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Traveling With an Ostomy

Laura Cox
Ostomy Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
05/09/14  10:29 PM PST
Traveling with an Ostomy

Traveling can be stressful for anyone. The combination of bustling crowds, random security checks, and the monotone voice over the intercom is enough to make even the most experienced traveler frazzled; add an ostomy bag in to the mix and it may be one long day!

Watch a video about Traveling With an Ostomy:

I’ve traveled quite a bit in the last two years with my ostomy. I’ve had many different experiences, and have finally found a great routine that makes it very easy for me to brave the airports and airplanes.

I want to describe the two experiences I learned from the most. The first instance was 3 months after I had the surgery to create my ileostomy. I was flying from Chicago to Phoenix, and was extremely nervous. I had learned in an ostomy support group that the TSA is supposed to be aware of what an ostomy is. I figured that when I went through security I should tell the TSA that I had an ostomy, instead of risking being patted down. When I told one of the employees he pulled me aside and asked his colleague what an ostomy was. Neither knew, so they made me pat my stomach and tested my hands for any dangerous residue.

I learned three things from this experience. One, don’t start by telling the TSA you have an stoma. I have no problems going through security if I don’t tell them about it. You’re more likely to be stopped if you do. Two, empty your ostomy before going through security so there is no visible bulge in your clothing. Three, this experience doesn’t have to be embarrassing. I find the best way to approach experiences like this is with patience, a big smile, and a quick, succinct explanation of my surgery and stoma.

The second experience I learned from was when I was on the airplane. It was a three hour trip, and in the first hour, I realized that I had a gas buildup in ostomy bag. Rather than bothering my seat mates, I decided to “burp” my two piece appliance. I discretely burped my ostomy – but quickly realized it wasn’t gas. I felt so silly for not going to the bathroom instead. I got up (even though the fasten seat belt sign was on) and headed to the bathroom to clean up.

I learned three things from this experience as well. One, even if you think you don’t need to go to the bathroom in order to let out gas, go anyway! It’s better to be safe than sorry! Two, use odor neutralizing drops before traveling. It will make you less apprehensive about any odor that may come from emptying or releasing gas from your bag. Three, I always travel with a washcloth in my carry-on just in case I have to clean up. Paper towels just end up leaving paper residue all over your clothes.

My experiences all came from plane travel, but if you’re traveling by car or bus, many of these tips still apply. And for both plane and bus travel, where you have to share a bathroom with many other passengers, a product like “Poo-Pourri” (https://www.poopourri.com/) may come in handy.

Great supplies to keep in your carry-on when traveling with an ostomy:

  • Hand or face towel- to clean up
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Wafers – precut so you don’t have to bring your scissor in your carry-on
  • Bags – I always carry all my supplies on just in case my luggage is lost
  • Stoma powder
  • Stoma paste
  • Safety scissors – if you don’t feel comfortable pre-cutting your wafers
  • All pills you need for the trip
  • Thin pair of sweatpants and thin T-shirt – just in case of a leak
  • Grape juice – I always buy after security and put it in my carry-on in case of a blockage
  • Snacks – like crackers to help retain water and keep you hydrated
  • Extra supplies – with unpredictable weather and flights, it’s always best to pack more than you think you’ll need

The best advice I can give about traveling with an ostomy is to handle things as they come at you. I have flown at least a dozen times with nothing going wrong at all (including a 13-hour overseas flight). Worrying will only take away from the experience. Be prepared for issues, but always hope for the best! If you are met with an issue, don’t let it ruin your trip! Try to keep a positive attitude and deal with the problem, then move on. Remember, you are capable of handling any issue that comes your way! Hope you’re healthy and happy! Safe travels!

Click here to watch my video about traveling after having ostomy surgery.

For more information, see related everday ostomy tip articles and ostomy resources here:

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13 Comments

  1. June Holley
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:07 pm PST

    I am planning a trip, by plane, in July and this information is very helpful. I was concerned about going through security. I will not be telling the TSA.
    Thanks.

  2. Pam Bacon
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:14 pm PST

    Your timing on this subject couldn’t be more perfect.

