Tips for Travelling with Chronic Illness
I’ve traveled a lot lately. And, by a lot I mean I’ve been on a plane more in the last two months than I had been in the last 5 years. In the last two months I’ve taken four trips. The first two were a little over a week apart. Then I had a few weeks off between the next two. In between those two trips I was home for four days.
Was it easy? No.
Did I need to rest after every single trip, oh yeah! Travelling with chronic illness isn’t easy but it can still be a lot of fun, if you plan properly. I’ve learned a lot about that planning thing in the last two months.
It was rather timely when a friend of mine messaged me just before trip #3 asking for my travel/packing tips. What did I put in my carry-on vs my checked bag? What other tips did I have to make travel easier? As I wrote out my stream of consciousness response to her I couldn’t help but think that others might benefit from this same info, much of which I’ve learned by trial and error in the last couple of months.
I hope you have your coffee because this is a long post with lots of great tips on travelling with chronic illness.
1. Plan ahead. Don’t try to do everything or see everyone.
Prioritize the people you want to see and the things you want to do during your visit. Schedule just one visit or one thing each day. If you can, try to get all the people you want to see to come to you at the same time, this way you won’t be running around to see them and you can see everyone at once then rest.
Don’t make any plans for that first day after you arrive. Plan to spend that day just resting and recovering so that you can spend time with people later.
2. Prepare for emergencies – Have a letter detailing your medications and health issues that you can provide should the need arise. Chances of a medical emergency during your visit are low but it’s best to be prepared.
3. Pack Appropriately – Make sure to pack for any weather possibilities. This is especially tough when travelling during the winter, as winter in one part of the country can be very different than another area (for that matter weather can change from moment to moment).
Even if you are going to a warm climate, be sure to pack a sweater or light jacket for those times when you get chilly. Don’t forget to pack your medications and any other necessary items in your carry-on so that they are easily accessible.Always pack your medications and necessary items in your carry on so that you have them on hand as you travel. - Travelling with chronic illness. Click To Tweet
4. Plan to Rest – I don’t mind traveling early so long as I make sure that I have time to rest when I arrive. I also find it’s important to stick with my normal sleep schedule. Although, I often find myself waking up earlier on vacation (especially if we are on the beach). I still try to get to bed around the same time I normally would and get plenty of sleep.
Vacations are supposed to be Fun not Effort: This is a holiday not a Quest for the Holy Grail. You do not need to be busy every single minute.” – Nikki aka Brainless Blogger
5. Cut Flight Fatigue – Don’t allow your ego to make travel more difficult; take advantage of the assistance that the airport and airlines provide like wheelchairs, gate transfers, and early boarding. Airports tend to be even more crowded than normal during the holidays, all these extra people will wear you out faster, and make walking between gates even more difficult.
6. Reduce Driving Fatigue – If driving, plan extra drive time to stop and stretch often; sitting for long periods will increase your muscle pain and fatigue. Take advantage of the extra room that having your car provides and pack your own pillows and a mattress topper to make sleeping more comfortable.
7. Bring Water – Make sure to keep plenty of water on hand throughout your trip. When flying, take an empty water bottle and fill up once you get inside the gate area. Once you arrive, buy water in bulk on the way to your destination. Staying hydrated keeps your blood flowing, decreasing muscle pain and fatigue.
8. Reduce Stimulation – Wear noise cancelling headphones when you fly and when you are in crowded areas to cut down on the increased stimulation that all that noise will create. That added stimulation can create stress that you don’t need.
9. Stay Stress Free – As much as your family may want you to stay with them, it may not be the best thing for you. Staying in a hotel provides a safe place that allows you to get away whenever you choose and fully relax in your space.
10. Sleep In Comfort – I rarely take prescription sleep aids but I always take them when I travel. The unfamiliar bed and noises tend to keep me from sleeping even more than normal. You can also reduce the discomfort of sleeping in a strange bed by bringing your own pillow and blanket.
11. Stick to Your Diet – If we are traveling by car for just a short trip, I will often take juice with me. I also make sure to pack plenty of healthy gluten-free snacks. Otherwise, I just make sure that I’m still eating healthy whole foods and lots of fruits and veggies.
12. Don’t Forget Your Meds – I just found this awesome new little device that is going to make the medication thing so much easier. The PillSuite lets me divide up my daily doses and put them in sealed bags. No more worry about my pill container coming over during travel.
Traveling to your destination will increase you pain no matter if you are traveling by plane, train, or car. If you only bring along the amount of medication to treat your pain that you would use normally, you risk one of two things.
The first being that you increase your dosage for those first few days and then run out before your trip is over.
