Do you remember going on road trips as a kid? You packed your favorite toy, a toothbrush (if reminded), your PJs, and you were good to go. Things aren’t so simple now that we’re grown. Especially, for those of us with a chronic illness, such as fibromyalgia, ME/CFS or Lyme disease. Pain, fatigue, and digestive issues can make traveling quite a challenge.
Does the thought of travel make you cringe?
If so, I hope you find a change of heart by the time you finish the travel tips this article – so please read through to the end.
Not so many years ago, I planned for a momentous vacation abroad. I coordinated with family members in three different states. I searched for the right hotels, trains, boats, and other accommodations. I arranged for the care of our children still at home and for Pup. I made decisions about the phone plan, credit card usage, and so many other details.
(Just thinking about it makes me want to go lie down and take a nap.)
By the time my bags were packed and we were on our way, I was so fatigued I felt myself floating in sort of an “other worldly” existence as I climbed into the airport shuttle. If asked, I wouldn’t have been able to pass a test on how to spell my last name.
You know how that feels, right? It’s when you’re so fatigued and foggy that you know you’re in the present moment, but you’re not really there. My friend once described it to me this way. She said, “When I’m this foggy, I feel like I’m in the room, but my brain is in a jar over on the window sill. Things don’t really connect.”
That says a lot!
Occasionally, we may feel fatigued and foggy anyway, but planning for a trip can really bring it on. That’s why I’ve compiled the following information for you. Traveling with a chronic illness can be challenging, but following the tips below will help you to gauge your resources so that you have enough energy left to actually enjoy yourself.
The success of your trip may very well hinge on how well you plan.
I just happened to read an article at the chiropractor’s office today about how “Prehab” is as important before surgery as “Rehab” is afterward. It went on to illustrate the planning steps––in detail––to take before surgery.
Planning may not be fun, but the good thing is that anticipating a vacation or trip is a lot more enjoyable than surgery.
After the arrival of a chronic illness diagnosis, spontaneous and carefree travel may be a thing of the past. But that doesn’t mean traveling can’t still provide fun and adventure.
Here are a few key chronic illness travel tips to keep in mind for your next trip––whether by car, boat, train, plane, or magic carpet.
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Travel Checklist and Sub-lists
First of all, get friendly with the idea of making lists. You’ll need one master travel checklist plus many sub-lists. Here are some sub-list ideas:
- Medications: Compile a list of prescriptions, over the counter medications, supplements, digestive aids, medical supplies and medical foods you may need while you’re gone. Also plan ahead to make sure you have the medications and supplies that you’ll need when you return home. Write down the phone numbers of pharmacies, doctors, or suppliers that you may need to contact in case of an emergency.
- Household: Compile a list of things you may need to do around the house before leaving, such as putting a vacation hold on the mail and newspaper, turning off or on automatic watering systems, leaving an extra key for house/pet sitter, tossing leftovers from the fridge, securing doors, windows, etc.
- Clothing: Compile a list of items you plan to wear. This may sound tedious, but seeing your clothes listed on paper can help you to pare down and coordinate your outfits, maximizing the space in your luggage. Travel isn’t the time for high fashion. Pack for comfort––especially when it comes to shoes. Bring items that can layer on and off for personal temperature control such as scarves, socks, gloves, sweaters, etc. Even in the summer heat, a scarf and sweater can be a life-saver in a too-chilly restaurant, museum, theater, or airplane.
- Food: Compile a list of snacks, foods, meal replacement shakes (single-serve packs are great for travel!), cups, spoons, and anything you may need. Packing a snack ahead of time is a great way to plan ahead for unexpected travel delays. (I sat in a train station in Paris for hours on end and was grateful for the loaf of banana bread I’d made in advance and stashed in my backpack. Everyone else around me was grateful for the nibbles, too.)
- Personal items for air travel: Compile a list of items you may need to pay special attention to if traveling by plane. Write down the contact information and phone number of the airlines. You may need to call ahead to ask for instructions on how to travel with liquid medications, medical equipment, and/or for assistance in getting on and off the plane. Book bulkhead seats, if available, for additional room. This part of planning ahead is essential. You do NOT want to find out at the airport that something you need cannot go in your carry-on bag and should have been in your check-in luggage.
