“How to travel with chronic illness” sounds like there are two of you on the journey…and in a way, that’s true. Going anywhere with a medical condition means you’re bringing something along.
Guess what? Everyone brings something. Budget constraints, grouchy partners, overstuffed luggage, preconceptions or misconceptions. This is not to make light of any chronic illness. Quite the opposite. I’ll venture that you might possibly have an advantage, because you’re more aware and better prepared to deal with your situation. And probably more ready to appreciate your travel experience.
In Part 1 of this series on how to travel with a chronic illness, Planning Is IMPORTANT, we laid the groundwork–all the tasks that need to be done to protect your health and reduce stress during the trip. Now, let’s cover what comes next…
Preparation: Know your capacity…and the itinerary
It’s easy to want to see and do everything when you travel. It’s also easy to overestimate your ability to do so–this is true for all of us. The result? Exhaustion. For people with chronic illnesses, less can be more:
- Accept the reality that your energy may be depleted sooner than the people you travel with. Your itinerary may be “softer” than theirs.
- Don’t over-schedule your days. Plan ahead and choose attractions and activities that are important to you. Let your B-list go–it’s not worth compromising your health. Include rest periods during the day.
- Know the limitations of your condition. Hiking all day, eating strange or spicy foods, visiting places with poor air quality…depending on the illness, some destinations may simply be out of the question.
- Likewise, know what triggers flare-ups or set-backs. Fatigue? Cold weather? Stress? Junk food? Too much/little activity? Be ready to recognize them and do your best to be proactive in handling them.
- Give yourself permission to “take a vacation from your vacation” and spend a day at leisure. Sleep in, sit by the pool, go to a coffee shop and read. Allow your body to rest, without guilt.
- If you have an “invisible” illness, like fibromyalgia, don’t give in to pressure to just soldier on through the discomfort. And, of course, never let anyone shame you: “You came all this way, and now you’re going to take a nap??”
Packing light–and with extra care
Part of learning how to travel with chronic illness includes getting packing down to a science. You can’t be casual about what needs to go with you. While excellent health care is everywhere, sometimes supplies are not. You’ll pack light, of course…and keep yourself healthy.
- Bring everything you need, plus extras. For example, if you’re doing blood glucose checks, make sure you have an abundance of strips and alcohol wipes. Batteries for the glucometer, too. Arthritis? Pack hot and cold wraps. A folding cane may come in handy.
- Stay on your medication schedule. Set alarms on your phone or download a reminder app, such as Medisafe Medication Management. Here’s a good article from WebMD on traveling with medications.
- It’s wise to pack some non-prescription medications, too. You don’t want to hunt down anti-diarrhea pills at midnight. Here’s my list of OTC Medications Every Traveler Should Pack. (Check with your provider to make sure any OTC medications are okay.)
- Snacks! When you’re too tired to find food, or are suddenly starving at the top of the Eiffel Tower, make sure you have some protein bars, nuts, candy, or whatever will do the job, pronto.
- Hydration is essential. Bring your own water bottle, of course. Fill it in the morning at your hotel, and throughout the day. Dehydration can really impact a chronic illness, and make symptoms worse.
- If you’re sensitive to cold, pack extra layers, no matter where you go. Bring hand warmers, gloves, heavy socks–whatever makes you comfortable. You may want these in your carry-on; planes can really get frigid.
- Chronic illness can mean susceptibility to infections. Bring disinfecting wipes. (Clorox and Lysol wipes are easy to find.) Wipe your tray table and armrests on the plane, and the “hot spots” at the hotel. Don’t forget hand sanitizer, too!
Any other tips for how to travel with chronic illness? It all comes down to what Denis Waitley said: “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” No matter what, you’ll be ready. And I hope you have wonderful surprises. Let us know how your trip goes–bon voyage!
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