The Glamorous World of Traveling With Chronic Illness
In the immortal words of The Go-Go’s: Vacation, all I ever wanted.
Vacation is fucking fantastic. You get to take time off of your job and real life and instead spend it in some exciting new location. You get to eat and drink and shop like there’s no tomorrow because things like credit card bills and extra pounds are a problem for your post-vacation self. Vacation-you is great and carefree. Vacation-you is your best self.
But when you’re chronically ill, sometimes even exciting stuff like vacation can have a black cloud of anxiety hanging over it. While a normal 24-year-old has to think, “did I pack my floppy hat? Is it too much if I bring my selfie stick?” a chronically ill traveler has a much longer list of concerns to deal with.
Among these concerns includes, but is not limited to: whether their body can handle the weather in their given destination (those with diseases like POTS often can’t be out and about in extreme heat and humidity). Whether or not they have their full supply of meds for the length of their trip. Whether or not there will be easy access to bathrooms (aka, camping is difficult). What hospitals are near their hotel. What they’ll be able to eat at their destination. Whether or not they’ll be well enough when the time comes to actually go, or to enjoy their time on the trip they’ve spent time and money planning.
When you take all of that into account, it’s no wonder a lot of chronically ill folks are hesitant to commit to trips, no matter how fun they may be. I’ve definitely said no to travel plans because I knew they’d push my limits too much. But that’s not to say I never travel, or that I can’t–– as a matter of fact, I just returned from an absolutely awesome girls trip to Nashville. I just have to be smart about it and always plan ahead. So without further ado, here are my ~expert~ tips for traveling with a chronic illness.
Choose your travel companions deliberately.
If you’re struggling with a chronic illness, nothing will add to your anxiety more than traveling with people you aren’t comfortable with. It’s hard to advocate for yourself and your needs in general, but even harder if you don’t know your travel buddies all too well. So maybe try to avoid a big trip with your boyfriend’s whole extended family or a backpacking excursion with your co-workers and instead opt for those who know you best, like close friends and family. Nashville was made much easier by the fact that I was with two lifelong best friends who never questioned it if I needed to take a break or pop some pills.
Bring ALL THE MEDS.
Don’t just being enough for the days you’ll be gone–– you never know when a flight might get delayed and you could be stuck in a strange city for an extra day or so. Bring extras, and don’t keep them in your checked bag! Airlines lose luggage. It’s a sad fact of life, like how we sometimes have to go to the DMV or kiss our great uncles. Keep your pills on you at all times so your lost luggage doesn’t turn into a medical crisis. And remember that big pharmacies like Walgreens are nationwide and can usually supply you with an emergency refill enough to last a few days.
Make your own fun!
Because of my Crohn’s, I can’t currently drink. This has the potential to make most vacations kind of suck. But as cliche as it is, “you don’t need to be drunk to have fun!” holds true if you want it to. Instead of getting blackout like every bachelorette party in Nashville, I focused my attention on other fun stuff, like eating biscuits and taking pictures in front of basically every Instagram-worthy wall in Tennessee.
Don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations.
Need early boarding? Ask. Need a wheelchair to get around the airport? Ask. Never be afraid to advocate for yourself. Some people might get weird about it, but those people suck anyway and should be handily ignored. I have a card that I carry with me at all times saying I may medically need to use the restroom at a moment’s notice and legally requires businesses to let me use theirs. At home I’ve never had to use it because I’m pretty well-versed on where all the best unlocked bathrooms are–– but in a new city it was really comforting to have it in my wallet, especially in touristy areas where every shop advertises “no public restrooms.”
Take charge of plans.
I’ve always been a planner, so this part comes naturally to me, but taking charge of planning can do a lot to ease travel anxiety. I have some pretty extreme dietary restrictions, so I dealt with that by thoroughly researching Nashville’s dining scene ahead of time. I knew where I could eat and where I couldn’t and presented options to the group that would make everyone happy. In the end, we all got some bomb ass biscuits, and what else do you really need?
Rest when you need to.
This last bit can be hard. When you’re on a vacation that you spent money getting to, staying in a hotel you’re paying for, you’re going to want to make the most of it. You’re going to want to go non-stop, seeing everything there is to see. But it’s important to listen to your body if it’s yelling at you to stop. On my last night in Nashville, instead of doing some Dolly Parton karaoke, I was laid up in a hotel bed drinking ginger ale and watching reruns of Law & Order. While this isn’t the ideal way to spend a vacation, I’m glad I listened to my body–– pushing myself too hard has only ever made me sicker, and I was still able to pack plenty of fun into a four-day trip even with that night of rest.
So go forth and see the world! Just do your research first, and maybe bring a heating pad.