- Technology: Compile a list of electronic items you may be taking and their necessary accessories. Be sure to include phones, computers, cameras, wall and auto chargers, carrying cases, stands, earphones, speakers, handheld games, extra batteries, etc.
- The comforts of home: Compile a list of comfort items to bring along if luggage space isn’t at a premium. Bring your favorite pillow, blanket, tea mug, neck roll, heating pad, gel-cushioned seat, and whatever else makes you feel relaxed and comfortable. Don’t forget items that help you sleep such as sleep aids (even if you don’t think you’ll need them), a sleep mask, and earplugs.
Now that you have your sub-lists at hand, create one master checklist that you can cross off items right before you go. Include the above categories as well as anything else that applies to your specific travel such as maps, itinerary, tickets, excursion information, accommodation data, etc.
Start this master list early on so that you can continue to add to it as you think of things in the weeks preceding your trip.
Chronic Illness Travel Essentials
- WATER: Even if you make a regular habit of staying hydrated when you’re at home, make sure that you place even more emphasis on this as you travel. Keep water with you to help keep your digestion on track. Proper hydration also helps with pain levels, fatigue, and even memory.
- RELAX: Make sure to incorporate opportunities to relax on your trip. That may sound silly since most travel relates to vacations and vacations are relaxing. Not so, Tonto! Vacations can actually be very stressful, even though there are elements of fun. So, make sure you schedule in time to take frequent breaks, stretch, breathe, walk, and exercise.
- BREAK IT UP: Consider breaking longer trips into shorter segments. You may choose to do day trips, so you can sleep at home at night, or take several small trips close to home. If you’re traveling further away, make frequent stops to stretch and relax. If you’re traveling a long distance by air, you may wish to plan a stop mid-way and spend one or two nights in order to rejuvenate your energy resources.
- RETURN STRATEGY: Plan for providing yourself with some downtime upon your return. If possible, return home a day or so before you have to resume your daily commitments such as school or work. Give yourself some time to ease back into your routine and catch up on some extra sleep.
- BUDDY UP: If at all possible, travel with someone else, so that you’re not wrangling overly heavy bags, or doing all the driving. Take turns with the responsibilities that you can handle, and if needed, delegate the ones that don’t work within your limitations.
- FIRST AID: Put together a first aid kit of things that you may need––even if you can’t imagine needing them. Include basic first aid items (Band-Aids, anti-bacterial creams, anti-itching remedies, gauze and tape, etc.), plus anti-nausea remedies such as ginger, supplies for muscle pain/cramps, and anything else that relates to your personal tendencies.
- KINDNESS: Above all, be kind to yourself. Be patient as you enjoy new and unfamiliar surroundings. Give yourself the latitude to go at your own pace, to organize each day’s activities around your needs, and be flexible as you go. It’s impossible to plan for all contingencies, so when surprises arise––and they will––take them as they come.
Does travel seem like more bother than it’s worth?
You may not have thought of it this way, but travel is actually quite nourishing to the soul. You can consider it part of your healing protocol. The monotony of life with chronic illness can easily become overwhelming without a respite here and there. Routine can be very good, but even the best routines need periodic diversions.
Travel provides the opportunity to step outside of our own comfort zone (literally) and into the unfamiliar. By taking that step––whether across town, across country, or across the oceans––we may discover new strengths and interests within.
Are you set to take your next trip? By applying these chronic illness travel essentials, just imagine what you can discover about the world around you (and within).
“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”
~ Danny Kaye
This article, originally published on ProHealth.com on April 9, 2015, was updated on May 29, 2019.
Sue Ingebretson is becoming a most sought after symptom-relief expert in the fibromyalgia and chronic illness communities. She’s known for getting to the root of her client’s health challenges and delivering long-term results using a light-hearted approach without quick-fix remedies that only mask symptoms. You can find out more and contact Sue at www.RebuildingWellness.com.
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