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If you’re newly chronically ill – or even a long hauler but you’ve never vacationed since you got sick, you may think there’s no way you’d be able to vacation and travel while ill. I have good news though, it can be possible to take a trip while chronically ill and I’m going to share my travel tips for chronically ill people and how to enjoy your vacation despite being sick.
So let me tell you a bit about my chronic story so that you have some backstory on who I am and the advice I’m about to share. I’ve been sick for 13 years with a tick-born disease called Lyme disease. That disease then kicked off a series of symptoms and events in my body that created other chronic illnesses such as: chronic fatigue, chronic pain, arthritis, chronic migraines, and even an ulcer (that came about because of my use of NSAIDS for the migraines which were a direct result of the Lyme disease).
My every day life is essentially controlled by these symptoms and disease processes. I’m tired from the time I get up until the time I go to bed. I hurt to sit, to walk, to stand, to lay down. When I have a migraine, life all but stops until it’s gone. You get the idea. And if you’re reading this as a sick person you can relate.
I have experienced quite the set of chronic illness and have done so for over a decade. In that time I have vacationed no less than 3-5 times and I’ve discovered what works for me and I’m traveling. As with anything, all these tips may help you, or none of them will, it depends on you, your disease(s), and how you like to travel in general. But it is my hope that my personal experiences will shine a light on how to travel well while sick.
So let’s get to it already!
Travel tips for chronically ill people
- Travel locally
This is definitely my top tip. I can’t even begin to imagine how I’d be able to travel on a plane or in a car for hours. Unless my final destination was a bed and only a bed for a good few days while recovering from the trip to the destination.
I haven’t traveled further than 4-5 hours away from my home since becoming sick. Wait, I take that back, one time we did have to drive 9 hours one way to go back home and visit my family and that was a very very hard trip on my body. My general rule of thumb is no more than 4-5 hour drive away. And if I were to fly, I would say no more than 5-6 hours with preferably no connecting flights, just a straight shot.
2 Sit back and be the passenger
If you’re going to drive to your destination, I would advise being the navigator, OR, simply being responsible for nothing but sitting and enjoying the scenery as your vacation partner takes the reigns.
If you’re more comfortable driving the vehicle and you’re well enough to do so, I would recommend stopping at least a few times along the route for a break. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, eat a little something, and rest when needed.
3. Bring your gear
If you get migraines, bring your sunglasses, wear a hat to block the sun. If you have bad back pain, wear a heating pad, bring a small pillow. You get the idea. Think about the drive and what you may need to keep yourself, not only comfortable, but also as free from symptoms as possible.
I tend to get migraines on trips. The light really triggers mine. So anything I can do to help keep my triggers at a minimum is necessary in my case and I think could really help you, too.
—— And don’t forget all your comforts of home, and your medications! If you need a special neck pillow, bring it. If you find comfort in a throw blanket, bring it. You get the idea.
4. Eat healthy
Don’t go crazy with the junk food. Even when eating out, choose healthier options because a lot of chronic illnesses are triggered by inflammation and that can be brought on my the foods we eat or what we drink. I don’t mean to sound like a downer, like you shouldn’t indulge, I’m just suggesting that if you need to choose between grilled chicken strips or fried, it would be better for your body to eat the grilled. (I’m sure I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.)
Bringing healthier snacks to the hotel and bottled water will be a great option for you in a pinch. For example, my husband likes his caffeinated beverages but my body can’t handle caffeine like a healthy person so I brought bottled water and a few sprites for that sweet tooth.
That title pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? If you suffer with pain or fatigue you’re going to need rest. Period. There’s really no way around it. And guess what, you should not ever feel guilty about it. It isn’t your choice to be sick and it isn’t your choice to be limited in your energy levels but it is your choice how you handle it and it’s OKAY to rest. Even on vacation. Especially on vacation!
Plan your days around rest. If you’re making plans to go to the zoo, make sure you sleep in, you have time for a healthy breakfast, take your time at the zoo, and then make time afterward to go back to the hotel for a little nap to refresh before you do anything else. Again, these are baseline recommendations that you can build upon and it’s what has worked for me.
