I’ve always loved flying. I love getting to the airport at silly-o-clock; going through security and the hubbub of duty free to look at the discounted booze, and soak yourself in perfume. I love the craziness of boarding the plane and watching everyone turn into ants as we climb thousands of feet in the air. When the plane comes into land and I step off, it’s that gush of hot air that tells me I’m definitely not in England anymore!
But flying with a stoma can be a daunting prospect. I’ve been on two holidays with my ostomy bag now; one to Ibiza six months after surgery and Barcelona, almost a year and a half post-op; and both holidays came with a little anxiety. Packing is always my first step because when you poo into a bag, it comes with a lot more baggage. Most airlines offer special bag allowances for ostomates, but always ask as far in advance as possible to make them aware of your needs. This goes for anyone with IBD too, and telling the airline you need to be closer to a bathroom for medical reasons will subdue some of that anxiety.
When I fly I double the amount of supplies I need for the holiday so I’m prepared for any potential problems. I went to Barcelona for five days, so I packed 10 bags plus any accessories; including a mirror, scissors, barrier wipes, stoma rings, bin bags, dry wipes, adhesive remover and stoma caps for my mucus fistula [see below, left]. I pre-cut half my ostomy bags and pop them in my hand luggage with all other essentials; apart from scissors of course. I put the rest of my bags and any extra accessories I wouldn’t need in an emergency in the hold. This makes sure I’m prepared if there were any issues collecting luggage or the bag gets lost. In my experience going through airport security has been easy and I haven’t been questioned yet, but I’ve heard of some ostomates being stopped by security staff; asking about the bag and the contents of their hand luggage. To avoid any issues, I always carry my IA travel certificate [See below, right: you can make your own one here from Coloplast]. This was given to me by my nurses and it has all the details of my hospital, plus an explanation of why and what I’m carrying in multiple languages.
The last thing was travel insurance. Having a chronic illness and a disability can make travel insurance extortionate. When I had my colon and was going through treatment, it was very expensive and there isn’t much you can do to get around this; other than search for the best price. With my stoma the price of travel insurance doesn’t break the bank and usually I do it through Debenhams travel because you get a gift card… So that’s a bonus I guess!
But onto the holiday!
Barcelona was total bliss! I ate great food, walked miles through the winding streets of the gothic quarter, and soaked up the beautiful Spanish sun. I even braved it on a VERY public beach with the bag out! I might be very open online about my stoma bag, but when you sit on a beach surrounded by thousands of people who probable don’t know what a stoma is, it’s very daunting. But I bought this new bikini and wasn’t about to miss out on getting my tan on! There were a few people who looked puzzled at my bagged body, but ultimately everyone was just enjoying the searing hot sun and didn’t take any notice of my bag.
Barcelona was very different to my Ibiza holiday. In Ibiza I was lounging by a pool or at a beach club and wasn’t ever too far from the hotel; so bathroom access or the ability to empty my bag was easier. In Barcelona we spent more time getting lost in the gothic streets than we did in the hotel, so planning this was different. I took a small handbag with an ‘emergency ostomy bag changing kit’ just in case I got a leak while out-and-about (something I do at home). Before I left the hotel I popped one of Trio Healthcare’s Ostomy Pearls into my bag [link here]. They absorb water and reduce odour, meaning I didn’t have to empty my bag as frequently, and could relax while we explored the city. If I felt like I needed to change or empty my bag in an emergency situation, or it was filling up too much, the local restaurants, hotels and cafes are very accommodating if you explain.
In my experience travelling with a stoma isn’t that different to travelling without one! There are a few things I have to think about; like where and how to empty my bag; but ultimately I just got to relax and enjoy Barcelona.
In my experience, as long as you plan and prepare for any eventuality, going on holiday with a stoma is just as chill as travelling without one!