Urinary incontinence can seem like an impossible hurdle to overcome when planning a trip. There are often obstacles in the way of getting to a restroom. Many highways have long stretches of road without any exits.
Another challenge is finding an appropriate facility that has a clean, spacious and readily available restroom. Bumper to bumper traffic is especially scary for some, since this means getting to a toilet is virtually impossible until the roads clear.
Planning your trip in advance to include the necessary pit stops can take the stress and anxiety out of your travels.
Here are some tips to get you there in a less stressful way, no matter if your destination is an hour or a day away.
1. Visit the Doctor
Take some time before your trip to perform an analysis of your overall health status or visit a doctor for a checkup. Make note of anything you may be experiencing at the current time that would exacerbate the symptoms of your urinary incontinence, like a new cough or worsening constipation.
Being proactive and addressing certain health conditions before leaving town can help to minimize your symptoms while you travel. Make an appointment with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan in time for your trip.
Some things to look for are:
- A new cough or cold
- Uncontrolled blood sugars
- Signs of a urinary tract infection (burning when you pee, increased urgency to urinate and/or increased frequency of urination)
- Medications that are producing negative side effects
2. Communicate Your Bathroom Frequency
According to webmd.com, the average person urinates 6–10 times per day, but no one knows your body better than you do. This insider info can help you to set the pace for your travels. Make sure you discuss your usual threshold for time between trips to the toilet with the others that you are traveling with.
Being open and up front with how frequently you need to urinate can help you and your fellow travelers accommodate your needs more effectively. Communication is key.
3. Train Your Bladder
Weeks or even months before your trip you can begin to condition your bladder to go longer in between trips to the restroom. While this may not work for everyone, it is a common way to help deal with urinary incontinence.
There are several ways to strengthen or train your bladder:
- Timed voiding – Make sure that you make a schedule to urinate and stick to it, even if you do not feel the urge to go at that time. Start with 1 hour between trips to the toilet and gradually increase from there. Even if you are not able to increase the times between emptying your bladder, this method will help you to determine what your threshold is for holding your urine so that you can plan accordingly.
Kegel exercises – This method involves a series of movements that help to strengthen the muscles in the pelvic area.
- Squeeze (or “bear down”) the muscles in your pelvic area for 3–5 seconds at a time, several times in a row throughout the day. Anytime you think of it, do it!
- Another method involves squeezing the muscles while you are peeing to stop the flow of urine, hold it for a few seconds, then let it flow again.
Flexing your pelvic muscles will help you build the strength you need to reduce the frequency of your urinary incontinence and lengthen the time needed between bathroom trips.
4. Know Where the Bathroom Is
Knowing when you need to stop for the restroom is one thing, making a plan to get there is another. There aren't always bathrooms available along the highways and, oftentimes, the restrooms available can be hard to get to or not very clean.
To ensure that you can get to a sanitary and accessible public restroom in time, search along your route for facilities before you leave the house. Remember what your threshold is for how long you can wait between trips to the toilet and plan a stop for that time interval.
Try to pick facilities that are known to be consistently clean, such as a larger gas station chain or a well-known restaurant. You could also use the rest stop areas along your route (as long as they are not too far apart).
Use Google to Find a Bathroom
A great tool for this is using Google Maps, as you can type in “Public restroom near me” and it will bring up a list of options in the area.
Use Charmin's App to Find a Bathroom
Charmin has an app named “Sit or Squat” that lets you know what restrooms are near your current location and how they rate for cleanliness and accessibility (sit is good, squat is bad). It’s a helpful tool for when you just aren’t familiar with the area you’re in.
Download the app here
5. Have an Emergency Plan
No matter how meticulously we may plan and prepare, there is always the chance that an emergency situation pops up. Like a traffic jam, or flat tire making it impossible to get to a restroom. Having a plan for this type of situation can be a lifesaver.
Wear a maximum-absorbency product (even if you typically only need a light or moderate absorbency). Another option is to double up on your products (wear a pad inside of a brief, or add a booster pad to your briefs) Bring a privacy blanket in case a brief change is necessary in the car. Most GPS systems will warn you of a slow down ahead, so be proactive and always stop well before the slow down to use the restroom (even if you don't yet feel the urge).
6. Eat Right
For the days leading up to your trip, be sure to eat a healthy high-fiber diet and avoid certain foods that may irritate your system. These include spicy foods, tomato-based sauces, alcohol and acidic fruits, and juices such as citrus or cranberry juice.
In general, you will want to temporarily decrease your liquid intake the day of the trip to decrease the amount of urine your body makes. Be mindful that you don’t want to dehydrate yourself, because that can actually make urinary incontinence symptoms worse.
Talk with your doctor beforehand about what is a healthy balance for you. During your trip try to specifically avoid excess coffee and carbonated beverages as they can act as a diuretic (meaning they cause you to lose water).
7. Wear Dark and Loose Clothing
Make sure you wear loose fitting clothing that is not only comfortable, but allows for easy access when you need to use the restroom or perform a brief change. Tight, restrictive clothing may also limit the room that you bladder has to expand, worsening the symptoms of urinary incontinence.
It may be a good idea to wear a maximum-absorbency pad or brief (as mentioned before) for some extra protection in case of an emergency. It has been said that black clothing is your best friend when it comes to hiding an accident.
8. Pack Enough Underwear
When travelling, urinary incontinence supplies can be hard to come by. They can either be hard to find (especially if you use a specific brand or type) or higher priced than you are used to. Packing plenty of your usual products can save you time and money.
