Exploring the world: how to travel with a stoma

01 March 2023
Exploring the world: how to travel with a stoma
Exploring the world: how to travel with a stoma - Adobe Stock

Ginny Hill offers advice on living life to the full when travelling with a stoma

Contemplating travelling, whether it’s a short break or a flight abroad, can be an anxious time following any surgery. Feelings of anxiety can arise. ‘What do I pack?’ ‘How will I manage the travelling?’ ‘What insurance do I need?’ For people with with a stoma, there might be a few additional anxieties, but this article aims to set you at ease in some common areas of concern.

Common concerns

If you’ve just had a stoma formed or this is your first time travelling since your surgery, it is not unusual to feel concerned about certain aspects of travel. If the worries feel overwhelming, you could start off with a short trip within in your own country and then contemplate a longer trip, maybe abroad. There is a lot of support available from many sources, so you can reach out to access it from your stoma nurse or from charities. There are common subjects that may cause concern, including body image issues, having enough extra supplies and accessing facilities, whether at the airport, swimming pool or beach. This article will it is hoped address some of your questions, using information collected from an online stoma group and nurses in my workplace. Everyone has their own worries, and so people will have different questions that they want answered.

Eating abroad

It is best to eat normally, rather than change your usual eating habits, as this can cause output issues. Make sure to drink plenty of water, especially in hot countries, as you can become dehydrated easily, and it may be wise to take medication to help with dehydration and diarrhoea when travelling. If travelling to countries with imperfect water sanitation, you may want to try to drink safe water, such as bottled water.


Make sure to pack plenty of stoma supplies: double your usual amount is ideal. You can either pre-cut your pouches or put your small scissors and aerosols in your luggage. You may be able to change your aerosol products for wipes instead, and some airlines may allow extra weight on luggage for medical supplies, so it is best to ask when booking.

Insurance and documents

It is essential when travelling, especially abroad with a health condition, that you have good insurance. People in the UK can get a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) from the gov.uk website, as well as travel insurance. Colostomy UK has a factsheet available that lists insurance companies suitable for ostomates (www.colostomyuk.org/information/a-z-list). Certain medications may need a letter from your doctor when travelling, and you can also acquire a travel certificate to carry, available from your stoma care nurse or stoma company. This is available in several different languages.

Airports and hotels

You may be concerned regarding accessible toilets or sleeping in a different bed. It’s best to have a RADAR key ready to access disabled toilets when travelling. If you are travelling to Europe, the RADAR key will not work, so you will need to buy a Eurokey. This is very similar to a RADAR key in that it enables access to accessible toilets. Some airports will have stoma- aware schemes, so try to check with the airport that you’re travelling from. You may want to take a protective sheet for the bed in case of leaks and try your best to ensure that your room has an ensuite toilet if staying in a bed and breakfast.

With proper preparation, a stoma need not be an impediment to travel and adventureWith proper preparation, a stoma need not be an impediment to travel and adventure

Clothing and swimming

You may want to take extra clothing with you on your trip, as I often do, just in case of issues with your pouch. Swimming can be a hurdle to cross if you haven’t done it since your surgery. Some people want to cover their pouch; others are happy to show it off. This is entirely your personal choice. Patterned swimsuits with ruching or high-waisted bikini bottoms or swim shorts can hide your pouch well. Prior to swimming, you may want to check that your pouch is emptied and secure. My top tip is to cover the filter with the stickers in your box to keep the filter dry. You can have a quick dip if you’re unsure and build up the time in the pool as you become more confident. You may find that you need to change your pouch more often if in a hot country or swimming regularly.


Regardless of whether you are in a hot or cold country, it’s best to ensure that your pouches are at a constant temperature. If the pouch is too hot or too cold, this can cause issues with adhesiveness and it may not stick properly.

Finally, it is important not to let your worries stop you from enjoying your trip. It helps to be prepared and gather information prior to your travel date.

Tips suggested by ostomates through an online support forum

  • Carry double the amount of your usual stoma supplies and clothing
  • Keep supplies at a cool temperature if abroad
  • Carry bottled water, hydration powders or extra fluids so that you are not dehydrated
  • Carry your stoma care supplier’s phone number, as it can get you emergency supplies
  • Check for airport schemes to support people with invisible disabilities; if so, a lanyard may be available at travel assist
  • Carry a doctor’s letter to accept extra baggage, as some airlines allow this for medical supplies
  • Keep your stoma supplies in your hand luggage and distribute them in other suitcases to ensure that you always have enough if bags are lost
  • Keep your RADAR key available for accessing disabled toilets in the airport
  • Obtain a RADAR key specific to the destination you are travelling to, if abroad
  • Carry a travel certificate available from your stoma nurse
  • Eat normally and don’t restrict your diet, as this may cause issues with your output
  • Drink bottled water where sanitation is poor and, if you irrigate, use bottled.

Advice from fellow stoma care nurses at my workplace

  • Ensure that your pouch is emptied before boarding, as it may balloon if there is air in the pouch during a flight
  • Try to get an aisle seat for easy access to the toilet if required
  • Take medication such as antidiarrhoeal tablets in case of high output or diarrhoea, and calamine lotion for sore skin
  • Distribute your stoma bags in other suitcases in case of lost luggage.