I wish travel therapy was covered by my health insurance. –Anonymous

Traveling with illness is really not fun.  If you’ve ever traveled with a nagging headache, or worse, you ate or drank something you probably shouldn’t have, you know what I mean.  Being sick on the road can zap the fun right out of wherever you might be.      

Imagine then, that you are chronically ill and a travel addict like me.  

Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Uplash

As a chronically ill patient, I can have good days and bad days.  It is a not-so-simple fact of my life and has been since 2005 when I was finally diagnosed.  The catch is, I never know from day to day, or even hour to hour, how I will feel.  I can wake up feeling great and be down in bed and in pain by lunchtime.  Luckily, over the years my body’s bad behavior has only threatened to keep us from flying one time.  In the meantime, I have taught myself to live with my condition which means I carry on with life, as undeterred as possible. 

Whether you have migraines, asthma, MS, diabetes, or any illness that can threaten to slow you down, here are few things that work for me as I prepare to travel as a chronically ill patient:

In the planning stage

As you prepare to travel, have you ever had to ask yourself, “Should I stay home?”  That’s a tough question when your trip is planned and paid for.  It’s important for me to take care of myself so I can travel.  That means seeing my doctor regularly, taking my meds on schedule and as prescribed, and making sure I am rested and have as little stress as possible (Ha!).

For me, it’s a great practice to see my doctor before I travel, if at all possible.  Am I well enough to hit the road safely and in good health?  I also try to be wary of any pain or potential side effects I might be experiencing and talk with my doctor before I go–best to address something beforehand so it doesn’t become a problem while I’m traveling.   

For our major trips, we always purchased travel insurance.  Our thinking is that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and wish we had it!  This is a bit of security for us in the event that my body rebels and I can’t travel or worse, if I get sick on the road and have to seek medical care.  Ask your travel professional about travel insurance if you think you might need a safety net but before you purchase, make sure you understand how it works, what it covers, and how to use it. 

Traveling with medication

When we travel, I am a walking medicine chest!  While most people check and double check their travel ID’s, tickets, boarding passes, and pass ports (which we do as well), I check and double check to make sure I have all the medication I need, both prescribed and over the counter.  My symptoms can often be managed with medications so I will always bring more than I need, just in case I need it or in the rare case that there are any hiccups in our travel plans (i.e. no plane in Salt Lake City!).  Since my illness can be unpredictable, I go prepared for anything. I would rather bring home unused meds than not have enough to manage on the road.   I always consider how I will travel with my meds.    Do you need a written prescription to get you through TSA checks or customs? If you travel with sharps like me, do you know how to do that properly? One of my drugs needs to be kept cool so that can be a trick!

Check and double check

I always make sure that my precious carry on space leaves my meds within reach.  Never, ever put your meds in your checked bags in the event that your luggage gets lost in Chicago and you are looking for it in Stockholm! (My poor husband! He had no luggage for several days and had to attend a formal dinner in the clothes he traveled in!)  

Self care when I travel

When we travel, I try to practice self care which can sometimes be even more important that my actual meds!  Some of our travel lends itself to rest like our favorite form of travel, cruising (I love an occasional nap between lunch and dinner!).  However, some travel is fast paced and we are moving non-stop all day.  Those can be the trips that I physically struggle with the most.  For example, we traveled with a group to Italy in 2016.  While it was the trip of a lifetime and we fell in love with Italy, I struggled with pain on and off throughout the trip.  One evening, some of the group went out for dinner in Florence.  I chose not to go.  I knew that I needed to rest my body.  I needed to drink water and sleep.  I went to our hotel room and got in bed.  The culprit for me is usually the medication that I am on.   It works best if taken at the same time of day, every day, so traveling through various time zones can prove troublesome for me.  As a result, during nearly all of our travel in Italy, I was in pain of varying levels.  Going to bed early that evening and resting my body was helpful and I felt much better the next day.  Late nights, early wake up calls and long, strenuous travel days can put stress on my body.  While I want to see it all in the time I have, I’ve discovered that rest and pacing my travel is important for me.  It’s taken me a long time, but knowing my body and understanding these triggers has helped me to take care of myself better on the road so I can enjoy where I am.

Which girl is in pain and which one is feeling great? I hope you can’t tell but I know!

Being sick doesn’t always mean you can’t travel

I try to be smart and pay attention to my body. When I travel, I do what I can to balance new foods, rest, the stress of travel on my body, and taking my meds as prescribed.  I also try to remember to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. That one is the hardest ones for me, even at home!  I count myself blessed.  We’ve had some great trips and my body has thankfully behaved.  I am not afraid to travel but as we near our departures, I have to manage the anxiety of “what if.”  The most important thing for me to do then is to try not to worry about something that might not happen and instead, just be prepared. 

My illness has quieted now after some very difficult times.  (I hate to say that kind of thing out loud.  It’s like my body hears me bragging and says. “Oh yeah?  Take this!”) In fact, the simple act of writing this kicked my body into a slight  rebellion and you might’ve seen me mention a tough 48 hours recently on Instagram. I have been determined not to be defined by my body’s bad manners and even after a major hospitalization, I was well enough to be on a plane to Scotland two months later.

I want to go, do, and see!  I don’t want to be sick!  I do know my limits though and while I might push them from time to time, I do know that traveling is ultimately good for my soul.

I know there are other fellow sufferers out there that love to travel.  If you have any tips or tricks that you use before and during your travel that you feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to know how you manage. 

I hope that if you suffer physically in any way, that you can travel in whatever capacity you are able. 

I always wish you safe and healthy travels, where ever you might be heading.