Going on long car rides can be troublesome for IC patients. Many patients report that being in the car for a long time causes their symptoms to flare. However, keeping a few tips and tricks up your sleeve can help make long car rides a bit easier. The last thing any ICer wants is to miss out on making good vacation memories with family and friends!
1. Prepare days before you go.
Of course you need to pack ahead of time and figure out where you’re going, but IC patients should also prepare by monitoring their activity and diet for a few days before leaving. If a food can sometimes cause you trouble, avoid it in the few days leading up to your time in the car. The same goes for activities. If vacuuming your home makes your bladder angry, skip the vacuuming in the few days before your trip. The goal is to make sure your bladder is as happy as can be before you even get into a vehicle.
2. Be picky about your vehicle — if possible.
You’re not going to buy a new vehicle for a trip, but if you are renting a vehicle or otherwise have a choice in which vehicle to take, opt for the one with the best suspension and smoothest ride. If one choice offers heated or cooled seats (whichever you find more soothing), that’s even better! (One of our vehicles has heated seats and I use them all year, especially on long rides.)
3. Be the passenger more than the driver.
Again, this may not always be possible, but the more you can ride instead of drive, the more likely you can move around and get more comfortable. Being the passenger also allows you to take medications you might need that make you too drowsy for driving. For example, when my husband and I are traveling and my symptoms are under control, I tend to take the first leg of driving for the day if we’re dividing it. I feel my best in the mornings in pretty much every way, so it works best for me.
4. Bring along your own snacks.
Long car rides mean you’re going to need to eat at some point. Bringing along some of your own bladder-friendly food is a great idea. Pack some plain potato chips, a pear, carrot sticks or whatever you enjoy and can easily eat in the car. Then you are covered if you can’t find anything bladder friendly during your travels. You can even pack lunches in a cooler and stop at rest stop to eat them to avoid eating out all together. Bonus: it saves you some time and money!
5. Bring along your own drinks.
Even if you decide not to bring snacks along, bringing along your own drinks is a great idea for ICers. Pack a small cooler with your friendliest IC bottled water. Consider an insulated tumbler filled with ice to pour the water into to keep it cold for hours. Drinking water in smaller sips at a time rather than all at once can be easier on your frequency. Figuring out the right amount of water to drink on a road trip can be challenging. In an effort to keep your bathroom trips more to a minimum, you might be tempted to try and avoid drinking much at all. But the less diluted your urine is, the more acidic it will be, which means it will be more likely to cause you pain and discomfort. (1)
6. Carry restroom access cards.
Having restroom access cards with you comes in handy if you encounter a location that refuses to let you use the restroom. While such policies are in place in some businesses, having a restroom access card helps you convey to the proprietor that you have a medical reason for needing to use the restroom and being forced to wait can have painful consequences.
7. Consider alternative voiding measures.
Finding a bathroom to use can be a challenge on long car rides, especially if you are off the interstate or in much less populated areas. It can also be a challenge if you end up stuck in a traffic jam for a long time. Having alternative bathroom measures along can help in those situations. Travel Johns, which are sanitary, portable urinals, work well. (If necessary, you can open both the front and back doors of a 4-door vehicle and stand between them for a bit more privacy. You could also take along a blanket or sheet for a companion to hold up in the remaining opening to help conceal you even more.)
Another alternative is adult diapers. Many options are now thin enough to fit under your normal clothes without anyone knowing. Even if you don’t have to use it, at least knowing it’s available can put your mind at ease. If you worry about bladder leakage, consider wearing panty liners or other pads in your underwear you can change as needed.
8. Dress for comfort.
Wear clothes that will move and stretch with you. Definitely avoid anything that fits tightly in the pelvis or crotch area. Loose athletic pants, capris or shorts can be good. Loose skirts and dresses also work well. You don’t want to add any additional pressure to your bladder area.
9. Consider a seat cushion or pillow to sit on.
Having a cushion on top of the seat can help alleviate any jarring from your vehicle. You can use a chair cushion, a bed pillow, a toss pillow, a folded blanket or even a couple of folded towels.(2) Honestly, this is one of my favorite travel tips I learned many years ago. It’s easy enough to do (even if you’re driving) and really does help reduce the amount of vibration on your bladder and pelvic floor.
10. Use heat or cold.
Many patients find relief with heat or cold. Find portable options for whichever one works best for you to take along on your trip. For heat, consider heating patches that adhere to the inside of your underwear and provide heat for up to 12 hours. You can also use a microwave heating pad if you prefer. Many gas stations have microwaves available for customers to use. Another option for heat is to utilize the heated seats some vehicles offer. While they don’t apply heat directly to your bladder, they do apply heat to your pelvic floor and low back, which can hurt during bladder flares.
If you alternate between hot and cold, consider these long hot and cold packs that fit well in the crotch area. You can heat them in a microwave or freeze them — whichever you prefer. Be sure NOT to apply them directly to your skin. Use them over your clothes and/or wrap them in a towel.
11. Manage your medications.
Be sure to take your daily medications as directed and as usual. Traveling can throw off your routines and schedules. I set daily reminders at my usual med times to make sure I don’t miss a dose or take it too late. Also be sure to have any prescription and OTC pain relieving medications and supplements with you. Consider other OTC options like Prelief to reduce acid in foods and beverages or AZO for painful urination.
12. Bring along distractions.
Distractions are great for car rides not just to help pass the time, but also to get your mind off your discomfort or thoughts of needing a bathroom break before you actually do. Bring along books, handheld games, audio books, favorite music or Podcasts to get your focus on something else.(2) If you’re using your phone for a game or other distraction, be sure to have a charger in the car so you don’t have to worry about running down the battery.
13. Take breaks along the way.
You may have to stop for bathroom breaks quite often, but try to also give yourself additional time out of the car. A short walk around a rest stop or some stretches out of the car can help your body feel better. If you are traveling off the beaten path, so to speak, plan ahead to find some good places to stop for bathroom breaks. If. you’re traveling in more populated areas, use the map on your phone to search for rest stops or restaurants nearby as you are moving so you know where to stop.
14. Be honest with your traveling companions.
If you are traveling with people who don’t know about your IC, give them a heads up before you start on your trip. If they are familiar with your IC journey, still keep them informed as necessary. Letting others know you need to make extra bathroom breaks or need time at the next stop to stretch a bit can help the trip go better for both you and your traveling companions. Respectfully share with them what you need to feel your best so you can enjoy your trip once you arrive at your destination.(3)
15. Give yourself time to recover.
Be good to yourself once you arrive at your destination. Instead of making plans for as soon as you arrive, give yourself time to rest and recover before hitting the ground running. Consider splitting up for a bit if others don’t want to have downtime so you can rest while they go and do something else. You don’t want to push yourself too hard and end up missing out on or being miserable for the rest of your time away!(2)
- Interstitial Cystitis Network. Frequently Asked Questions About the IC Diet & Food List.
- Vivona V. 12 Tips for Going on a Long Car Trip When You Live With Fibromyalgia. The Mighty. May 16, 2019.
- Thompson D. Pain Management Tips for Traveling. Everyday Health. March 4, 2010.