Travel constipation: Causes, symptoms, and management


Understanding travel constipation

Thessaloniki awaits! Sun, sights, and souvlaki beckon. But what if your dream vacation gets derailed by an unwelcome visitor – constipation? Don’t worry, fellow traveler, this digestive dilemma is a common foe for adventurers. As recommended by Dr. Christos Zavos, board-certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Thessaloniki Greece, it is crucial to understand the causes, symptoms, and management strategies for travel-related constipation.

Causes of travel constipation

  1. Changes in Routine: Travel often disrupts one’s daily routine, including meal times, sleep patterns, and physical activity levels. These disruptions can affect the digestive system, leading to constipation.
  2. Dietary Changes: While traveling, individuals may indulge in unfamiliar foods, consume less fiber, or drink less water, all of which can contribute to constipation.
  3. Dehydration: High temperatures during the summer in Greece cause increased sweating that can lead to dehydration if individuals fail to replenish lost fluids adequately. Dehydration can result in the body drawing water from the colon, leading to harder stools that are more difficult to pass, thus contributing to constipation.
  4. Limited Bathroom Access: Whether traveling by plane, train, or car, limited access to restroom facilities can discourage individuals from answering nature’s call, further exacerbating constipation.

Symptoms of travel constipation:

  1. Infrequent Bowel Movements: One of the primary symptoms of travel constipation is having fewer bowel movements than usual, typically fewer than three times per week.
  2. Straining: Individuals may experience difficulty passing stools, leading to straining during bowel movements.
  3. Hard or Lumpy Stools: Stools may become dry, hard, and difficult to pass, causing discomfort and pain.
  4. Abdominal Discomfort: Constipation can cause abdominal bloating, cramping, and discomfort, making travel experiences less enjoyable.

Management strategies for travel constipation:

  1. Stay Hydrated: It is essential to drink plenty of water before, during, and after travel to prevent dehydration and promote healthy bowel function.
  2. Maintain a Balanced Diet: While traveling, strive to include fiber-rich foods such as fruits (in particular prunes and kiwi), vegetables, whole grains, and legumes in your diet to support regular bowel movements.
  3. Familiar Food Fix: When possible, opt for meals with familiar ingredients you know won’t upset your stomach.
  4. Stay Active: Engage in physical activity whenever possible during travel, whether it’s stretching during a flight, taking short walks during rest stops, or exploring your destination on foot.
  5. Establish a Routine: Despite the disruptions of travel, try to maintain a consistent meal schedule and make time for bathroom breaks to support regular bowel habits. Try to establish a regular bathroom schedule, even if you don’t feel the urge initially. This can help train your bowels.
  6. Consider Laxatives: In some cases, over-the-counter laxatives or stool softeners may be necessary to relieve constipation during travel. However, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before using these products.
  7. Probiotic Power: Consider taking a daily probiotic supplement before and during your trip to promote healthy gut bacteria.

Over-the-counter medications for travel constipation

To alleviate constipation, over-the-counter (OTC) medications can provide relief. As recommended by Dr. Christos Zavos, a board-certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist, here are some OTC medicines commonly used to manage travel constipation:

  1. Fiber Supplements:
    • Fiber supplements such as psyllium husk, methylcellulose, or wheat dextrin can help soften stools and promote regular bowel movements. These supplements work by increasing the bulk of the stool, making it easier to pass.
    • Drink plenty of water when taking fiber supplements to prevent dehydration and maximize their effectiveness.
  2. Osmotic Laxatives:
    • Osmotic laxatives such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) or lactulose help relieve constipation by drawing water into the colon, which softens the stool and stimulates bowel movements.
    • These laxatives are effective at relieving occasional constipation but may take a day or two to produce results, so they should be taken as directed.
  3. Stimulant Laxatives:
    • Stimulant laxatives like bisacodyl or senna work by stimulating the muscles in the intestines to contract, promoting bowel movements.
    • While effective for relieving constipation, stimulant laxatives should be used cautiously and for short-term relief only, as prolonged use may lead to dependence or dehydration.
  4. Osmotic Agents:
    • Osmotic agents such as magnesium hydroxide or magnesium citrate work by drawing water into the intestines, softening the stool and promoting bowel movements.
    • These agents are often used for more severe cases of constipation but should be used with caution, as they can cause electrolyte imbalances if used excessively.

Important considerations:

  • Before using any OTC medication for travel constipation, read the label and follow the recommended dosage instructions.
  • If you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking other medications, consult with Dr. Zavos before using OTC remedies.
  • While OTC medications can provide short-term relief from travel constipation, address underlying dietary and lifestyle factors to prevent recurrence.

When to see a doctor:

While travel constipation is usually nothing serious, seek medical attention if:

  • Symptoms last longer than 3-4 days.
  • You experience severe abdominal pain or bloody stools.
  • You have a fever or vomiting along with constipation.

Bottom line:

Travel constipation is a common yet manageable issue that many individuals may experience during their adventures. By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and implementing proactive management strategies, travelers can help prevent and alleviate constipation, ensuring a more comfortable and enjoyable journey.

For personalized advice and consultation regarding gastrointestinal health concerns, individuals are encouraged to contact Dr. Christos Zavos, gastroenterologist, through the Contact Form of, by calling at phone numbers: (+30)-6976596988 and (+30)-2311283833, or by sending an email at Your digestive well-being is paramount, even while on the go.

Remember: By staying hydrated, eating fiber-rich foods, and maintaining some movement, you can keep travel constipation at bay and enjoy a worry-free, smooth-sailing adventure in beautiful Thessaloniki!

Last update: 9 April 2024, 22:32


Gastroenterologist - Hepatologist, Thessaloniki

PhD at Medical School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

PGDip at Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, The Netherlands

Ex President, Hellenic H. pylori & Microbiota Study Group