You may have noticed I’ve been missing in action. You may not have noticed, too. That’s okay. Either way, I’ve been taking a well-deserved vacation this past weekend. Okay, not exactly a vacation, since I’ll be helping write about it over on Simply Southern Mom, but it was pretty relaxing anyway.
One of the questions I get asked the most about this blog is “how do you travel so much when you’re chronically ill?” (Another common question is “how do you travel so much with a baby?” but that’s for a later post.)
Traveling while chronically ill definitely requires more planning than traveling as a healthy person. However, there are ways to make it work, depending on your illness and your plans. I can’t jet off to the Caribbean whenever I want to— partly because plane trips make me flare, partly because they’re expensive and I am broke— but I manage to see the world anyway.
One of the biggest tips for traveling with chronic illness is to have a plan. Obviously, most people plan before a trip, but this goes beyond the usual “make sure there’s an open hotel room in the area I want to visit.”
- If you have dietary restrictions, you’re going to want to find acceptable restaurants beforehand. An app like Find Me Gluten Free is a great resource, and I use it all the time. If you’re scared to try local places because they may not be as well-versed in dealing with food allergies and dietary restrictions, see if there are chains such as Red Robin where you will be traveling.
- If you have dietary restrictions, packing snacks is always a good idea. If you’re traveling a long way, scope out the area you’ll be visiting for a grocery store and pick up snacks when you arrive. Picking up snacks at your destination saves precious luggage space, but you’ll definitely want to bring enough snack food for the car ride. A woman cannot live on Coca-Cola alone.
- If you’re traveling for a long time, or you’re headed far from home, you may find it beneficial to purchase travel insurance. Best case scenario, you don’t have to use it and you’re out a little extra cash. Worst case scenario, you find yourself in the Dominican Republic with a flare of your unknown intestinal illness and you have to see a Dominican doctor at 11 p.m., thanking God that your husband is a medical interpreter.
- If you’re traveling to somewhere that your native language isn’t common, you’ll need to take a few extra steps. Printing off a card with your medical information in the language of the country you’ll be traveling to is a good first step. If possible, familiarize yourself with the names of your diseases, anything you’re allergic to, and other pertinent medical information in the language you’ll be dealing with. Síndrome de Taquicardia Postural Ortostática may be hard to say, but it’s important to know.
- Know where an emergency room is near you, in case you develop any weird and scary complications of your illnesses. Or heck, you never know when you’re going to develop a whole new disease while traveling, as I learned when I had what I believe to be my first ever gallbladder attack while in Gulf Shores.
- Have your doctors’ numbers handy, so you can call in for advice in an emergency situation. This will also be handy if you do wind up in a foreign ER and they need to reach your doctor for your medical history. Justin has had to call doctors in Mexico for his patients before, so knowing your doctors’ names and numbers is helpful.
- Even healthy people can’t do it all. Prioritize what you want to see, and plan in plenty of rest breaks.
- Schedule low-key activities. One of my favorite parts of our trip to Gulf Shores was the Sunset Cruise. We got to sit on a boat for two hours while watching dolphins and sharks swim around us. There was music, there were soft drinks (my weakness), and there was plenty to see with no rush.
- Don’t feel like you have to see something just because it’s popular. When I’m in St. Louis, I skip the Arch. Sure, it’s iconic. It’s also crowded, stressful, and you have to deal with the finicky St. Louis weather. Even though the Arch makes everyone’s “must see list,” I’d rather spend my energy at the City Museum or the Zoo. (Plus, the Zoo is free!)
- Know what you can handle. I love public transportation, but only in certain cities. I wouldn’t try to get around Chattanooga by bus. It’s a spoon-draining activity that I prefer to avoid. Saving money by using public transport is great, but not if it steals all the energy you’re supposed to be using to see the sights.
- Hydrate! Honestly, this is my tip for everything. However, plane trips can be dehydrating, which flares pretty much any chronic illness known to man. Car trips can be dehydrating too, since you’re trapped in a small box without access to anything you didn’t bring with you into the cab. So bring water with you and drink up! (Pro-tip: bring empty water bottles through the airport gate with you and fill them up once you get inside. This saves so much money.)
- Move around. From blood clots to sore joints, air travel and car travel can cause a bunch of issues. Keep these to a minimum by moving around as much as possible. On car trips, plan stops in advance to give yourself plenty of time to get out and stretch.
- Give yourself plenty of time. Leaving earlier to allow for more stops is better than trying to make one fast long-haul drive to your destination. Yes, it’s longer, which seems like it’d be worse on you. It’s usually not. Just trust me.
- Make use of your placard. If you have a handicap placard, bring it. Use it.
- Research disability services at your airport ahead of time. If necessary, you can book someone to push your wheelchair through the airport. You can also rent a wheelchair to cross the airport, which is great for people with low mobility who don’t always use a chair. TSA also has special regulations for disabled passengers, which may work to your advantage and allow you to have an easier trip.
Although I could write much more on the subject, I think that’s about enough for one post. Travel with chronic illness can be difficult, but for many of us, it’s not impossible.
What are your best tips for traveling while chronically ill? What would you like to see in a future post about travel and chronic illness?