    I have my first airplane travel coming up in September since my surgery a year ago, and it starting scare me a little. I’m afraid that I’ll be pulled aside and patted down and being embarrassed. I was planning on putting my supplies in my luggage, just because of the powder. I’ve also thought about overnight my stuff to my designation. So now I’m not sure what to do.

    Thank you
    Pam Bacon

  3. Posted June 11, 2014 at 6:43 pm PST

    I always put all of my ostomy supplies in my carry on, including powder, and have never been stopped by TSA for it. You shouldn’t have a problem! The only thing I think they would stop you for is scissors if you have them. Pre-cut a wafer, and put your scissors in your checked bag. Good luck and safe travels!

  4. stan
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:37 am PST

    Also you want to stay away from the body scanners, you will be pull aside and searched . if you have a choice , go through the metal detectors.
    I have had a full body search even after i told them it was an ostomy bag and what was in it. TSA has no clue . the bag will cause you to fail the scan.
    the scanner puts an X on the monitor right where you bag is.
    Don’t be embarrassed , its not your fault . be happy your still here.

    stan

  5. Posted June 11, 2014 at 6:39 pm PST

    I’ve actually gone through body scanners many times, and have never had this experience. I’ve never been pulled aside. I make sure my ostomy bag is empty before I go through the scanner. What airport was this at?

  6. Ron
    Posted August 15, 2014 at 4:50 pm PST

    Regarding burping the bag, I use pouches with a filter. Never have to deal with gas buildup unless the filter fails to work, which has happened with the Holister brand more my Coloplast brand pouches.
    The thing to remember about built in pouch filters. They need to kept from being soiled by the pouch contents. If you wear tight clothing which compresses the stoma so the output spreads upward, where the filter is, that will most likely clog the filter. If you are active and wear that Stealth belt that neatly compresses the pouch, again the output will spread up to the filter.

  7. Nancy Bauer
    Posted March 24, 2016 at 5:04 pm PST

    I am an ileostomate for 2 yrs. I am traveling to Alaska from Louisville KY. I have followed your you tube video’s I have really enjoyed your positive remarks. Kind of nervous about flying out of the country. Should I put the liquids in 3 oz. bottles? And is labeling the bottles alright? Or do I need to take the origional bottles?

  8. Posted March 25, 2016 at 9:25 am PST

    Hi Nancy! How exciting! I hope you have a fantastic time! If you have liquids, you can either pack them in your checked luggage (if they’re accessories like pouch deodorant or something that is not absolutely necessary), or put them in 3 oz bottles and keep them in your carryon. You don’t need to label the 3 oz bottles. Everything else should be just fine! Good luck! I hope you have a great trip!

  9. Michael Buckwalter
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 8:16 am PST

    Dear Laura,
    Thank you for sharing your travel tips. I would only add, take an anti-gas or anti-diarrhea pill (or both) before the flight. I’m not usually a drug person, but planes are a very close environment!
    Thank you, also, for your candid and honest descriptions of your travel experiences. No one likes to miscalculate regarding hygiene, particularly when it comes to stool! I am a performing musician, and most of my on-stage experiences are in tux or tails. Needless to say, I was a little anxious, after my ostomy, about managing what my wife cheerfully calls “our new normal”. Well, that’s what it’s become—normal. I go prepared, and fully expecting to have a good experience, as you so rightly put it.
    Keep up the good work on behalf of our community!
    Regards, Michael

  10. Posted March 28, 2016 at 9:57 am PST

    That’s a great additional suggestion Michael! Thank you! I always have people check with their doctors before taking anything new, but for ileotomates especially, this can make traveling so much more comfortable!

    Thank you for your kind words! I’m so glad having your ostomy has not stopped you from doing what you love and getting on stage! I hope you continue to be happy and healthy!

    Laura

  11. Marina russell
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 10:27 am PST

    Thank you very much for that, it is so great to learn thing about stoma that I didn’t know and believe me I have a feeling that I don’t know anything

  12. Posted March 28, 2016 at 10:01 am PST

    I know it seems overwhelming at the beginning, but you’ll be an expert in no time! It’s great your obviously trying to educate yourself by researching and being on this site! Education is our best tool!

  13. German Altgelt
    Posted April 29, 2016 at 10:26 am PST

    You can also get a travel card from UOAA that is a good way to show with non verbal communication if you are uncomforatble explaining.

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