6. Limit the days you’re gone
A long vacation wouldn’t be ideal for me unless it was made clear from the beginning, to everyone going with me, that I was going to spend at least half of my time in bed, resting. Otherwise, I am good with 5 days or less. Ideally 3 days would be what I’d choose each time. (3 full days of vacation and 2 half days of drive-time.)
Just enough time for a couple activities, some time to float around in the hotel pool, and head back home.
If you have a trip to the beach planned, for example, and you can be “lazy” at the beach while the kids play in the sand, and you just lay there soaking up the sun, talking to your spouse or whomever traveled with you, then I bet you could handle even more than 3 days, depending on the severity of your illness. This is where you know you and your body best and get to decide how long you want to be gone on vacation. Also, consult with your team of doctors.
7. Have a backup plan
If things go array, and you just simply cannot finish the vacation out, you will need a plan to get home early. This will involve being upfront with your fellow vacationers about the possibility that you’ll need to leave early and if you leave that means they leave with you. And if you flew somewhere, it will be harder to have a backup plan, but you could look into options to get back home sooner if necessary.
8. Know where medical help is located
This should go without saying but you’ll want to know where the local emergency room is, or walk in clinic, JUST in case you need it. This is good advice no matter who you are, sick or not, just to be on the safe side, should someone need medical attention.
9. Think like the same chronically ill person you are at home
Think about your every day life. What tools do you use every day? Do you have a migraine hat you need to use? Ask ahead if there’s a freezer in the room, or available to you. Do you have special shoes to help with the pain when you walk, don’t forget them. Do you have a visor you need to keep the sun out of your eyes, bring it. Do you nap every morning for an hour, make time for that nap even on vacation. You get the idea. Think about the tools and hacks you use in your every day life and bring them on vacation.
I would also advise that you’re very clear and upfront with whomever is coming along with you on vacation that this isn’t going to look like a typical vacation. There will need to be downtime. There will need to be games played with the family in bed at the hotel while you recover from a busy morning out at the zoo. There will need to be a nap in the afternoon while your spouse takes the kids to the pool, or whatever. This will help some possible disappointment on other people’s parts when they have to work around your schedule because the reality is, for the best vacation possible for your body, you will need some special accommodations made. And guess what? That’s okay!
10. And finally, HAVE FUN!
All this work, all these preparations, and special accommodations, don’t forget to unwind and enjoy your time away from home. Soak in the sun (if you can), take a short walk exploring wherever you are, meander around the beach, take a dip in the pool, breathe in and breathe out the beauty of time away. Give yourself as much permission to have fun as you do to rest and take care of your body. After all it isn’t every day you get to take a vacation!
BONUS: Products That Might Make Your Vacation Easier
- Pill Box
There are all sorts of pill boxes you can find on Amazon that range from 1 pill a day to 2 to 4! Shoot, there might even be more than 4 a day pill boxes. You can find many options that might work for you in keeping your pills organized on vacation and beyond.
2. Medication safe/storage
These would be great for traveling with your medication. The lock box is great for keeping kids out of medicines but also great for at home, too. And the travel bag would obviously be great for just that, traveling with medication. I am going to be purchasing the travel bag for myself as it would be much more organized than throwing it all in a plain bag.
3. Cozy Blanket for the Ride
This is the exact blanket I bought for myself and my kids for our recent Waco, Texas vacation and friends if you could only feel how super soft and plush and warm this blanket is you’d scoop one or several up for yourself and your family members! It isn’t too big to travel with but the perfect size to keep warm and cozy on a vacation.
4. And lastly, a travel pillow
This memory foam, twistable pillow might be just perfect for you on your vacation. You can make it fit for your neck, legs, even back. Great for in the car for long rides.
I could make a huge list of great products for travel but to keep this post from getting too long I’ll cap it at 4 items. If you want to see a post devoted to travel products, do let me know! I’d love to do one if you’re interested.
I hope this has been helpful. And I wish you a very nice trip. And just remember to be easy on yourself. Vacations are meant to be enjoyable, so enjoy the process but be understanding of yourself… and any limitations you may have.
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DISCLAIMER: This tips page is coming from a fellow chronically ill patient. I am NOT a doctor, not a medical professional, and these tips should not be taken as medical advise. Please consult with your team of doctors for their advice and tips on traveling with your specific disease and challenges. These tips are just good jumping off points – things that have worked for me and my personal needs and body.