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Travelling with a stoma: our top tips

Holidays are an exciting time; they are a perfect time to escape from the daily routine, to relax and catch up with friends and family. Whether you’re planning a weekend away, travelling to an exotic holiday destination or perhaps a more action-packed holiday is more your scene, travelling with a stoma takes some careful planning and preparation.

Just because you have a stoma doesn’t mean you can’t go away on holiday, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy your holiday like everyone else. The key is to getting things sorted well in advance so that you feel organised and can enjoy your holiday without any last-minute panics.

Remember, it is very normal to feel apprehensive before a flight and a holiday. Planning ahead will help you to feel more in control about the situation. Take some shorter, more local trips first to build up your confidence in managing your stoma when you are out in public. If you have any concerns about what to take and how much, talk it through with your stoma care nurse.

Our top tips will help you to plan your holiday, so you feel organised and ready to go!

When is it safe to travel after stoma surgery?

First thing’s first, when are you safe to travel after stoma surgery? After abdominal surgery things can take time to settle down, there is a recovery period where you need to be cautious, so it is important not to take any unnecessary risks.

It is usually safe to fly 4-6 weeks following stoma surgery, but it would be wise to check with your surgeon at your follow up appointment as to when it is safe for you. If you have been given the green light by your surgeon and they have advised you are safe to travel and fly, be careful about lifting any heavy bags during packing, you don’t want to end up with a parastomal hernia on your way home.

Planning your trip

  • Make a list of all the stoma equipment that you will need
  • Give yourself plenty of time for prescriptions to be processed a month or more in advance of your holiday, so you don’t have any last-minute panics.
  • Work out the number of stoma bags you will need for each day of your holiday and double it and even add in a few extras. Just so you are covered for all eventualities such as possible tummy bugs! This will ease any worries you have.
  • You may want to take different sized pouches with you, such as stoma caps for swimming (colostomy only), and larger pouches for flights.
  • If you usually wear a closed stoma pouch, you may like to consider obtain some drainable versions, in case of tummy bugs and looser than usual output.
  • Go through your bag with your stoma equipment to check you have everything you need and that it is easily accessible for use on any means of holiday transport you are taking.
  • It is advisable to keep this bag with most of your stoma equipment within your hand luggage, so this is always with you and within easy reach. It is safer to have the supplies with you than risk the loss of supplies in luggage which might go astray! It is also a good idea to keep some stoma equipment in your main luggage just in case. Try to divide the load between bags.
  • Keep a smaller travel bag with you in the car or on the flight, containing a few bits of stoma equipment such a couple of pouches, wipes, and disposable bags, so you can make trips to the toilet, quickly and discreetly.

Our top tips for packing

  • Remember, if you are flying you need to pack sharp objects such as stoma scissors in your main luggage, as they are classed as dangerous items. It is a wise idea to make sure all your pouches are pre-cut and then you won’t need them.
  • The same applies to liquids on board, it might be an idea to exchange your adhesive remover and skin protective sprays to wipe versions.
  • It is always a wise move to avoid any foods, especially fatty foods or fizzy drinks, or any other foods which usually upset your stomach in the few days before you travel especially if you are flying. This will reduce any excessive gas you may experience on the flight. Discover our stoma diet advice here.
  • If you are celebrating and don’t want to miss out on a glass of fizz, make sure you give it a good stir to get rid of the bubbles before drinking! Limit yourself to the one glass and keep up your water intake to remain hydrated.

Preparing for warm weather with a stoma

 If your holiday destination is warm, it may make you perspire more than normal. This can lead to issues with the adhesion of your pouch. You may find the combination of your moist skin and your stoma pouch may mean you need to change it more often.

A good tip is to make sure your skin is dry before you apply a fresh stoma pouch. Try using a hairdryer on a low setting to help dry your skin (but make sure the temperature of the hairdryer is low, so you do not burn yourself).

Try to keep your stoma products in a cool place so that the heat does not damage the adhesion.

Staying hydrated

Staying hydrated is important for all ostomates. Remember to drink plenty of fluids whilst on holiday to keep yourself fully hydrated, especially in warmer climates. Try not to get too carried away with alcohol as it will dehydrate you more.

It is a wise idea to drink diluted sports drinks or take some rehydration sachets with you on holiday to restore your electrolyte balance. Be wary of the water supply when holidaying abroad, depending on your destination. If you travel somewhere without drinkable water supply, use bottled water or boiled water for drinking, brushing teeth and cleaning stoma.

Avoid ice cubes unless they have been made with bottled water. Fruits and salads are often washed with local water, so try to avoid these where possible.

Take some loperamide (Imodium) with you on holidays as it can to slow down any high output and it will help thicken loose output to prevent you becoming dehydrated or experiencing leaks and sore skin.

Remember travel certificates

Make sure you get yourself a travel certificate, it can work wonders for making your pending travel less stressful and can help prevent any issues at security.

Travel certificates are usually a handy pocket size certificate, ask your stoma care nurse if you are unsure where to get one. They explain simply, your condition and/or stoma surgery and why you always need to carry your essential stoma products and medications with you in your hand luggage.

The information is written in English and many other languages, so you can choose which is appropriate for you.  It should save you having to explain yourself in front of any other people you may be travelling with.

The certificate will also advise security that you have a “hidden condition” and therefore need a bit of privacy and support when going through the airport. Sunflower lanyards are a globally recognised symbol and are available to wear for ostomates, if you wish (you can obtain one via the official hidden disabilities website).

There is often a section for your stoma care nurse/GP to endorse the stoma travel certificate, which is useful evidence if security need it.

It is a good idea to also take a copy of your repeat prescriptions which shows all your stoma product prescriptions and codes.

Travel insurance with a stoma

Check you have a good travel insurance and make sure you are fully covered on the day you leave until the day you return. Some companies may have age or pre-existing medical condition limits.

For more advice, ask your stoma care nurse or health care provider, or take a look at our stoma care advice centre.

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