How To Travel With A Chronic Illness
This blog was originally published on Huffington Post.
On my last few trips overseas I have battled… and not just from jet lag or the expected colds that are easy to pick up in airports. I was tired constantly, I was nauseous for no reason and eating without pain or nausea was sometimes a struggle.
With each trip I blamed my sickness on silly things; I was too stressed in the lead up to departure, my meal must not be hot enough, I’m just tired because my routine has changed.
I did a damn good job of ignoring these warning signs and each time I returned home I fell back into my normal routine of work, sleep, eat, repeat. I was honestly too busy to notice that my symptoms were following me back home. I was too tired to socialize on a regular basis, I avoided eating at restaurants in case my nausea returned. I didn’t think twice about reaching for a heating pad every night to soothe my sore tummy.
I came up with a different set of excuses this time: I blamed my tiredness on shift work, I reasoned staying at home with Netflix was in fashion right now anyway and frankly I just tried to ignore that I would get nausea and pain for no apparent reason.
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m in an ambulance. I’m in and out of hospital for the next few months and boy was I wishing I had paid more attention to those warning signs. As it turns out I had been battling a serious illness for a while and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Bummer.
Chronic illness can rob you of many things, but only if you let it. That’s why, despite not feeling my best, I have no intention of hitting pause on my love of travel. Like many things in life, it’s all about adjusting to your circumstances.
Having a chronic illness or ongoing health condition sucks. But you shouldn’t let it stop you from seeing the world if that’s what you want to do.
Here’s how to make it happen…
I don’t want to get all doom and gloom on you, but if you have a medical condition and you’re going to be away from home it is really important to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered. Pack any medicine you may need, bring a doctor’s certificate detailing your medical history and if travelling in a region where English is not commonly spoken consider bringing a few translation cards.
Depending on your condition and how severe it can get you may also want to familiarise yourself with the local health care system, doctors or hospitals for an emergency.
Brief your travel companions
Whether you’re travelling with a group of friends you’ve known for years, with a tour group or with your significant other it’s important to discuss your condition with them as soon as you can. Yes it can be a little awkward or embarrassing but if anything happens whilst you’re travelling it will help if your tour leader or your friend is familiar with your history. It’s also important to discuss if your health might limit your ability to do things. If your friends are after a four-day hike through the wilderness and you’re only able to manage half a day of sightseeing, you may want to reconsider your plans and find a more appropriate travel buddy.
Don’t skimp on accommodation
If you know spending the day sightseeing is going to really take it out of you, you’re going to want a comfortable and safe place to crash at the end of the day. Depending on your condition you may like to get a private apartment so you can do your own cooking, or a hotel with a large bed, room service and a big TV. Search online in advance to find accommodation conveniently located to what you want to see, or close by to easy transport.
Plan to have days off
It can be tempting to squeeze as much as possible in to your three-week tour of Europe, but don’t overdo it. If you get up early and spend all day on your feet bustling from city to city you’re going to burn out fast and you may exacerbate whatever medical problems you’re already dealing with. Don’t feel guilty about scheduling in days off to lounge by the pool or read a book in bed. You’ll appreciate your time visiting the landmarks much more if you’re well rested than if you’re running on half empty.
Consider easier forms of transport
Yes, the overnight bus followed by a forty-five minute walk may be the cheapest option. But how are you going to feel at the end of it? If you can, consider flying, hiring a car or taking a high-speed train. Another option is to break up long journeys in to smaller pieces with a night in a hotel in between.
You may not be able to see every monument or museum if you start feeling sick or get too tired, and that’s ok. For every trip, write down a list of all the things you want to see and then be realistic about your absolute must-sees. Bonus points if they’re geographically close to each other.
Try and get to those must-sees early on in the trip and on days you’re feeling your best. If you’ve saved the Eiffel Tower for your last day in Paris and find that you’re too sick to go you’re going to be disappointed, so be sensible with your planning. Accept that you’ll need to adapt your plans based on how you’re feeling and some items on your list may have to be saved for a future trip.
Know your limits
No one else is going to be able to step in and tell you to slow down, that’s all down to you. Know your triggers, know your warning signs and have plans in place if you start going downhill fast. Heading back to the hotel for a nap in the middle of the day is not the end of the world. Better to do that than end up in a foreign hospital on your holiday.
Focus on the positives
Yes, you could sit in your hotel room and have a cry that you’re missing out on the bustling city around you. Or you could run a bubble bath, have some room service and plan for a better day tomorrow. Be glad to travel while you still can and take setbacks in your stride. Keep calm, and carry on.