Travelling after stoma surgery

Travelling with a stoma

Going on holiday or just planning a weekend away from home? Get tips for travelling by car, bus or plane with a stoma.

 

Tips for flying

Tips for flying

Advice for ostomates on what to be aware of when traveling by plane. Tips for flying
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Tips for flying

From blown-up pouches to hold ups in airport security. There are some scary stories going around when it comes to travelling by air with a stoma. But there is really no reason why your ostomy should keep you from flying - and no, nothing is going to blow up.

What to do before you fly

Before you travel abroad, you need to check how your condition and circumstances are covered by your travel insurance policy. Maybe you need to look for additional insurance coverage – if so, make sure to declare your ostomy.

It shouldn't result in a large premium. The insurance company will probably be more concerned about the condition that lead to your ostomy surgery in the first place. In any case, be sure to ask more than one insurance provider, as specialist insurance companies might save you a lot of money on travel insurance.

Sometimes, crossing a certain threshold (e.g. 12 months since surgery) will make insurance significantly cheaper, so that could impact your travel plans.

Make sure to bring more supplies than you think you need, just in case you pick up a sickness bug or you are delayed somewhere without access to new supplies. Some delivery companies offer emergency holiday cover.

Pre-cut your pouches

Divide your supplies between your hold luggage and your hand luggage, in case your hold luggage is lost or the flight is delayed.

Bring as much as you can in your hand luggage, but remember to pre-cut your ostomy baseplates, since you will not be allowed to have scissors in your hand luggage.

Bring wipes instead of liquids and sprays

Scissors are not the only things you can't bring on a plane. Liquids and aerosol cans might also be prohibited - that includes accessories such as adhesive removers and creams unless they are 100 ml or less. Luckily most accessories also come as wipes, so remember to bring lots of those in your hand luggage.

How to avoid trouble at the security check

In order to make things easier and quicker when going through the security check at the airport, it is recommended to bring with you a travel certificate. This is a document which explains your condition and why you are bringing your ostomy supplies with you, translated into several different languages.

You can download a free travel certificate.

At the airport

Security checks should not be a worry. Take the time to empty your bag before going through security, and if a body search is required explain that you have a stoma and wear a bag. If they wish a visual check, it is reasonable to ask for this to be carried out privately.

In the air

There is a slight risk that the change in cabin pressure will cause the pouch to balloon. If this should happen all you need to do is go to the toilet and release the air. If you use a drainable pouch, open the outlet and release the air that way. If you use a closed pouch, you can change your pouch, or you may also want to consider using a two-piece for when flying, as it is easier to let the air out without needing to remove the entire appliance.

And remember that ballooning is often caused by something you eat or drink – so when you're flying be extra careful with fizzy drinks and foods that cause gas.

How to avoid smell and sound

You may feel more comfortable if you book a seat which is near the toilets. This way you will be able to release wind in a private space if the pouch starts to balloon. Knowing you have this opportunity might help alleviate some of your concerns and make you feel more confident as well.

You might be a little self-conscious about sounds from the pouch. In that case you will be pleasantly surprised by how noisy an airplane cabin is. It is very unlikely that your pouch can make noises loud enough to be heard in the cabin.

Should you tell the cabin crew?

There's no need to tell the cabin crew about your ostomy in advance (unless you think it would make you feel more secure), and most likely they'll never notice.

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Packing and planning

Packing and planning

You may want to consider a checklist before going away. Here we provide you with some pointers to help you plan your trip. Packing and planning
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Packing and planning

Your stoma shouldn't stop you from travelling. However, you may need a little extra preparation, especially in the beginning.

Bring a changing bag

Whether you are travelling by car, ferry, train or plane, it is important to pack a small changing bag, where you can keep extra pouches and any other supplies you may need with you.

How to avoid seat belt chaffing

If you travel by car you might find it helpful to bring a small cushion. Place it in your lap between the seat belt and your pouch. That way you can avoid having the seat belt rub against your pouch.

Do you need additional insurance?

Before you travel abroad, you need to check how your condition and circumstances are covered by your travel insurance policy. Maybe you need to look for additional insurance coverage – if so, make sure to declare your ostomy.

