Ireland is a very easy foreign trip for those of us with IBD. The food is similar to what we have here in the United States, people tend to be familiar with Crohn’s and colitis, and the primary language is English. I highly recommend Ireland to anyone who wants to take a trip abroad but might be nervous to take their first foreign trip with IBD, especially if you’re not quite in remission. Here are a few tips to help that trip go not just smoothly, but wonderfully.
1. Bring your “I can’t wait” card
Put your “I can’t wait” card in your wallet and use it. If you’re somewhere that doesn’t have a public restroom and you’ve gotta go, politely show your card to someone who might have the bathroom key and you’ll be escorted to the bathroom and probably asked if there is anything else you need. The card doesn’t carry any legal requirement for someone to allow you to use the restroom or jump to the front of the line, but I haven’t heard of anyone being refused with the card.
Don’t have an “I can’t wait” card? Get one from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
2. Stay in B&Bs
The legendary Irish hospitality is at its best in Ireland’s bed and breakfasts. I’ve stayed in B&Bs throughout western Ireland and the owners of each one made us feel right at home and helped us with everything we needed. The cost is more than a hostel, but less than a hotel. You get the benefits of a hotel like your own room and a private bathroom without the sometimes steep hotel prices. Plus our hosts cooked breakfast to order every morning. In additional to the Full Irish Breakfast heavy with sausages, ham, and fried eggs, each B&B set out a selection of fruits, cereals, yogurt, breads and juices, offered a choice of coffee or tea, and had hot breakfast options that could be ordered instead of the Full Irish. Scrambled Eggs and Smoked Salmon is a common combo that I found just as filling as the Full Irish, especially if I had some yogurt and a banana as well.
3. Tell people you have Crohn’s
Everyone time I said “Crohn’s” to someone we met, that person had not only heard of the disease but also knew someone with it. Even if it was just a friend of a friend of a friend everyone had a frame of reference for Crohn’s, which is more knowledge than expect even in the United States. I found this very freeing and very helpful if I needed something.
4. Keep some toilet paper in your rental car
It’s really easy to get lost in the middle of nowhere in Ireland. If you have to go urgently, you may have to just pull over and take care of business. No one wants to be unprepared for that.
5. Eat fish
Fish in Ireland is so much more than just Fish and Chips (which is so delicious). If you’re on the coast, your choice of fish options will be many. I’ve enjoyed hake, mackerel, mussels, oysters, salmon, and Aran Islands crab claws in coastal pubs without ordering anything special. Fish is a wonderful way to sample the local cuisine while choosing food that’s easy on the belly (and those Omega 3 fatty acids are good for the gut).
6. Go to the grocery store
I always have some safe snacks in my bag, just in case. In Ireland, the best place to find safe snacks that are also a local treat is the grocery store. I like to pick up bananas, digestive biscuits, or something not so healthy like chips in different flavors like Prawn Cocktail or Worcester Sauce. If you ask nicely at your B&B you might even be able to get something you could keep in the fridge if there’s something specific you need to keep you feeling well.
7. Choose just a couple of places to visit, don’t try to “hit all the sights”
My favorite things about Ireland aren’t the “must-see” sights. My favorite things are hiking trails in small towns, pubs where singing breaks out spontaneously at the bar, and having a pint while people watching. To help feel your best while sinking in to the wonders of Ireland, stay at least two nights (preferably three or four) in each town. The pace of rural Irish life suits getting comfy in a place for a few days. Your body will also thank you for the familiarity that comes after a couple nights in the same place: sleeping more easily, knowing where to get safe foods, and knowing where the bathrooms are located.
8. Have afternoon tea and a nap
My husband (who doesn’t have Crohn’s) loves this advice too. After a morning and early afternoon of sightseeing, have a cup of tea and a snooze. This is the best way to get in your early sightseeing, plus have the stamina to stay up for live music in the pubs. Don’t sacrifice your rest, it will catch up to you.
9. Try the beer, but go easy on it
I love beer, but there are many times when beer doesn’t love me. In Ireland, you can still taste a variety of beers while taking it easy. Maybe have one to your travel companions two. Or don’t have beer everyday. Or order a half pint – it’s commonly done over there and is a great way to get a taste of beer without putting your body through too much.
10. Walk, walk, walk
The days I walked more were the ones I felt the best. Lots of walking helped digest the sometimes heavy foods much more easily and kept me feeling healthy. On our 10-day trip last fall, I felt sick exactly one day and that was the morning after our “rest day” that we didn’t walk very much.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I’m just a traveler with Crohn’s who hopes to share some helpful thoughts on what has helped me travel.
For general tips on traveling with IBD anywhere, check out this awesome resource from CCFA: http://www.ccfa.org/resources/traveling-with-ibd.html
Have you been to Ireland? Any travel tips you’d like to share?