I’ve found few endeavors can be as simultaneously empowering and frustrating as travel. I’ve been on top of the world, staring out from the backside of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland or riding a gondola down into the sea grottos of Rosh Hanikra in Israel.
I have also been stranded overnight in the Baltimore airport with lost luggage, feeling like I’d give anything for a pillow and a clean pair of underwear. For many, this unpredictability is part of what makes travel so exciting.
While I agree for the most part, as someone who suffers from a chronic illness, I also understand that there are some limitations to how much instability I can handle. Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned a few tips that make traveling, even flying solo, with a chronic illness feel less difficult.
5 Tips for Mastering Travel with Chronic Illness
1. Planning is everything
As romantic as the notion of the aimless wanderer can be, I’ve learned that this just doesn’t work for me. Because my chronic illness is provoked by over-exertion and fatigue, I need to have a pretty good idea of what my days might look like ahead of time so I know that I’m spacing my plans out in a way that won’t push me too hard.
That means that if I am going to book a late night Northern Lights excursion one night, I’m not going to plan an early morning tour departure the next morning. I have to give myself room to breathe, and to rest. Which brings me to my next point.
2. It’s okay to have downtime
I used to think that if you weren’t actively doing something every second of a trip, you were wasting your time. I’ve learned this isn’t the case. I have to rest. Even take naps. I simply don’t have a choice. And, if I don’t rest for a few hours one day, I might incapacitate myself completely the next day. That’s a chance I’m not willing to take.
I’ve also learned that sometimes the best travel experiences happen when you slow down. It’s okay to just sit in a café or park and take in the local flavor. You can take it easy and still gain so much.
3. Keep your meds and medical information with you
This is so important, especially when you’re travelling internationally. I take a big backpack everywhere I go and I carry it all. It can be a pain sometimes but this preparation really does pay off.
Don’t assume you’ll get back to the hotel in time to take your next dose. Things happen sometimes. And, I’ve had to go to the doctor and pharmacy in foreign countries and being able to have all of this information printed out and readily available is very helpful.
4. Stay hydrated
I can’t stress this enough. It’s so easy to forget to drink water. You get caught up in the excitement of the day. Depending on where you are, the tap water isn’t always the best. There are a million reasons. But for me, staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to stave of any kind of chronic pain relapse.
I take a water bottle everywhere I go, even if I have to plan my day around how often I have to pee. It’s so worth it. It doesn’t hurt to always have a little snack in your bag either.
5. Don’t be afraid to try things
Sometimes I let the worry that I might overdo it with my chronic illness keep me from wanting to try a new experience. I’ve had to let go of that fear a little. It’s all a balancing act. I can make smart choices and do some pre-planning, but if an amazing opportunity arises to hike to a glacier and the wind is whipping me in the face and it’s cold and wet and I know I’m going to be feeling it later, I’m still going to hike to that glacier.
Those experiences are going to look different for everybody, those opportunities to take a chance and push yourself a little, but if there was ever a time to do something out of your comfort zone, it’s when you’re in a new place, experiencing a new world. Maybe you’ll learn something new about yourself in the process. Be safe but don’t ever be afraid.
And speaking of travel, we’ve got plenty of recommendations for your next trip!
Originally published May 5, 2017