It shouldn't result in a large premium. The insurance company will probably be more concerned about the condition that lead to your ostomy surgery in the first place. In any case, be sure to ask more than one insurance provider, as specialist insurance companies might save you a lot of money on travel insurance.

Sometimes, crossing a certain threshold (e.g. 12 months since surgery) will make insurance significantly cheaper, so that could impact your travel plans.

Getting supplies and help at your destination

It is also well worth the trouble to find out in advance where and how you can get medical assistance at your travel destination.

If going on a longer trip, you should check whether it is possible to get the stoma care supplies you need locally where you're going. Your regular supplier might even arrange delivery abroad for you, if you ask well in advance.

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Warm weather tips

Warm weather tips

Going somewhere warm? A short list of what to remember, including what to wear Warm weather tips
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Warm weather tips

As you start thinking about planning a holiday, you would do well to consider some quite practical things beforehand – especially if you're going somewhere warm.

A short guide to ostomy swimwear

The best piece of advice is to try before you buy. Some people find that regular swimwear fits their needs perfectly, whereas other people prefer to buy specialist swimwear designed for people with a stoma. Just go with what you feel most comfortable with.

Women might want to look at a one-piece swimming costume with detailing or patterns across the stomach area to cover up the pouch.

Men can try wearing lycra-type swimming trunks underneath a looser pair of shorts to help hold your pouch in place.

Going somewhere warm?

Remember to apply sunscreen after you put on your pouch. The lotion could affect the adhesive and make it harder to stick. If the climate is warm enough to make you perspire more than usual, you may need to change your pouch more frequently.

Make sure your skin is completely dry before you apply a new pouch, for good adhesion. It can be a bit tricky if the weather is very hot and humid.

Stay hydrated

With warmth comes a higher risk of dehydration and diarrhoea, but with some preparation you needn't worry. Make sure to drink plenty of water and bring medicine for diarrhoea with you, just in case.

Drink bottled water instead of tap water - and perhaps avoid ice cubes as they're usually made from tap water.

How about pouch disposal?

It's usually a good idea to bring disposable bags with you when you go out. This way, if you're having trouble locating a suitable disposal bin at the spot where you change the pouch, you can use the disposable bag until you find a public disposal bin.

The 6 holiday hints:

  • ALWAYS store your pouches in a cool place.
  • Drink bottled water – and plenty of it.
  • Use bottled drinking water to clean the area around the stoma when changing your pouch.
  • Put your pouch on before you put any sunscreen on.
  • Seal and empty used pouches and dispose of them with the normal rubbish.
  • If you feel self-conscious about leaving pouches in your hotel room, use public bins.
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Get a travel certificate

Get a travel certificate

Download a travel certificate to help explain your condition quickly and discreetly to security personnel. Get a travel certificate
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Get a travel certificate

In order to explain your condition to people when traveling abroad, you can bring a travel certificate with you.

A travel certificate is a document which explains in several different languages the reason for you carrying your ostomy appliances. You can show this to security personnel when going through the security check-in.

 

Get a travel certificate.

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Nicola: Swimming with an ostomy

Nicola: Swimming with an ostomy

Nicola gives her best tips if you are going for a swim on your holiday. Nicola: Swimming with an ostomy
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Nicola: Swimming with an ostomy

The thought of swimming seems to be something that a lot of ostomates struggle with and, of course, I understand why. It was something I was very worried about but it just sort of happened.

A friend asked me to join her on a trip to an amazing spa close to where we live to celebrate and relax after finishing my cancer treatment, which I leapt at. Then I went into a complete hyper-melt-down-type-panic over. How on earth I was going to do this with a colostomy?

Finding the right swimming costume

There was no way I could wear a swimming costume – the bag would show through, it would become unstuck and float around the pool, and if that didn't happen, the large neon sign flashing 'this girl has a colostomy on' above my head was bound to give it away!

I first decided that I probably wouldn't use the pool, or the sauna, or the steam room, basically anything that involved any sort of water coming into contact with the bag was going to be a no. This was going to defeat the point of a spa day but hey, needs must.

