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Traveling with Bowel Incontinence

Declan Davey
Written by Declan Davey on Thu Feb 11 2021.
Traveling with Bowel Incontinence

No question—traveling with bowel incontinence is inconvenient. Still, with the right preparation and packing strategies in place, you can cut down on a lot of unnecessary stress. 

In today’s guide, we won’t shy away from the topics you need to know about. And yes, that means poop-urge plans of action and protective products!

But first, can we ask if you’ve ever been in a situation like this before?

You fidget, hunch over, and—before long—you’re squeezing “it” in with all your might. 

Oh-oh… 

Poop emergency time. Why do these moments seem to come out of the blue, like a cruel bolt of thunder on a sunny day?

Such urges are trickier to manage when you’re away from home—for example, when driving or traveling abroad.

So can you do anything to avoid embarrassment in times like these? Well, there’s some positive news.

You don’t just have to “put up with it,” worrying you’ll have an accident whenever you leave the house. You can check out the strategies we’ll cover below:

  • Phase 1: Prepare

  • Phase 2: Pack

  • Phase 3: Proceed!

DOWNLOAD CHECKLIST

Phase 1: Prepare 

Bowel incontinence exercises—Sphincter muscle exercises to help with sudden urges

Exercises are no guaranteed fix for sudden urges or bowel incontinence, but with enough practice, they can be great for strengthening key muscles in “that” area.

Kegel exercises—typically used to help with urinary incontinence—may also reduce the chance of bowel leakage. As MedLinePlus explains, a kegel exercise is “like pretending you have to urinate and then holding it. You relax and tighten the muscles that control urine flow.”

Read our blog to learn more, Combating Incontinence with Kegels.

Nevertheless, Healthline warns kegel’ers not to expect results too soon. Commit to 6-8 weeks of practice, at a minimum.

Ultimately, the more days of exercise you can fit in before your trip, the better. If you can build muscle strength in the areas of the body that hold in poop and pee, your travels will likely be a lot more comfortable.

Kegels aren’t the only therapies you can try for bowel incontinence, though. Here are four other exercises and therapies that may increase anal sphincter control, as approved by Mayo Clinic:

  1. Biofeedback: Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, so they can contract more reliably if you experience the sudden urge to poop.

  2. Bulking agents: Injections of nonabsorbable bulking agents that can stop leaks by thickening the anus walls.

  3. Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS): A device implantation inserted next to the spinal cord. The device sends electrical signals to better regulate the nerves involved with bowel function.

  4. Bowel training: With doctor or healthcare practitioner guidance, you may be able to train your body to pass a stool at a certain time of day. This can make traveling more straightforward to plan around.

Seating plans—The best places to sit on planes & public transport

What’s the #1 travel priority for those who experience sudden bowel movements without warning? Hint: It’s not a seat with decent legroom or steering clear of wailing babies (though both of these are preferable). 

Instead, the top priority is easy access. A seat location where a toilet’s in view is ideal. That way, you can see if it’s free or occupied, at all times. What’s more, you won’t have far to walk in case you’ve gotta poop, pronto!

If you’re traveling on an aircraft, toilets are typically located at the front and rear. You may decide it’s best to inform airline staff of your health needs, as they may be able to provide allowances to use the toilets when they’d otherwise be out of action (e.g. when boarding).

As for public transport like trains and buses, the toilet layout varies. For buses that feature toilets, the facilities are more likely to be found at the rear. Some trains have one toilet per carriage, whereas others will be more spaced out.

Phase 2: Pack

Choose the right clothing for comfort and discretion

The two most important factors for those with bowel incontinence to consider when packing clothes for a trip are:

  1. Level of comfort

  2. Ability to conceal any accidental leaks

Many people opt for sportswear such as t-shirts and jogging pants when they’ve got a long journey ahead. Comfort is king when it comes to travel. Think loose-fitting shirts and elastic waists. You could also wear a hoodie or cardigan that can easily be taken on and off.

As for colors, items for your lower half in black, brown, or navy blue will do a better job of concealing leaks than the likes of white or pink.

Review your supplies—Essential items for emergencies

Getting caught off guard is never pleasant, but it’s a touch more tolerable if you have these items on hand:

  • Disposable wipes

  • Tissue paper

  • Water

  • Spare clothing

  • Bin bags

  • Anti-bacterial gel

  • Deodorant/fragrance 

Even so, what if it’s already too late?

“I have to poop really badly, and there’s no bathroom around!”

If you have sudden bowel movements without warning, or poop comes out without you knowing, then a protective incontinence product can take much of the stress away.

Here are five travel incontinence products Carewell recommends if your bowels often give you trouble:

Phase 3: Proceed! Traveling with Bowel Incontinence

Food & medication—A sensible plan to follow on your day of travel

Adhering to any diet or medication plan you’ve been advised to follow is even more crucial when you’re away from home. 

It’s tempting to let routines slip when you’re traveling, or out and about having fun. But if this ends up leaving your bowels vulnerable to pain and discomfort, it’s not going to be worth it.

Maybe it goes without saying, but continue to take any prescription medicines for constipation or diarrhea at the correct times and dosage.

Also, make sure you’ll be able to cook/eat the food that keeps you well. That could mean researching nearby grocery stores where you’ll be staying, or looking up restaurant menus online.

A series of light meals throughout the day is less likely to cause digestive symptoms like bloating and gas than buffet feasts. If spicy or acidic foods irritate your gut, keep those off the menu while you’re traveling.

Also, feel free to check out the app MealPrepPro (#6 on the list), to get customizable recipe ideas for your or your loved one’s dietary needs.

Use a toilet-finding tool—Apps to get you to a public restroom quicker

Unsure where the next available “pit stop” is on a cross-country car journey? You’re always left feeling slightly on-edge, right?

I’m sure we all agree that technology is annoying, amazing, and everything in between. But one thing’s for sure…it makes finding toilets much simpler. Particularly if you have bowel incontinence, or are prone to sudden urges to poop that you can’t hold for long. 

Google Maps is well known for its ability to direct you from point A to point B. But did you know that it may also be able to show you where the nearest public restroom is?

There are also specific toilet-locator apps, like FlushSitOrSquat, and Bathroom Scout. Reviews can be mixed for these apps, so feel free to give them all a try to see which is the best for you.

Toilet access abroad—How to ask for a toilet in Spanish, French & more

Asking a local where the toilet is doesn’t have to be a headache. You don’t need to have a firm grasp of the foreign language that’s native to the country you’re traveling in. Just learning a few key lines will serve you well.

So without further ado, here’s how to ask “where is the toilet?” in several of the most widely-spoken languages:

  • Spanish: ¿Dónde están los aseos?

  • French: Où sont les toilettes?

  • Italian: Dov’è la toilette?

  • German: Wo ist die Toilette?

  • Japanese: 便所はどこですか (benjo wa doko desu ka?)


Hopefully, the list of strategies above makes you feel more prepared to travel well while managing bowel incontinence and any toilet emergencies.

Need some extra help figuring out which items to purchase ahead of your trip?

You’re welcome to call us at (855) 855-1666. The Carewell support line is open Monday – Friday: 24 hours and Saturday – Sunday: 9am – 6pm EST.

Or get in touch by writing us at support@carewell.com

Speak soon,

The Carewell Family

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Declan Davey
Declan Davey

Declan Davey is a health and wellness copywriter from London, UK. His background includes roles as a psychological therapist for Islington Memory Service, where he worked with family caregivers, and as a rehab assistant at Camden Neurology & Stroke Service. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or on his website https://www.declandavey.com.