We all know that feeling. We’ve just booked a trip and our minds are swimming with questions. What if I get sick while I’m there? What if something happens to my medical supplies? It’s enough to make anyone want to stay home.
Planning a trip can be daunting when you have a chronic illness. You want to make sure that you’re going to be comfortable and safe, but you also don’t want to miss out on all the fun.
And while it’s hard enough planning a regular vacation, travelling with a chronic illness is a whole other story!
You never know if the destination is going to be accessible, if there will be doctors or hospitals nearby if something goes wrong, or how much your health might limit what you’re able to do.
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But, there are ways to plan travel when you have a chronic illness. Where should you go? What kind of accommodations should you book? How do you know if the destination is accessible or not?
Here are some ways that you can make your life easier when travelling with a chronic illness.
- Talk to your doctor before you go
- Plan your destination carefully
- Have an emergency plan
- Pack your chronic illness essentials
- Research dining options
- Don't plan too many activities
- Book a few days off work afterwards
- Final thoughts on what it's really like travelling with a chronic illness
Talk to your doctor before you go
Before booking your trip abroad, book a trip to see your doctor! Have them confirm that you’re fit for travel – whether it be that you’re ok to take the flight, or that it won’t be a problem staying in a colder climate for a long period of time.
Your doctor will also tell you whether you need any vaccinations and whether you can even take these vaccines depending on what medication you’re on.
Another thing to check is whether any of your medications will be safe while travelling, for example, do they need to be kept at a certain temperature? And request any additional prescriptions and documentation you may need to show going through security.
Let your doctor be the first stop before planning the rest of your epic trip!
Read also: How to stay healthy while travelling
Plan your destination carefully
While you always need to take care when choosing where you to travel to, for those of us with chronic illnesses we need to be extra careful.
If you have arthritis, for example, you’re probably not going to do well in a colder climate. If you have asthma, the top of Everest is probably not the right place for you either. Even a place as tropical as Hawaii can be out of reach for some Spoonies.
Consider how high the humidity is going to be and whether you’ll need to use an air conditioner due to your health issues.
Is the destination accessible? This is a big one. Not only do accessibilities need to be taken care of in advance if you have a wheelchair or crutches, but also with your medications too. For me, I need to make sure that there’ll be a fridge in my hotel room so that my immunosuppressant medication can be kept at optimum temperature.
If there are accessibility issues, don’t worry! It doesn’t mean that the place is not worth going to. You might just have to jiggle a few things around a bit.
Call the hotel, speak with managers. Ask their advice on accessibility throughout the accommodation and also the surrounding areas so you can get your tourist on and get out and explore!
Have an emergency plan
Shit happens. It happens in our everyday lives and we manage to get through it but when it happens while travelling it can be hella scary!
So make sure that you have an emergency plan in place before you head off on your travels.
My emergency plan involves:
- having all my important documents scanned and saved to my drive, as well as printed, before I leave. Important documents include my insurance certificate, copy passport, next-of-kin details, contact information for hotel and medical information.
- sending an itinerary to both my mum and a friend back home with all my flight details, contact information for hotels, etc
- always (and I mean always) arranging travel insurance before I leave for a trip. The last thing you need when you’re travelling is ending up in hospital and having to pay absurd medical bills. World Nomads are my go to for travel insurance – grab a free quote here.
- having a first aid kit with me at all times when I go out and about, with anything I might need for a surprise flareup.
- having spare clothes with me wherever I go. If you’ve got an inflammatory bowel disorder or IBS you’ll understand why…
- having a credit card for any additional costs that might arise.
Pack your chronic illness essentials
There are certain essentials that every spoonie should take with them when travelling. Aside from the obvious – medication, travel documents, insurance (everything in your emergency pack) – there are things that other people won’t necessarily deem essentials but for those with chronic illnesses, they’re a must!
Let’s be real, nobody likes the idea of going on holiday and contracting something icky… especially those with chronic illnesses! So make sure you pack some hand sanitiser with you as part of your essentials.
You’ll understand what I mean if you’ve got Crohns or Ulcerative Colitis. Wet wipes are your best friend! They’re compact, they’re easy to take everywhere with you and they definitely come in handy when you need an extra bit of cleanliness.
The last trip I took, to Nepal, it was freezing on the flight! It was only a four hour journey and I always bring a blanket with me – so why didn’t I this time?? I asked the flight attendant if they had one I could use but he said no. This is one reason it’s always a good idea to pack yourself a cosy blanket. Trust me, it’ll come in handy.
Not just for the flight, but if you’re going to have long car journeys between activities, a travel pillow is a must to get some shut eye on the road!
Hot water bottle / cold pack
For when you’ve had a long day and need to sooth your aches and pains, a hot water bottle or cold pack can help.
Heatstroke is no joke. Nausea, vomiting, headaches – all awful. Trust me I’ve had it! But it can be prevented if you pack sunscreen and remember to keep reapplying throughout the day.
Guess what? You’re in luck! I’ve created a Spoonie Travel Checklist to help you remember all the essentials you need to bring with you on your next trip. Sign up below and have it sent straight to your inbox!
Research dining options
Before your trip you should do some research on dining options at your location, especially if you have food intolerances like me.
There’s nothing worse than not being able to enjoy all the local food when you travel. Can you believe I even managed to eat in India when I can handle zero spice? And I managed to not get ill there either!
Don’t plan too many activities
When you travel it’s supposed to be a break from work and your life back home. Some people might think this is the perfect opportunity to pack as many activities in as possible but I find it’s better not to overexert myself every day of a trip.
Aim to spend one day every few days back at your accommodation relaxing and recouping. You’ll see so much more by taking time to chill out and catch up on sleep between activities.
Sure, it might take you 7 days to see a city when it takes the average Joe only 5 days. But hey, that’s a few more days away from work!
Book a few days off work afterwards
Have you ever come back from a trip absolutely exhausted and have to go to work the next day? I’ve made the mistake previously of arriving home from the airport at 7am and starting work at 9am that very morning – never again!
If I don’t take a few days off after returning from a trip, it can take me days, sometimes even weeks to recover – from the jet lag, travel fatigue, general body pain, you name it.
So plan ahead to be able to take a few days off work after your trip. Trust me, you’ll be thankful that you have some recuperation time after the travel.
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Final thoughts on what it’s really like travelling with a chronic illness
Chronic illness travel can be a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to see the world in a new way. I’ve learned that there’s nothing quite like packing my bags and hopping on a flight, and I’m grateful for the chance to explore new cultures, all while living with my chronic illnesses.
Is it worth it? Absofreakinlutely!
I’ve made some amazing connections with people from all over the world and seen things that I never would have if I had stayed at home. Yes, there are times when I’d rather be in my pajamas on the couch watching Netflix, but guess what – you can do that on your travels too!
The final words I would say are, don’t forget to breathe. Enjoy what you see and do.
How do you find travelling with a chronic illness? What tips would you add to this list?
Vourneen is a travel junkie and chronic illness warrior. Although she was late to game in terms of travelling, she has picked up numerous tips and tricks from the almost 30 countries she has visited in the past 5 years.