old couple, husband having his wife piggyback on the beach
Incontinence management

Travelling with incontinence

Travel can seem daunting to people with mild incontinence. But with a bit of planning there’s no reason not to continue enjoying an active, mobile life.

When a young, active patient is diagnosed with slight incontinence they often assume, wrongly, that it spells an end to their independence and that any activities that require them to be mobile are no longer possible.
A happy-looking old lady is sitting at a table in a hospital room; in front of her is a board game. Two medical assistants standing far behind her and talking to each other

A number of studies and surveys confirm this belief:

    •Sufferers limit their travel to places and routes where they know the location of toilets, They prefer to drive themselves so they can stop when they need to, They drink less fluid if planning to go out. They restrict certain physical activities, such as lifting, and generally go out less. Source: Abrams P, Kelleher CJ, Kerr LA, Rogers RG. Overactive bladder significantly affects quality of life. The American Journal of Managed Care. 2000;6(11):S580-S590.
    •People tend to avoid or limit factors, activities and situations that may provoke episodes of urinary incontinence. Restrictions and limitations may influence social activity, travel, physical activity, fluid intake, choice of occupation, and intimate relationships. Sources: Hägglund D, Walker-Engstrom ML, Larsson G, Leppert J. Reasons why women with long-term urinary incontinence do not seek professional help: a cross-sectional population-based cohort study. Int Urogynecol J Pelvic Floor Dysfunct. Nov 2003;14(5):296-304; discussion 304.) and Thompson DL, Smith DA. Continence nursing: A whole person approach. Holistic Nursing Practice. Jan 2002 2002;16(2):14.)
    •35% of women report changing their activities to accommodate the condition including avoiding exercise, traveling less frequently and avoiding sex. Source: Gallup survey, 2002.

 Fortunately, there is no reason why people suffering from mild urinary leakage shouldn’t be able to travel or restrain from being active. There are many services, continence products and types of toileting equipment that can help with incontinence management – and a number of ways patients can self-manage their condition.

Preparing beforehand

An elderly couple is sitting on rocky ground, while both of them are smiling into a camera, which the husband holds in front of them.

Bladder training, prior to travel, can help strengthen the muscles, allowing sufferers to have longer periods between toilet breaks. Read more about Kegel exercises.

 By paying attention to the body’s signals prior to a trip, it is possible to calculate how long the bladder can go before it needs to empty. Toilet breaks can then be scheduled to avoid the need to find a bathroom urgently.

Planning the journey

An adult woman is standing outside with her mother; both are smiling happily.

Planning is fundamental to reducing the stress of travelling. As well as scheduling bathroom breaks in advance, it is a good idea to pack a special travel kit, including any regular treatment, in case there is limited availability to buy equipment at the destination. A typical kit would include: 

  • plastic bags with twist ties for easy disposal
  • hand wipes and antibacterial cleaning products 
  • a variety of incontinence products: pads and liners for light urinary leakage
  • protective underwear
  • briefs for maximum protection
  • extra underwear, pants and outer clothes 

While travelling

An adult woman is sitting with her mother on a sofa in a living room. The two women are looking happily at a photo album, while the daughter wrapped an arm around her mother’s shoulder.

Coffee, caffeinated drinks, alcohol or carbonated beverages should be limited or avoided if these are known to worsen symptoms, but drinking water should never be excluded during travel, as this can lead to health issues. Cutting down on fluids with the aim of reducing urine leakage can actually make things worse .

 Air travel can present an extra set of worries for people living with incontinence but some forward planning can make things easier. For example, aisle seats allow easy and instant access to toilet facilities and allow passengers to stretch and walk as much as possible. Bear in mind that In-flight air conditioning is dehydrating so it is important to continue to drink water.

Toilet finder apps can detect the closest bathroom facilities – particularly helpful in unfamiliar cities.

By fully tapping into the potential of existing treatment it is possible to maintain personal mobility and enjoy travel. After travelling several times, routines are established and patients’ confidence grows along with their trust in their ability to deal with those challenges . This all adds to their quality of life.