Do you have any travel rituals? My pre-flight routine looked like this for years: Slide into my favorite spandex pants, grab a pack of Sour Patch Kids on my way to the airport, and slash my water intake so as to avoid being “that girl” who taps her neighbor three times in a two-hour flight to get to the washroom.
If your flight prep looks a lot like mine used to, we need to talk.
Urinary tract infections are the second most common infection in the United States, accounting for about 8.6 million visits to health care providers each year. They’re second only to the common cold (which, yep, often includes the man flu).
In 2014, I had eight UTIs. I’ve come to call that period of time my UTI apocalypse. I’ve always been susceptible to UTIs, but things went off the rails that year. Although I loved my physician network at the time, they kept recommending antibiotics for prevention. That was not the sustainable solution I had in mind. From then on, I became serious about understanding why some of us get so many UTIs and how we can be proactive about prevention instead of being reactive with treatment.
So, what have I learned? Well, spandex, Sour Patch Kids, and dehydration on your flight to see the folks are basically begging for a UTI. It’s practically reckless whether your trip lasts two hours or twenty-four.
Although some of us are just more prone to UTIs (one in four women suffer from recurring UTIs), there are precautions we can all take to minimize our risk, especially while traveling.
01. Avoid sugary foods (looking at you, Sour Patch Kids).
Certain foods increase the pH in your urinary tract. When the natural pH of the bladder increases, unhealthy bacteria normally in the bladder have the opportunity to overgrow. Sometimes this can lead or contribute to an infection.
Sugar is a huge culprit. If you’re suffering from repeat UTIs, try cutting way back on sugar and artificial sweeteners. Sadly, this means everything from processed white sugar to honey and agave. I now try to avoid sweets on the plane and whenever I feel particularly susceptible to a UTI (for instance, when you’re pregnant, swimming, or taking a bath) so that my body gets all the support it needs to stay healthy.
02. Say no to the in-flight wine, too. Sorry.
Similar to sugar, alcohol can increase the pH of your urinary tract, giving bacteria a leg up. You should also avoid drinking any alcohol on your flight, train ride, boat passage, or whichever form of transportation you plan to take. Yes, even when the wine is complimentary.
03. Stay hydrated, even if it means multiple trips to the bathroom.
Fluids help move things through the urinary tract and also dilute your urine, making it harder for bad bacteria to thrive. Airplanes are dehydrating already, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids leading up to your flight and while you’re in the air. Also, go to the bathroom as soon as you need to. I’m not saying to go when you feel the slightest urge—over time that weakens your pelvic floor and decreases the size of your bladder. However, holding it in can allow bacteria to multiply within the urinary tract, resulting in a bladder infection or UTI.
04. Keep your spandex packed until you get to your destination.
Underwear, tight pants, or leggings made of man-made textiles such as spandex, polyester, or nylon can trap moisture down there, which harbors bacteria. For traveling, consider wearing something loose and breathable on the bottom instead. Also, avoid thongs, and wear cotton underwear for maximum breathability and minimal bacteria transfer.
05. Consider stashing some supplements in your bag.
When I said above that I got serious about prevention, I was serious. Born in collaboration with industry experts and medical professionals, and backed by clinical research, Uqora gives me peace of mind and relief. It’s a UTI-prevention drink mix that enables you to flush out the bad actors when you hit the loo. It tastes like pink lemonade and comes in individual servings that you can throw into your carry-on. It has been a lifesaver for me.
06. Focus on your overall health leading up to the long trip.
Your body has a much better chance of fending off bacteria in your urinary tract if your immune system is functioning well. Get plenty of sleep and load up on foods that can boost your immune system to give your body the energy it needs to fight off any pesky bacteria. This might also help you dodge a bullet from the person sitting next to you, who will probably be inadequately covering their mouth while sneezing. (Long live the elbow sneeze.)
While some of our propensity to UTIs is anatomical and out of our hands, there are a lot of things we can do to make sure we vacation UTI-free and go about our healthy merry way.