Travelling with a stoma.

Since having my ileostomy, packing for travel has required a little more planning. Before my recent trip to the US (more on that later in the week) a friend asked if I was packed and ready to go. “As long as I’ve got my passport and cash I’ll be fine,” I said. “And your shit bags,” he said. Oh yeah…

I mourned for a moment the loss of potential spontaneity. No longer could I walk out the door and go where the wind took me because within two days I’d have to come back for supplies or risk being up that creek without a paddle. (In my packing delirium I then pictured myself if I ever tried to run away from it all – wallet in one pocket, passport in the other and a bulging bindle over my shoulder full of ostomy supplies, but I digress…)

Now when travelling, I have to do stoma math which is just as confusing as period math but with a lot more supplies. Thank God one replaced the other and I don’t have to do both. Clothes? Check. Toiletries? Check. Handbag? Check. Optimum number of supplies = number of days travelling / 2 + a spare. Oh, skin is irritated so number of days travelling plus 1. Stoma bags, seals, barrier wipes, skin wipes, nappy bags, carry the one. Oh we’re swimming? Add one more of everything and throw in the filter stickers. Oh, where are the moons? Wait, where was I up to?

I also have to remember my antibiotic and check whether a change of hormone patch is due but that’s another story!

By the time the supplies are packed, I need a nap.

Sometimes you come back and wonder why you took so much and other times you come back glad you made it through on what you had because sometimes your stoma is literally and figuratively an asshole and likes to keep you on your toes!

I have been lucky with my stoma so I was never worried about travelling with it. It wasn’t until I started reading online that I realised others were worried. Then I wondered were they worrying unnecessarily or was I being blasé?

My first chance to find out was on a holiday to New Zealand. It was a quick seven day trip for a bit of site seeing and seeing friends. I changed my bag every two days with no issue at that time so I took about 7 days supply. Just enough if I needed to do it daily but should have been plenty. And it was!

Whilst in Rotorua, we visited one of the thermal pools which meant an impromptu bag change in the change rooms. The toilet cubicle was totally dark and the showers had no ledge so I had to do it on the bench in the changing area. I was so nervous. I hate doing it out in the open but I had no choice. I was pretty proud of getting it done in around 3 minutes. A new record for me! Old bag off, clean, apply barrier wipe, stick down bag. Voila!

For my USA trip, getting organised was even more daunting. 19 days I had to prepare for. The skin around my stoma had been playing up so I’d been changing bags daily. Plus it’s always good to have a spare or two.

Given that I was planning on taking only a 38L carry-on pack, this posed its challenges! I didn’t want the bags or the seals getting too squished thereby rendering them unusable but I still needed to pack clothes!!

It all packed down well in the end and didn’t take up nearly as much room as I expected it to. One of the hardest part for me as an ostomate in the USA was navigating their toilets! Being a bigger girl I have to stand to empty mine so the self-flushing toilets they’re so fond of have been kind of annoying! They were also quite low and so full of water unlike our ones at home, which left more room for error than I’d like!

The only other worry I’d had was the body scanners when passing through certain airports. I knew they had one at San Francisco and I suspected there would be one at JFK (and as it turned out at Toronto Pearson Airport in Canada, but I got sent to a different line there and skipped it!). Like others I remembered the news when body scanners were first used and the concerns about what could be seen.

In the end, it was fine. You walk into the scanner and put your hands above your head and inevitably on the other side they ask you to step to the side. I told them I had an ileostomy bag and on both occasions they knew what I was talking about thank God! You see an outline of a body on the screen and yellow boxes over the areas they need to check. In San Francisco they did a residue test and asked permission to pat me down before sending me on my way.

body scanner
Example of body scanner image (NY Daily News)

At JFK, I told the woman I had an ileostomy bag and she was very friendly. “Could you just touch the contents of the bag for me and hold your hand out please?” Uh, say what? She seemed to realise what she had said and tried to correct it but kept stumbling. “You’d like me to place my hand between my pants and the bag?” I asked. She smiled and relaxed as she said yes. “Good cos both our days are going to be ruined if I’m made to touch the contents of this bag.” She then did the residue test, no pat down, and I was off.

I know a lot of people worry about travelling with their supplies but in my experience there’s no need to. Many airlines allow you to carry on medical supplies as a separate item to the normal allowance, which I highly advise taking advantage of. You don’t want to be stuck finding supplies in a foreign country or having to pay for new ones – we all know they’re not cheap.

The airlines I’ve flown with (Jetstar and Delta) allow medical scissors (the ones with the rounded edge) in your carry on if you need them. I cut enough of my bags to size in advance to avoid needing scissors on any flights until the end where I could buy and toss the scissors if I wanted.

One recommendation I would make if you have an ostomy is that if you fly, consider requesting an aisle seat. I spent a significant portion of my 16 hour flight paranoid about having to wake up people to get to the bathroom when my bag needed emptying.

The only other (obvious) tip is, if you’re road tripping, don’t leave your supplies in the boot of your car! Rubber and adhesive don’t like being heated up. I never do it at home but I didn’t think twice about it for the first two days in the US. Thankfully most were OK.

If you’re worried about travelling with all your stoma supplies, don’t be. I know a lot of people hate living with a stoma and everything that comes with it but don’t let it stop you from getting out there. Happy travelling.


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