A woman relaxes in a beach chair next to the ocean and a large bag full of items.

Have Bags, Will Travel!

One thing I miss more than anything during these Covid times is foreign travel. I find travel so enriching. Meeting new people, seeing new sites, tasting new foods, smelling new smells, and learning about other cultures.

I also very much enjoy the climate of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean to get some real downtime to sunbathe, swim, read and enjoy a cocktail or two.

Do my ostomy and travel hobby mix?

One thing I was worried about more than anything, was not being able to travel after my ostomy surgery. Travel is one of my favorite things to do.

While I have currently swapped luxury all-inclusive hotels in the Caribbean for Airbnb's in my home country (Scotland). I have had some great times, but it's not the same for me. Less of the new and unknown to discover. The last year has given me a taste of life without foreign travel which I have always been fortunate enough to enjoy.

Before surgery

Even before my surgery, I made myself milestones for after my operation - most of them travel-related. I smashed all my goals and then some.

I had my first overnight away, which also was my first Airbnb ever, just 8 weeks after surgery while attending a friend's 40th birthday party. My first weekend away in the South of Scotland with friends before their wedding at 3 months post-surgery. My first week abroad in Europe 5 months post-surgery and my first long-haul flight from Scotland via London to Cancun, Mexico which all in, including airports is around 18 hours of travel!

When I woke up from my operation, I was almost instantly working on the steps I needed to take to get back to my beloved travel.

Finding helpful tips from others

I wasn't in any ostomy support groups pre-surgery. Everything happened so quickly but after surgery, I started to read and look for support.

I learned tips from others, received great documentation from ostomy charities, and gradually found my own little things which helped provide reassurance while traveling.

My urostomy has been very retracted since a few days after surgery, which is 4 years ago today, and therefore prone to leaks. The uncertainty of when this would or wouldn't happen made planning for travel, especially by air, that little bit more daunting.

Tips for air travel with an ostomy

Never one to let things beat me, I carefully considered all aspects of the journey: what would be needed and what could possibly happen during that time with my stomas - I have two, a colostomy and a urostomy.

So here are my top tips for (air) travel with stomas.

Note: Most stomas (ostomies) don't leak at all or rarely so most people won't need as many changes of clothes.

Packing for your stoma

  • Contact your airline to request extra cabin baggage so you can take your ostomy supplies in the cabin with you and not risk lost luggage.
  • Have a note of how to contact your ostomy company abroad in case you need some emergency supplies.
  • Always double up (and add a little) to your normal supplies, just in case changes in temperature and other conditions means your bag doesn't last as long.
  • Ensure you have spare supplies at hand for the flight should you need to change.
  • If you feel you can have unpredictable leaks, take spare clothes with you (or at least a change of underwear).
  • Consider taking a travel baby/diaper changing mat – it is great to lay on top of the baby changing in a plane toilet to give you a flat, clean surface to change your bag if needed.

Preparing to board

  • Consider wearing a leg bag for longer flights - this saves panic if e.g., seatbelt signs are on for an extended period.
  • Put on a fresh bag a few hours before flying to let it settle and empty before boarding.
  • If you are prone to dehydration, consider taking re-hydration sachets pre and post-flight.

Flying with an ostomy

  • You don't have to let air stewards know but if you feel better doing so, you can let them know you are wearing a bag.
  • Consider requesting an aisle seat so you have easy access to the toilets when needed to empty.
  • Drink plenty of fluids during the flight – this is important for everyone but especially for those with a urostomy as you dehydrate quicker.

Once at your destination, things to keep in mind

  • Always drink bottled water abroad and use bottled water for cleaning your stoma unless you are sure the water is safe.
  • For swimming, consider using flange extenders to secure the bag.
  • Swimming in pools, in the sea, or using hot tubs are all possible with a stoma, just bear in mind it may wear out the bag quicker, so more changes may be necessary.

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