21 Top Tips On How to fly internationally with SIBO
Does the thought of travelling with SIBO terrify you? Are you worried you will never be able to leave home again?
The good news is that having SIBO does not mean you need to be a hermit. I am an avid traveller, having visited many countries since my SIBO diagnosis. And I am here to tell you that it IS possible to travel with SIBO.
In the past month, I have travelled to and from the US twice. That's 4 long-haul flights plus shorter domestic flights. I have collated mine and The Healthy Gut community's top tips on how to fly internationally with SIBO for you.
Before You Fly
1. Select A Reputable Airline
If you're going to invest in an international trip, don't skimp on the flight. The experience you have with an airline can make the start and end of your trip fantastic or horrible. You want to enjoy your flight, and the airline you choose can play a big part in making that possible.
Consider what is important to you:
The speed which you can reach your destination
The number of connections you will need to make or a direct non-stop flight
Seat pitch and width
When I am travelling for longer than a few hours, I always put my comfort as a top priority. I choose airlines that allow upgrades to a more premium cabin and offer a good in-flight service. I fly Virgin Australia to and from the US because you can submit a bid for the Premium Economy and Business cabins. I buy an Economy seat and then bid the lowest amount possible for an upgrade. If I don't get it, I haven't paid anything, so it's a great option. I have only missed out on an upgrade once, and have been lucky enough to be upgraded to Business on several trips.
I have also flown Air New Zealand to the US on several trips, and their Premium Economy and Business cabins are fantastic, plus their service is outstanding, although they don't offer the bid option like Virgin Australia do, but often have great sales so you can pick up a fare for a good price.
Of course, if you can afford to buy a premium seat, do it! It makes flying so much more enjoyable.
I have flown cheaper airlines internationally in the past, but have arrived exhausted after being crammed like a sardine for hours, and was even sexually assaulted on one flight with Royal Brunei Airlines (London to Melbourne), where the staff and airline did nothing about it. I had purchased that flight because it was so cheap; it seemed too good to be true. It was and I will never go for the cheapest airline again.
"Travel is a wonderful experience. Don't let SIBO stop you from doing the things you love."
2. Select Your Seats
I always fly with airlines on long-haul flights that allow me to select my seat in advance. When you have SIBO, you have enough anxiety about getting to the toilet. You do not need added anxiety about not having a comfortable seat.
On long-haul flights, I always choose an aisle seat, so that I can get up to the toilet easily and don't have to climb over strangers or bother anyone by my constant toilet visits.
If you are taking a nighttime flight, you may like a window seat so that you can rest against the plane while you sleep. Personally, I get too anxious at the thought of not being able to go to the toilet, so I will always prefer an aisle seat to a window seat.
Want to see what the best seats are on your flight? Check out Seat Guru where you can enter your airline and flight number, and they will show you what the best and worst seats are on the plane.
3. Select Your Meal
Just as your seat selection is important for reducing your toilet anxiety on the flight, choosing to fly with an airline who offers a wide range of in-flight meals is also important.
Scroll down to see my thoughts on eating on a plane, but I do think it's important to have a meal available to you, even if you don't end up eating it.
When flying Economy, you will receive a standard meal (no flashy menus here) and will generally be given 2-3 options. However, you can submit a special meal request ahead of time. Most airlines require 48 hours' notice but check with your airline so you don't miss out on getting a suitable meal.
Pick the type of food that's most bothersome for you. For me it's gluten. While there's not currently a Low FODMAP meal option available on airlines, you can choose from a range of meals, including:
Bland meal (no onion, garlic, spices, strong seasonings)
Vegetarian and vegan
Sadly, you can't combine 2 or 3 meal types. For instance, you can't request a meal that's gluten and lactose-free and bland, which is what most SIBOers will need.
When flying in Premium Economy, Business or First, you will be presented with a lot more meal options. I have found that I can pick regular meals off the menu, rather than having to pre-order a special meal, because there's always a gluten free option.
4. Prep food for the flight
There are fluid restrictions on long-haul flights (maximum of 100ml per container) but there aren't currently food restrictions. However, it's always advisable to contact your airline to double check if you have any doubts.
If you want to eat on your flight, you might prefer to bring your own food and snacks for the flight. You can purchase an insulated bag with ice pack inserts (like this one). Some great meal and snack options include:
Grilled chicken pieces
Slices of cooked beef or lamb
Tins of tuna or sardines (your neighbours might not love you for this though)
Salad or cooked vegetables
100ml container of salad dressing
Pieces of fruit
Nuts and seeds
Nut butters in individual portions
Individual portions of cheese (if tolerated)
SIBO friendly crackers
Potato or vegetable chips cooked in suitable oil and seasoned with salt
You won't be able to take your food into your arrival destination so don't go crazy - just bring as much as you think you can eat so you don't have to throw a lot of food out at the end of the flight.
In case the security screening confiscates your ice packs, always pack a leak-proof zip lock bag says Monica Hardy from our SIBO Bi Phasic Diet Facebook Group. She asks the flight attendants to fill it with ice once she gets on the plane so she can still keep her food cool.
5. Decide If You Will Eat or Fast
You don't have to eat on a long-haul flight. Instead, you may choose to use the time to fast and just sip water or herbal teas.
Personally, I find having an empty stomach easier on my body than having it full of food. I always bloat on flights, no matter what I do, so the more I avoid food, the easier it is on my system.
I do find that I get very hungry on long-haul flights, so even if you decide to fast, I would recommend you have a back up in case you change your mind. When everyone else is brought their food and the cabin is full of food smells, it can be very difficult to maintain your resolve to keep fasting.
6. Organise comfortable clothes
Because I always bloat on long-haul flights, I always wear loose fitting clothes with stretchy waistbands that will allow my belly to grow over the course of the flight. There is nothing worse than being stuck in tight-fitting clothes, in pain from the bloating, and not able to do anything about it.
I also like to layer my clothes. This helps hide the bloating. I take a long scarf, a long cardigan and a jacket. That way I can layer up if I get cold or strip down to a lighter top if the plane is hot. Most of the trips I've done recently are freezing cold, so I'm always glad I've got multiple layers.
I also spray my scarf with perfume or essential oils so that if there are smells on the plane that I don't like, I can bury my nose in my scarf and avoid them.
Finally, pack a spare pair of underwear and clothes. I always plan for the unexpected. If you have an upset tummy and have an accident, you can feel better knowing you can change your clothes. Or, if your luggage goes missing, you at least have one outfit and new underwear to wear.
7. Organise your medication
Talk to your Practitioner about your forthcoming trip. They will review your medication and may even suggest some additional supplements to support you. Before I flew to Thailand, I saw my Naturopath and we added in some extra herbs to help prevent potential food poisoning.
Choose where you will carry your medication. I put it in my hand luggage. That way, if my main bag is delayed, I still have my medication with me. Get a small cooler bag for any medication that needs to be kept refrigerated.
Ensure you have enough for the duration of your trip. You don't want to run out in a foreign country, where you might find it hard to get replacements.
During the flight, you may want to take some supplements to help with any symptom you experience. Dr Allison Siebecker has a handout with a range of supplements for each type of symptom. Some common supplements to pack include: