How to manage a chronic illness flare up when travelling

So you’re all packed for your vacation, but before you can even enjoy the sun and sand you’re anxious about the potential flare up that can pop it’s ugly head up at any time.

When you travel, it’s like a break from everyday life – school, work, commitments – so why can’t it be a break from your chronic illness too?

Unfortunately it’s doesn’t work like that…

Anyone who’s ever suffered from a flare up knows that they can be unpredictable and incredibly disruptive. A flare up when travelling can turn what should have been an enjoyable trip into a series of frustrating and uncomfortable episodes.

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What it’s Really Like Travelling With a Chronic Illness

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I have Crohn’s Disease (as well as other autoimmune diseases). Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease which goes hand in hand with abdominal pain, diarrhea, low energy and fatigue, to name a few. When I travel, I tend to get flare ups toward the end of my trip and, if not while I’m travelling, almost certainly after I get home.

Some people ask me why on earth I travel if this happens most of the time. Have you seen my pictures? Travelling makes me feel alive! And if I didn’t, I’d be sitting at home doing nothing, letting my chronic illnesses win. No chance!

With a bit of preparation, you can minimise the effects that a flare up will have on your travels. And I’ve got some tips to help make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible! 

What is a flare up?

A flare-up is when your chronic illness symptoms are at their worst. It can be anything from an increase in pain levels, to fatigue or nausea. At it’s core, a flare up means your body is working harder than usual to fight off something.

Take a look at your symptoms. If you usually have one or two specific symptoms that are manageable, but then more start popping up, that’s a sign that you are having a flare-up.

What causes flare ups while travelling? It can be any number of things! Stress is often the culprit, as well as weather changes even altitude in certain chronic illnesses.

A chronic illness is very much about trial and error, finding the things that trigger your flare ups and avoiding them whenever possible. What may be a trigger for me might not be for you and you must learn what you should do to avoid a flare up when travelling.

Before you go

Before your trip, head to see your doctor and come up with a ‘flare-up plan’. They’ll provide you with information on the types of medication that are safe to take when you’re travelling.

It may be necessary for you to bring some additional medications with you in order to avoid a flare up and be prepared for any sudden and unexpected symptoms that might pop up. For me, along with my day to day medication, I make sure I’ve got extra pain medication and of course Imodium.

Have a hot / cold pack

It only takes up a tiny amount of space in your case, but this is one of my lifesavers when I travel. Whether my flare up is due to inflammation, pain or rash, a hot or cold pack can be applied to any part of the body and usually provides some relief.


I know the last thing you want to do on your trip is to stay in your hotel room and not go out seeing the sights, but you know yourself, when you have a flare-up you need to rest.

This is one of the reasons I usually choose a more upscale hotel when I travel. I can rest at the spa or the pool or beach area and it can still feel like I’m on a holiday. I know that’s not always possible due to budgets, but even if you can get a hotel with a nice seating area, a courtyard, somewhere you can rest that’s not your room.

Keep hydrated

When you travel to somewhere with a warmer temperature, keep well hydrated. The heat will dehydrate you and the last thing you want to do is get a flare up because you haven’t been drinking enough water.

Drink plenty of water before your flight as well, sitting on a plane for hours without being able to move much can also lead to dehydration. I always bring a water bottle in my hand luggage so I can fill it up as soon as I’m through airport security.

Don’t push yourself

Don’t forget, as a spoonie, you only have a certain amount of spoons to dish out on activities every day. Your body isn’t used to being pushed to do too many physical activities so don’t push yourself too much.

Plan your days so you get to see what you want to but also get enough breaks throughout the day. This is something that could help in avoiding a flare up but also something you’ll need to do if you do suffer a flare up when travelling.

Read more about The Spoon Theory here.

Take your medicines at the right times

Ugh! You know when people say ‘it’s not rocket science’? Well I fell like trying to remember to take all my medications at the right time on the right days is like rocket science! I have an injection to take once every two weeks, some tablets to take every second day, some to take twice a day.

It’s especially difficult to keep on track when on your travels as your usual routine is messed up, time wise and activity wise. I actually use a granny pill box to keep mine in order!

Make sure you always have your medication with you in your day pack in case you forget to take them in the morning or you’re hit with a flare suddenly while out.

Get comfortable

If you have a flare up when travelling, one thing that can help is having your usual comfort items with you. My go to comfort items, whether I’m at home or travelling are:

Whatever you choose to do during the day, the evening is the time to rest up if you have a flare up and there’s no better way than a hot bath and then a Netflix marathon while cosying up with a heated blanket!

Take note of local medical centre

If your flare up is really bad, speak with your hotel and discuss where the nearest medical centre with doctors with the same speaking language as you is. Alternatively, ask someone from the hotel to accompany you if there is a language barrier (or download google translate).

Hopefully it won’t come to this as you’ll have discussed your ‘flare-up plan’ with your doctor prior to travelling, but just in case, it’s best to know this information before your flare up gets too bad.


What it’s Really Like Travelling With a Chronic Illness


If you’re anything like me, a chronic illness flare up when travelling can really put a downer on a trip. One minute I’m feeling fine, and the next I’m incapacitated by pain and fatigue.

When this happens, it can be really tough to manage a trip. But don’t worry, by being prepared you can make the experience much easier.

Have you ever had a chronic illness flare up when travelling? If so, what tips would you add to this list?


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