My boyfriend grew up going camping all the time and still loves it, and really wants me to go with him before summer break is over. I grew up in a family that never really camped, so I’m already a little anxious about it, but I was also diagnosed with UC six months ago. My disease is pretty stable right now, but I do have “off” days (diarrhea and pain) that seem to come out of nowhere. What can I do to help the trip go more smoothly?
-Anxious, Athens, GA
I’ve woken up in a tent at 6 am unable to sleep, sweat-soaked, nauseated, and urgently needing a bathroom that wasn’t there. That was pretty rough, but it didn’t have to be — camping can be a lot of fun, I swear. I eventually learned from trial and error what I needed to do to make sure it was.
First of all, one or two nights is plenty for a new camper, IBD or not. Location also makes a big difference. Some places have parking and restrooms just steps from campsites; I recommend Georgia’s Vogel State Park. For more remote sites (which could involve a long hike with heavy gear — maybe not the best choice for a beginner), you can either dig a hole in advance to squat over, or you can buy toilet seats online that attach to buckets or your car bumper (lined with a garbage bag; then you have to dispose of the bag properly). Of course, bring lots of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Typical camping food includes beef jerky, granola bars, and freeze-dried meals, but if you’re not used to it, these can lead to constipation or diarrhea. Stick to your regular diet as much as possible. If this includes bananas, Bisquick pancakes, and peanut butter sandwiches, great — those are easy. But if you need to eat foods that require refrigeration, use a cooler packed with dry ice. Also, don’t forget about making sure you'll have enough safe drinking water (bring it bottled, get it there, or purify it somehow). The rule of thumb is a gallon a day per person, not accounting for very hot weather, physical activity or diarrhea, so plan on needing more than that. Bring powdered Pedialyte packets, too, just in case.
Even if you have to spend half your time drinking Pedialyte while lying in your tent streaming Netflix and farting, your boyfriend will appreciate the effort.
Sleep can have a big impact on IBD, so for comfort, bring foam or inflatable pads or cots. And make sure the tent has lots of screened walls for good ventilation, or instead bring an enclosed screened pop-up pavilion to sleep in. If your tent doesn’t have good airflow, it quickly becomes an oven once the sun comes up.
Finally, be prepared for some discomfort. Despite your best efforts, you may feel kind of crappy for some, or all, of the trip. Bring remedies for nausea, gas, constipation, bloating and pain just in case. But also be prepared to enjoy yourself; immersing yourself in nature like this can be really relaxing and soothing, which may actually help your IBD. Bring gear for fun stress-relieving activities, too, like hiking, swimming, fishing, stargazing, marshmallow-roasting, or just reading.
But if things do go wrong, don’t beat yourself up for “failing” — just accept the circumstances and make the best of it. Even if you have to spend half your time drinking Pedialyte while lying in your tent streaming Netflix and farting, your boyfriend will appreciate the effort you made to be part of something he enjoys. And you’ll have more than earned getting to pick your fall-break vacation, this time maybe with refrigeration, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing.
Author Katie McLendon is a CCFA support group facilitator in Atlanta who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2005. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a Master of Public Health degree from Emory University, and works as an editor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Follow Katie on Twitter: @katiefmclendon
Have a question for Katie?
Send it to gutcheckCCFA@gmail.com and your question may appear in a future column (names and e-mail addresses will not appear in print, and remain confidential).