom breaks: it’s good to get up and stretch, anyway.
The biggest stomach issues I’ve had (just a lot of pain and nausea) have come when I was over-tired. Sleep is when our body is in recovery mode, so if we skip it, we’re missing out on our body’s main shot at getting everything back to status quo. So when you can get real sleep, take that opportunity!
This one is a little ‘duh,’ but on the road, it’s easy to know that you should be eating fruits and veggies, but a harder proposition to actually make that happen. Case in point: we were just in Italy for a few days, and living out of hotel rooms. That meant dinners out, breakfasts at the hotel, and snacking rather than sitting down to lunch. Breakfast didn’t have a lot of fruit options served, so that was a bust. Snacking on the run meant maybe an apple, but not a salad. And dinner… Well, we wanted to experience really great Italian food, so cheese, meat and pasta were heavily featured, while veggies played a minor role. I regret nothing, but I know my stomach was way happier when we got to Girona on Monday and I started eating big salads for dinner and adding veggies to every meal again.
I got turned on to digestive bitters a year ago and I love the ones I use from Urban Moonshine. It’s a tasty spray that I use before I head out to a dinner that I know might make my stomach knot up. I’m a nervous social eater, and for some reason, on occasion my stomach decides to just go crazy at dinner and start cramping like crazy. Digestive bitters have helped solve that, somehow. But even if you don’t suffer from cramping, I think they help by breaking down your food a bit better. This is great, especially while doing crazy travel, because sometimes, the digestive ‘stuff’ we already have in our stomachs normally is negatively impacted by travel. Similarly, you can just do shots of apple cider vinegar, or drink water with lemon in it, for an equally digestive effect.
This might just be part of the whole hydration thing, but I find ginger teas to be super helpful for soothing a rumbling stomach, especially at night. (It’s also been my answer to cutting down on wine at night, to be honest.) Tea in general I’ve found to be helpful for a grumpy tummy, and pretty much everyone I know switches to tea a couple hours before bed in order to calm their systems down, especially while traveling.
Even if you’re not a runner, a brisk walk, jog or run can do wonders for getting your stomach to reset. (And I will be the first to warn you that if you’re constipated, this will likely work, but you’ll want to make sure you’re somewhere that has bathroom access.) The motion of running, unlike the bent-over motion of cycling, seems to promote your digestive process and help clear out the pipes, so to speak. A crew of people I traveled with a couple years ago would always hit the road when they got to a destination for just that reason. Plus, it has other benefits, of course!
Give Yourself a Break
When you’re traveling, your stomach is just going to get messed up. Some of us more than others. You might feel a little puffy, you might be dealing with some nausea, but it should eventually pass (if it doesn’t or you’re truly in pain, see a doctor!). But really, when you’re on the road, make sure you’re giving yourself some grace, and taking time (even if it means skipping something fun) to even just lay flat and let your stomach settle for an hour while you watch a few episodes of a terrible show. The people I’ve seen suffer the most are the ones who refuse to let a pissed off gut slow them down, and soldier through everything, then are knocked out flat for a few days because their bodies need a real break, not a mini-break. So take care of yourself!