However, I still wanted to look the part, and I was going on holiday with the family later that year so better get on with trying to find a swimming costume.

Patterns that work

The great news is that swimming costumes are back in fashion – yay! Pretty much everyone is selling them now. I ordered about twenty so that I could try every style, type, pattern and this is what I found worked.

Patterned – the funkier the better, as the pattern makes it so much harder to identify lumps and bumps and movement under a pattern.

Ruched – especially if it is on the same side as your ostomy, this will hide all manner of sins. Ruched is also incredibly slimming, in fact most shops sell their ruched swimming costumes as their 'Miracle Swimwear' as it gives the illusion of a smaller waist.

Two costumes and 53 bags

Once I had found a swimming costume that worked, it alleviated most of my fears and I had even decided I was going to give swimming a go. I took two swimming costumes and about fifty-three ostomy bags – just to be sure.

My thinking behind the two swimming costumes was that I wouldn't want to put a wet swimming costume over a fresh bag.

Are you even wearing a bag?

When we got to the spa, I slipped into the disabled toilet to change into my costume, so no embarrassing moments there.

My friend, not even thinking, said she loved my costume and when I asked if she could see my bag, her face was a picture as she said she had forgotten I had one because you definitely couldn't see it.

Swimming with an ostomy

More importantly, how was swimming? It was fine! As I often find with anything ostomy related, the thought of it was immeasurably worse than the reality.

It felt amazing after all that surgery, treatment and time in bed to feel my muscles stretch and move again with the support of the water.

When I had finished I did rush to the bathroom to check, but the bag was still stuck down, no problem, so I didn't even change as I knew that I wanted to go back in the water again, which I did. Again - no problems. It was heavenly.

Nothing to worry about

This was such a break-through moment for me. I remember being so upset when I found out I was going to have a permanent colostomy that I would never get to go swimming with my children, lay by a pool with them, go to the beach, let alone actually go swimming with them.

Once I had done it for the first time and knew there was nothing to worry about, I felt confident to swim numerous times while on holiday. Now I have done it a few times I honestly wouldn't think twice about jumping in a pool.

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Ken: Air travel with a stoma

Ken: Air travel with a stoma

Read Ken's tips for flying with a stoma. Ken's tips for flying with a stoma
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Ken's tips for flying with a stoma.

I have learnt a few ways to overcome the possible hiccups of travelling with an ostomy. I suppose initially the prospect of being frisked at security was the most terrifying thing. The first time it happened was at a small airport in Greece.

A security guard frisked me because I had set off the alarm for some reason. He physically leapt back a couple of feet when he touched my ostomy area.

Gave him my certificate

I have a travel certificate in 10 languages, which explains about the ostomy and the medical condition. I handed this over and the guard read the Greek version. They just need to verify that the bag is in place and genuine.

I was taken to a private room where I could show them I was not carrying anything more sinister than a soft skin-coloured bag.

A fresh bag for the journey

We tend to travel to the airport the day before the flight and stop in a hotel with parking. There I always change my bag and baseplate, so that it's a fresh one for the journey.

First: A trip to the toilet

After take-off the bag usually balloons a little, I assume because of cabin pressure variation. As soon as the seat belt signs go out I go to the toilet and open the bag's drainable outlet. This equalises the pressure and eases any problems that might occur.

The toilets are also quite clean at this point in the flight so much more pleasant to do anything you might need to do. Don't try swinging a cat in there though definitely not enough space for that!

Medical supplies don't count as hand luggage

Most airlines will allow you to carry on a separate bag of medical supplies and not include this in your cabin baggage weight allowance. You can check this in the small print of the airlines terms and conditions.

Bring it all with you

I would definitely recommend that you carry with you all the supplies you need for the duration of your holiday.

If your hold baggage gets lost or sent to somewhere else then it can be very stressful trying to get supplies sent to your destination.

Insurance means peace of mind

I think it's important to disclose your condition to your chosen travel insurance company. It usually means paying a little more but brings peace of mind when abroad.

I find these days that the last thing on my mind when I anticipate travel abroad is my ostomy. That's not to say that it was not a big concern initially but it has diminished as a worry as I've become more organised and practiced at it.

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