How to travel when you have a chronic illness

In this post, I share a few tips on how to travel when you have a chronic illness.

This post is for those who are able to travel. I know there are some autoimmune diseases that hinder travel. These include those conditions for some of us with symptoms such as extreme motion sickness. Others may be in wheelchairs (they can travel too, but might need to skip the hiking trails on their next travel adventure) or severely physically unable to do certain things on a trip. The key to travelling when you have a chronic illness is adaptation – you can do things just differently and a little bit more planning. In this post, I share a few tips on how to travel when you have a chronic illness.

Preparation

  • First things first, make sure your disease is under control before you travel. It’s hard to think of traveling when you’re in the middle of a flare-up and may have to endure long-haul flights. The whole trip is just that – every little bit. From point A to B.
  • INSURANCE. Yep, this point is in capitals because what happened to me when I was travelling to Bali last year, I was so glad I had it. I became a young stroke survivor and travel insurance proved more important than I ever knew.

Planning

  • The itinerary. Planning your trip is just like any other trip for the general population, only with a few more considerations. Choosing a destination? Ask yourself if your body reacts better in cold or warm weather. How far will your hotel be from the activities you want to go to? Think logistics in terms of your energy allowance aka “spoons” etc.
  • Medications. Travelling in and out so often I’ve found that it’s best to bring medications in their original packaging with a print out copy of prescriptions.  Try and get a contact number to the pharmacist or doctor in case of problems at immigration- some of the pain relief tablets are illegal in some countries without proof.  Always bring more than you need in case you find you need to up the dosage for any of them. Another tip is to pack at least an extra week of medication for just in case. Put some in your hand luggage as well as your check-in luggage (make sure you have a doctor’s signed medication list).
  • Doctor’s letter. Make sure to get a doctor’s letter that details your condition and any medications that you’ve packed this will avoid any chance of confiscation by an airport or border security.
  • Wheelchair Assistance. I never realized I could ask for wheelchair assistance ahead of time. I can walk unassisted but when I have late flights, it becomes very hard to walk. Given your doctor’s letter, you may be entitled to a wheelchair assistance. My first wheelchair airport experience was amazing and so much easier. Our 1 am flight was horrible but with wheelchair assistance upon arrival at 4am we were able to get through immigration and customs, hassle-free!
  • Always inform airline special assistance of your needs, especially on a long haul.  This allows for pre-boarding and bulkhead seating (if available) and it makes so much difference says a fellow Autoimmunee.

Luxury Travel

  • I’m not saying you have to book business class or even better yet first class (if you can go for it! lol) but for the general travelling population, we all know that costs you an arm or leg and I don’t think, especially having an autoimmune disease/chronic illness like us, that probably isn’t the price we’re willing to pay (pun intended). But there are ways you can make travel more comfortable without the crazy prices, just a few little additions to pack:
    – Eye Mask. Back in the day, haha ok so not so long ago, remember when aeroplanes used to actually include these in those little packs airlines used to give you when you first boarded? Well, due to cost cuts you gotta remember to bring some yourself and wow it makes sleeping so much easier!
    – Pillow/s. think neck pillows, no explanation needed
    – Noise-cancelling Ear/Headphones. I travel about 10-15 times a year and I only just got noise-cancelling headphones this year. Life-changing stuff. Seated near a crying baby on a long-haul flight? With noise-cancelling headphones, you won’t have to worry about it. I had saved calming music and meditations too, so with my cell phone/mobile on aeroplane mode, I was completely zen.
    – Fluffy Socks. On 10hour+ flights who want to battle swelling feet? You’re right – no one! Especially not those with chronic illness. As soon as I get on a plane, I make the move to swap my travelling shoes for comfy fluffy socks. I would add blankets to the tips but if you ask on the plane, they usually have some.

Conscious decision-making

  • This might sound like common sense to some but it needs to be said. Choose things to eat or drink wisely. E.g Avoid raw food,  street market foods and your inflammatory triggers (in my case, limit alcohol consumption to a minimum). Just because you’re on holidays doesn’t mean normal life stops. Don’t make things worse by completely ditching your routine back at home. Be open to new experiences, just be conscious of how some food and drink choices can affect you.
  • If you have more stringent dietary requirements, consider bringing premade meals or choose places that have a kitchen where you can cook your own meals while on the trip.

Digital helping hand

  • We live in a digital world – take advantage of it! Smartphones and other handheld devices make travel so much easier! And not just for the general traveller, but also for those with chronic illnesses. From searching for gluten-free restaurants in a particular location to enabling you to communicate special needs in a different language (eg Google Translate) using technology is definitely every Autoimmunees’ modern helping hand.

5 natural ways to get to sleep (and stay asleep)

8 years before I had a bilateral pontine ischemic stroke I had migraines for 8 years. Repeat – eight! As you can imagine, I had bouts of insomnia and nights where sleep became very hard to come by. Here’s a list of 5 natural ways to get to sleep – and stay asleep!

The Calm App

I have to put this as my number one tip. Even til this day, I swear by this app and use it EVERY single evening. They share adult ‘bedtime stories’ that are calming after a long day and certainly sleep-inducing. I cannot rave enough about it. It’s available on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android phones.

Lavender Oil

Second tip – lavender oil! And if not oil, some sort of perfume from lavender oil. Put some drops on your pillow and the smell lulls you to relax.

Herbal Concoctions

My naturopath looked at my current medicines to see if there were any interactions to be aware of and mixed up a herbal concoction to sleep. I won’t give you the recipe for mine as I’m sure everyone and everyBODY is different. But look into seeing a naturopath or a homeopath to mix up something that will aid you to sleep. The connection I now have also helps alleviate headaches. I love it AND it’s natural.

Strenuous Exercise

You’ve probably heard this tip before but it really does help. Make your body exhausted (without hurting yourself, of course). I find going for a nice, long swim really gets me sleepy and on days I don’t – it can take hours to fall asleep.

Turn off anything digital around at least an hour before bedtime

Do you sleep with your phone next to you? Watch tv before trying to fall asleep? It’s time for a digi-detox. Things like TVs, mobile phones, tablets etc. keep your mind active, and you know what that means? Yeah, a hard time to fall asleep. Set some ground rules, charge your phone NOT next to your bedside, perhaps across the room. Turn off the tv and read something a little boring. Listen to a calm bedtime story (best tip ever!)

The Watcher and the Patient with an autoimmune disease

This blog is dedicated to the people with autoimmune conditions and the people that love them. It aims to educate both parties on how we can both work through these diseases together. For family & friends, how they can care for and support their loved one diagnosed; and for the autoimmune patient themselves, how they can better cope and involve their loved ones. So what roles can you play as ‘The Watcher and the Patient with an autoimmune disease’?

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