I just came back from vacation and for the first time in my life, I was really scared about traveling with Crohn's Disease. In the past I never worried about it. On the days where I would actually be traveling, I would take Imodium and that would be that. I never worried about food choices either because in the past food wasn't an issue with my Crohn's.
This year was different. For the first time in my life, I was staying in a Caribbean country. I went to the Dominican Republic for 7 days. Now the trip there didn't worry me. I have flown many times and was just excited not nervous so my stomach behaved. My biggest worries would be the food this time around as my breakfast choice was going to be hard. As a reminder to everyone, I have gone Gluten Free and eggs upset my CD. Originally I bought some Chex cereal and almond milk to bring with me, but there was no room in the suitcase for them so I had to leave them behind.
When I got to the resort it was so beautiful and relaxing I thought, this would be great. By dinner time, my worries kicked in. Now at the resort I stayed in, there was a buffet for breakfast and lunch and for dinner you could do the buffet or you had a choice of 2 restaurants. There were a total of 4 restaurants but only 2 were open each day. As I looked at the menu's of the restaurant I saw it was going to be very difficult to eat a GF diet. Just about everything had gluten in it. From every menu, there was maybe one item that was just naturally GF but of course I would have to worry about cross contamination. I could deal with that though. So for the first night, I survived, but the food didn't taste good.
Come morning, it was buffet time. I knew this would be a challenge so I brought my digestive enzymes just in case I had to eat eggs. Turns out food would be the least of my worries. The dinning area was opened all around so birds were flying in constantly. They would walk all over the tables and fly to the food. They would even peck and eat at the food on the buffet. The workers there didn't seem to care and this started to turn my stomach. I quickly learned that food sanitation and safety meant nothing here. The food workers wore no gloves, used utensils to touch raw and cooked meat together, and the food never seemed hot enough and sometimes not cooked enough.
So needless to say, keeping myself healthy was going to be a real challenge. Just looking at the dinning building would turn my stomach. I lost my appetite pretty quickly that first morning and for a week I hardly ate anything. The restaurants didn't have bird issues but they still had the other issues. I couldn't wait to leave and get home to eat a real meal.
Over all, my CD never acted up (surprisingly) and I survived DR. It was a very relaxing trip aside from the food and I didn't want to leave. But this trip opened my eyes to what many other people with IBD must go through. Someone with active CD or UC might have gotten really sick from those conditions. It also made me realize that for any future vacations, I am really going to have to plan and research places well. I will never go clueless on vacation again.
So here are some advice to others with IBD for traveling:
1) Make sure you have anti-D meds with you and enough of your regular meds.
2) If you are going to a resort, see if they can send you menus of their restaurants. Also ask them if they can accommodate any special diet you might have.
3) Bring some IBD friendly foods with you.
4) If your staying at a hotel, look online for some IBD diet friendly restaurants. Most restaurants these days post their menus online.
5) Check to see if they have a doctor where you are staying. If you're in a tropical country, the nearest hospital can be hours away.
6) Make sure you have up to date medical records with you and if your on meds, keep a list of them in your wallet just in case of an emergency.
7) Never be afraid to ask. If you don't see something, ask if they carry it. If your GF and you don't see any GF foods, they might have some and just don't put it out.
8) Tip the staff well. They will remember you and help you out more than someone who isn't as appreciative.
Well, that is all I can think of for now. I hope these tips can help you out the next time you travel. I know I will be planning my next trip out very meticulously and won't make the mistakes I made this year.