Protecting your skin from breakdown and irritation should definitely be a priority, even during times of travel. It only takes a short time for skin to become fragile from the effects of constant contact with urine or feces (sometimes even just a matter of hours). Wearing incontinence products also increases the risk of infection due to the warm, dark, and moist environment that briefs/pads create. Make sure to change your briefs or pads often (especially if soiled) to avoid breakdown of the skin or infection.
A great rule of thumb is to pack twice as many briefs or pads as you would normally use. This allows for some extra in case your trip is prolonged or in the event that the fun (or stress) of the trip has temporarily changed your urinary habits. Be sure to also include a few extra changes of clothes, undergarments (including socks) and an extra pair of shoes in case of an accident.
9. Make a Go-Bag
A go-bag is a bag that you keep close and accessible packed with your incontinence supplies. The type of bag you chose should allow enough space, be easily carried and allow for discretion if you choose. A popular choice for this is a backpack, especially if you will be doing a good amount of walking (like shopping or at an amusement park).
Things that should be included in your go-bag are:
- Pads or briefs
- Incontinence Wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Air deodorizer
- Scented or odor-blocking bags to dispose of your used products discreetly
- A change of clothing (possibly even a change of shoes)
- Moisture or Barrier creams
10. Pack the Right Kind of Underwear
Discretion is important for many of us when it comes to urinary incontinence. Changing in a bathroom with someone in the stall next to you can be a challenge, but there are some tips to help you secure your privacy.
Tabbed type briefs are best for this as they allow you to change it without having to completely remove your pants and shoes. Firstly, take some time to practice the art of changing your brief while standing at home.
Try to remove the taped tabs quietly and pull the brief forward allowing the back half of the brief to move towards the front between your legs. You can reverse the process to put on a new one. It may help to rest the new brief on the waistband of your pants while you fasten the tabs.
Another method is to place the back of the brief behind you and lean your back up against the wall (or bathroom stall divider) trapping the brief behind you. This holds it in place while you fasten the tabs.
For pull up style briefs, you can remove them in the same fashion as tabbed briefs by tearing the side panels. However, you must remove at least your pants (and sometimes your shoes) to put on a new pair, so this method is less discreet and requires some flexibility.
Dispose of the Diaper Properly
To dispose of the used diaper or pad, simply place it in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash can. Your go bag should be stocked with these bags as well as some spray deodorizer for an extra level of discretion. Make sure you bring more than 1 brief or pad in with you as sometimes the product can be defective or tear while you are trying to maneuver it on.
11. Consider a Medical Device
Planning a trip is stressful enough, don't let urinary incontinence get in the way. There are several options that your physician can offer that may make your trip go more smoothly.
- A pessary is a soft ring-shaped device that can be placed in the vagina to help support the bladder and decrease urinary leakage.
- Another option is a tampon, or a tampon-like device that holds pressure on the urethra as well as helps to soak up any urine that has leaked out.
- There are medications that will relax the muscles of the bladder, allowing it to expand more and store more urine. Some of the medications you are already taking may have diuretic effects (meaning they cause you to urinate more), so your doctor can help you come up with a schedule to take these medications that will work better for you while you travel.
- There are even some surgical options that can help relieve the symptoms of urinary incontinence, but these options must be planned well in advance of your trip.
12. International Travel: Know the Language
Traveling internationally? Make sure that you know how to ask where the restroom is in the local language.
- French: Où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît? (Where is the toilet, please?)
- Spanish: Perdóname ¿Dónde está el baño? (Excuse me, where is the bathroom?)
- German: Wo ist die Toilette, bitte? (Where is the toilet, please?)
- Japanese: Sumimasen, toire wa dare desu ka? (Excuse me, where is the toilet?)
- Arabic: Ayna Al Hammam? (Where is the bathroom?)
Familiarize yourself with what the signs that represent and differentiate the mens' and womens' restrooms. Some countries do not have the same customs or bathroom etiquette as the United States, and the differences may be quite surprising to you.
Learn more about bathroom etiquette around the world here.
13. Know Your Rights to Accommodation
While there are no specific laws governing access to restrooms on an aircraft, bus or cruise ship, there are certain laws related to people with disabilities in general under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Airlines – Try to book your plane seats in advance so you can ensure you are near the restroom facilities. Choosing an aisle seat is definitely ideal. There are accommodations that can be offered (such as an onboard wheelchair or assistance from a flight attendant to reach the restroom). Some airlines do require you to inform them in advance if any special accommodations are needed, so be sure to contact the airline directly at least 24 hours in advance.
Bus or Cruise Ship – Make sure that you map out the ship to know where the accessible restrooms are, as some of them may be up a set of stairs, or on a completely different deck. When booking your meal and entertainment reservations on the ship let them know that you need to be near a toilet. When on an excursion or in an amusement park be sure to get a map or talk with the tour guide to find out where and when the bathroom stops will be.
14. Rely on Your Family
Family and friends can offer some pretty valuable advice when it comes to their past experiences. With an average of 1 out of 3 Americans experiencing symptoms of urinary incontinence at some point in their lives, chances are the people close to you can give you some really great pointers.
Ask them what they have learned from their past experiences and some tips on how to manage. Local or online support groups for urinary incontinence can also be a valuable resource for what to expect as well as some tried-and-true remedies. Don’t ever feel like you are alone in this; reach out and talk about it.
15. Relax and Enjoy!
Stress can create a variety of obstacles in life and can wreak havoc on your health. Worrying about your trip can increase your stress level, especially if you are dealing with urinary incontinence. Stress can play a huge role in your physical health everywhere from raising your blood pressure to lowering your immune system.
Don't let overthinking the details get the best of you. Be confident in the plan you have created. Take some deep breaths and review the steps that you have put into place, then let it go. Remember why you planned your trip in the first place, enjoy what you have worked so hard on and have the fun that you deserve.