I travel back and forth from my home in California to cities all across the United States as an ostomy advocate, public speaker and communications director with the United Ostomy Associations of America. When it comes to traveling with an ostomy, there's a lot to decide and sometimes not enough room. I hope these 6 travel tips help you decide what to pack and which essentials to take along.
1. Find the right carry-on bag.
If you're shopping for a new carry-on, look for luggage that features compression technology, which expands to fit more items, and then compress back down to original size. Luggage can be costly, but if you travel as much as I do, it’s worth the splurge.
Be sure to get something that rolls so you don’t have all that weight on your back or shoulders. I prefer four wheels over 2-wheeled luggage since it offers more mobility when weaving my way through the airport. One feature that sold me was all of the separate compartments for my laptop, clothes and ostomy essentials. Fitting everything into one bag is less of a struggle if it has all the right features.
My carry-on is black, but looking back I wish I would’ve purchased a bold color that stood out, just in case I had to check my bag because the plane is full. Keep in mind that many airlines have size limits (length + width + height) including handles and wheels.
2. Getting your ostomy supplies organized.
I always make sure that the small travel organizers for my beauty products, toiletries, and ostomy supplies are easily distinguishable. I use different colors or styles, or label each one so I always know what's inside. I like to place my ostomy supply case toward the top of my carry-on so I’m not rummaging for my supplies when I need them.
Rather than having loose items floating around in my purse, back-pack, or carry on, I organize smaller items (like hand sanitizer, lip balm, gum, etc.) into clear cosmetic cases or baggies.
I pack an “emergency change” case with just enough supplies for a pouch change and store that in the outside pocket of my carry-on so it is easily accessible. Items that I store in the “emergency change” case are: 1 barrier (pre-cut), 1 pouch, 1 stoma ring, 2 barrier strips, water wipes (no cleansers, moisturizers, and fragrance free), travel sized Poo-Pourri, and 1 mini trash bag to properly dispose of everything once I’m finished.
3. Wear comfortable clothing.
My destination usually determines what I wear on the flight, but whether I am traveling for work or a personal vacation, I always make sure that I’m comfortable. I like to wear leggings/yoga pants or my comfiest pair of jeans (fyi, jeans weigh more than you would think, so it’s better to wear them than add the weight to your suitcase) and a light weight t-shirt or blouse with a tank top or camisole underneath. I typically wear a tank top under most of my blouses out of habit and comfort with my ostomy, but it also comes in handy if I have an unexpected leak (in the effort that your first layer of clothing will catch it). I also bring a sweater or sweatshirt, since it’s usually chilly in the cabin. A long-sleeved shirt may also comes in handy if your ostomy pouch is full because you can easily tie it around your waist to help disclose the bump.
4. Prevent unpleasant surprises.
Unlike most people, I never sleep as soundly as I do when I am on a plane. I usually pass out before the plane even takes off! In order to prevent any unpleasant ostomy surprises during my in-flight snooze, the ostom-i Alert Sensor is a great product made for ostomates that will notify you when your pouch is too full. It senses a change of resistance in the pouch when output forms and sends that signal via Bluetooth to your mobile phone.
5. Remember the essentials.
My day-to-day wallet is heavy and crammed, so I prefer to use a small “travel wallet” that stores the airport security essentials: I.D., UOAA travel card, restroom access card. I’ve recently purchased a cell phone case that holds these important cards so that everything is easily stored in one place. The UOAA travel card can be presented to a TSA agent to explain your medical condition and how it may affect your screening through security.
I pack an “emergency change” case with just enough supplies for a pouch change and store that in the outside pocket of my carry-on so it is easily accessible. Items that I store in the “emergency change” case are: 1 barrier (pre-cut), 1 pouch, 1 stoma ring, 2 barrier strips, water wipes (no cleansers, moisturizers, and fragrance free), travel sized ostomy deodorant, and a mini trash bag to properly dispose of everything once I’m finished.
I’m a big snacker, so I always make sure to pack crackers, chips or my favorite candy and I usually purchase bottled water once I’m through security to maintain my hydration while traveling.
6. Avoid over packing, unless we’re talking ostomy supplies!
Keep an eye on your carry-on bag weight and avoid over packing because some airlines have a 40 pound (18.1 kg) limit. Be sure to check the weather in advance, so you can easily plan your outfits without double packing. Checking the weather also helps to plan for packing ostomy supplies, especially if you are traveling to a warm/humid climate. I always pack double the amount of supplies I would normally use in the given span of my trip, but to avoid overstressing I always try to look up (in advance) where to buy ostomy supplies in the city that I’m traveling to.