Whether it's a desire to get out and enjoy warm weather on the open road, or an itch to get out of town to escape the chill of winter, the travel bug can often be impossible to tame. Traveling has many joys, but it can also be tough on those with chronic conditions like heartburn.
Trying new-to-you local fare, eating on the fly, and overindulging (as we are all often guilty of while on vacation), can all contribute to a flare-up of acid reflux disease. Combine that with the stress of jet lag and sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings, and you’ve got a recipe for discomfort.
While medication may be required to get true relief, there are things you can do to minimize your symptoms and put yourself in the best position to have an enjoyable trip.
Avoid Trigger Foods and Beverages
That theme park funnel cake may be calling your name, but the price you'll pay after munching on it may ruin your fun for the rest of the day. Whether it's this fried treat or something else, you likely already know what will get your heartburn kicking. If you don’t, a few weeks before you leave, keep a food diary to keep track of your symptoms and identify your trigger foods. These may involve particular foods or food preparations.
It’s especially important to avoid them when traveling. Some good options to choose when presented with a menu? Lean meats, baked potatoes, apples, multi-grain breads and low-fat salad dressings.
Try to Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Opt for this instead of one or two large meals a day. A too-full stomach can put extra pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that keeps stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus, which increases the chance of reflux. Smaller, more frequent meals will also keep hunger at bay and help you avoid the urge to overeat.
If you are going to be on a long flight, a "we're making no stops" car ride or just out and about all day, plan ahead by packing some healthy snacks you can eat throughout the day. (Good, for-purchase choices may not be available to you when you need them.)
Don't wear belts or clothes that are tight-fitting around the waist. Stay comfortable and avoid anything that’s overly constricting. Clothes that are too tight around the abdomen will squeeze the stomach, which can lead to the reflux of food and acid into the esophagus.
Keep it Low Stress
Keeping a low stress level may be hard when you’re rushing between tourist attractions or in traffic on the way to the airport. But since stress can exacerbate your heartburn symptoms, try to take time to relax with some light exercises or deep breathing.
Watch the Alcohol
Travel, whether it’s for business or pleasure, often includes a lot of social situations that include alcohol. Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter and increases the production of stomach acid.
If you want to drink alcohol, limit your intake. You can also try diluting mixed drinks with water or club soda. Non-alcoholic beer and wine are also good options.
Avoid Lying Down Right After Eating
Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the lower esophageal sphincter. Instead of going to bed after you’ve eaten, give your body a couple of hours to digest what you’ve just eaten.
When sleeping, elevate your head or the head of your bed 4 to 6 inches. With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter. You can elevate your head using an extra pillow.