In the year or so since having an ileostomy, I have taken several flights on different airliners for overnight trips and weeks-long vacations. Of my three trips, one was a weekend federal political convention, one was an overnighter to Ostomy Canada’s July 2014 convention to entertain with full bellydance gear, and one was a three week trip that included a Vancouver visit with a presentation at a Nanaimo ostomy conference before heading down to visit my sister in Los Angeles where I played with porcupines and covered Stan Lee’s Comikaze convention for Caotica Media.
With the exception of needing to bring my dance gear (traveling with a bellydance sword is a whole other story) I packed carry-on and still managed to have enough room to bring a variety of clothes with enough ostomy supplies to last.
I spent an overnight in an empty terminal, briefly lost my checked luggage and dance costuming on the way to entertain at an ostomy convention, was flagged for enhanced security because I had some cleanser on my hands and used the plane’s bathroom while the seatbelt light was on. Here’s a roundup of what I’ve learned:
How much should I bring?
Bring twice as many ostomy supplies as you think you need. If you change your ostomy three times a week, bring six changes for every week’s stay. The main challenge for me was putting on new appliances in different settings than I’m used to. My routine at home takes less than five minutes. Your schedule and activities will be different enough that you should count on a faster wear time.
If you bring every appliance you currently have in your bathroom, don’t forget to order more to coincide with your return home.
What are some possible challenges of changing an ostomy in different settings?
• Bad lighting or no mirrors that make it hard to see what you’re doing, especially if you wear a one-piece which is harder to place properly. Ostomates who can’t see their stoma should bring a handheld mirror.
• Unclean water or no water for washing your hands and around your ostomy.
• No access to a washer and dryer if you have a blowout.
• Shared public bathrooms that mean you have to be clothed whenever you need to empty.
• No nearby garbage cans.
• No privacy! Not everyone ones to see you change your ostomy.
• No time to change your ostomy properly, eppecially if you have an ostomy flange that needs to be warmed up for several minutes before and after applying and there’s a lineup.
Should I bring my usual supplies?
Yes and no. Now is not the time to start experimenting with even a different line from your usual brand. Normally I wear smaller bags but when I’m travelling I bring the larger version as well.
Don’t forget to pack the supplies you might want to use to clean up around your stoma, like Q-Tips, blue and white J-Cloth reusable towels (see photo below) or adhesive removal wipes.
I was recently given a sample of the Hollister M9 and I’ve been using it ever since. Even if you don’t use deordorizer at home, vacationing means you’ll be enjoying a different diet than you’re used to which may be hard to digest without incident. After trying the M9 I regularly keep a tiny bottle of it in my purse to use as a refresher. On vacation, bring sample or individual version of your regular full-sized products.
Carry on VS Checked luggage
When I flew to St Johns for an overnighter, I packed my ostomy supplies in my checked luggage. When my appliance came loose unexpectedly (it was unseasonable hot, hitting over 35 degree celcius), I had no way to change it. Luckily I was at an OSTOMY CONFERENCE! The Coloplast folks gave me a spare SenSura® Mio Flex.
How should I pack and organize my supplies?
If you use a two piece system like I do, pre-cut and attach them all to make counting and handling them easier. If you’re traveling somewhere hot, make sure your appliances are stored in a way that they won’t be subject to melting or freezing in the heat or cold. Pack as many in your carry-on as possible. Checked luggage gets lost.
I pack my supplies in one of the nice bags that Coloplast gave me. During day travel, I keep an entire change’s worth in my purse in a small wallet or pouch.
Especially if you’re going to be a guest in someone’s house, bring the opaque garbage baggies that come with your supplies! They’ll lock in any odor or unsightliness.
If you usually use a facecloth or similar at home to wash the skin around your ostomy, consider purchasing and packing some blue and white J Cloths. They’re very soft, sturdy and inexpensive so I use them all the time at home.
What NOT to Pack
Don’t bring your special ostomy scissors, and don’t bring your full-sized liquids. Generally you aren’t allowed to carry anything more than a few ounces of liquid on the plane. Pre-cut all of your ostomy flanges and try to get smaller, labelled versions of products like deodorizers case you have to explain the supplies or in case your luggage is checked later without you around to explain anything.
The weirdest item I’ve flown with has definitely been a bellydance sword! Dancers recommend throwing business cards into their luggage case when transporting weird items to give a quick answer about why they’d have a sword.
Similarly I always prefer to use a branded ostomy bag to legitimize and explain its contents if the logo is Googled. When you’re at the mercy of security agents it’s smart to keep all medications in their labelled containers, and I extend that philosophy to my ostomy supplies as well. Only decant a product if you don’t mind having it thrown out.
What about the plane trip itself?
I’ve only asked to use the bathroom once when the seatbelt light was on — “I have an ostomy, mind if I use the bathroom really quick?”, and the nice Air Canada stewardess knew exactly what I meant and was very prompt and polite.
I wear a two-piece system and wear loose, layered tops and angle my ostomy horizontally to avoid getting trapped under the belt.
And no, your ostomy bad won’t explode due to cabin pressure.
What about airport security?
When flying out of LAX I was asked to step out for advanced security because I had traces of benzoyl peroxide acne treatment on my hands. After having my luggage checked over I went in for a pat-down and explained that I have an ostomy. The only difference in the pat-down was that the ladies asked me to put my hands on my ostomy which was tucked under my opaque sweater tights from HUE — my “thing” as they called it — and then my hands were swabbed again. I kept insisting that it’s perfectly okay to put THEIR hands on my “thing,”” that it’s called an ostomy and hey come back here I can talk about this all day!
All in all, it was a stress-free pat down. Oddly enough I was allowed to keep the benzoyl peroxide tube that caused me to be flagged for enhanced security. I told them that I had the Target branded version in my luggage and that they can chuck it out if they want to, but they said it wasn’t necessary.
It’s not ostomy-related, but I generally pack the rest of my luggage in those giant Ziploc bags to make packing and re-packing quickly a breeze.
Eating & Air Travel
This is going to be unique for all ostomates, but I snack on potato chips and bananas to keep my ostomy from going crazy. Some people may want to pack an anti-diarrheal but traveling is absolutely not the time to experiment with them. Cold water or cold foods like popsicles can be a shock to my stomach and small intestine and cause nausea from temporarily dysmotility so I choose tea and coffee when I can.
What about overnight or day trips?
Always carry an extra appliance with you! This is how I pack my supplies to keep in my purse.
What should I bring on a week-long trip?
Here’s what I would pack for a seven to eight day trip.
• Seven flanges, pre-cut
• Seven ostomy bags in two different sizes
• Eight mouldable rings
• Eight disposable cloths
• Not pictured: Sample bottle of Hollister M9 deodorizer and Coloplast Brava Barrier Wipes.