The second is that you only take what you would normally take while at home and are miserable because that dosage is too low for a higher level of pain. Neither option is ideal.
The best way to avoid them is to bring more than you think you would need.” – Disabled Diva
13. Consider Travel Insurance – Travel insurance may not be right for every situation. There are different plans, so it’s important to research before you buy, but if you find the right plan it can potentially save you a lot of money if you have to cancel your trip due to illness.If you buy travel insurance, make sure to choose travel insurance that allows cancellation for any reason. Click To Tweet
More Tips for Travelling with Chronic Illness
Hydrate often – Hydration is often my downfall. I need lots of water. I typically keep a water bottle next to me at all times. When we go out of town we buy a large (gallon at least) bottle to refill our smaller bottles. During my trip to San Diego we had an event that took a good portion of the day.
That day for whatever reason I didn’t drink much water. I think it was partially because I didn’t know where the bathroom was, partially because I just wasn’t thinking. The next day I woke up dead. It took about half the day to rehydrate to the point where I was really functional again. I made sure not to repeat that mistake… until I got on the plane.
Choose your seat wisely – I really hate that you can’t take your own water with you on the plane anymore, but you can still take your own bottle and just refill it on the other side of security. Most airports now have bottle refilling stations. That said, I still didn’t drink enough. Why? Because I had a window seat and I didn’t want to be that person asking the two people next to me to get up every 30 minutes. It was when I realized this that I knew I had to change my preferred seat choice.
Yes, window seats are great because it gives you something to lean against, you aren’t crammed between two strangers, and you don’t get your elbow bumped every time someone walks by. But, they are awful if you have to pee. Especially, if the two people next to you are sleeping or otherwise absorbed in their own thing. So, I now request an aisle seat. I’ll take being able to comfortably get up to go pee (or just to walk) whenever I choose over having a wall to lean on.
Plan to eat – Even if you don’t have dietary restrictions airport food is expensive, and if you are flying early or out of an airport the size of ours, food choices are even thinner. So, I make sure to plan to eat.
Thankfully, they’ve not yet banned us from bringing our own food through security (although on my most recent trips they have started asking that I take it out of my carry-on and send it through separately!?). So, I bring my own snacks (or even meals in some cases). This isn’t just for the airport either as with the dietary restrictions I have I often run into trouble eating at hotels. So, I just make sure I’m covered.
Be comfortable – Wear comfortable clothes when you travel (really, wear comfortable clothes all the time, but especially when you travel).
Make sure you bring a sweater because sometimes planes get cold, but wear layers because sometimes they are hot and stuffy. It sucks not being able to regulate your temperature properly.
Bring a small pillow. Whether it’s a neck pillow or some other small pillow, it’s nice to have something you can rely on (hotel pillows are too often unreliable). I like the neck pillows that have the snap as they make it easy to hang onto when I’m between flights. I’ve also found that my neck pillow is a great way to allow me to use my Oska while I’m travelling.
Plan for time – while the average person might be able to book it between gates to catch a flight that starts boarding at the same time their previous flight landed, those of us with chronic pain might not be able to do so.
I have learned to travel during the early afternoon so I can sleep as late as possible. – Melissa Swanson of Fibro Warriors Living Life
It’s probably also helpful to try to schedule your flights so that they are both late enough in the morning that you aren’t starting off the day stressed and early enough in the day so that should you miss a flight you still have a second chance to get home. Getting stuck overnight at an airport is never fun 🙁
Hanging out on the tarmac in #Austin TX after weather diverted us from #DFW. It looks like we’ll get the clear to leave Austin about the time my flight out departs. Of course that is the last flight into #Huntsville from Dallas. I’m sure there is some reason I’m going to spend the night in Dallas but I’d much rather have stayed in #sandiego for another night.
Board Early or don’t – When they begin boarding, they usually ask for those passengers who need extra time on the jetway to board first. Take advantage of that offer, or don’t. It’s really up to you. It might be nice to avoid having to stand in line, or you may prefer to just wait and be the last to board so that you aren’t having to worry about getting up to let someone else get to their seat.
Check your bags – unless you are sharing a large suitcase with someone who can lift it up above your head, just go ahead and check the bag. It’ll be worth the $25 (or so) to not have to deal with it. Just make sure that you plan ahead and have important things in your carry-on, just in case.
Carry-on the right things – You are allowed two bags as carry-on (this can be any two bags – as long as one is small enough to fit under the seat and the larger is small enough to fit in the overhead bin). While you want to keep your carry-on as light as possible, getting stuck overnight taught me some important things about what to make sure you have in your carry-on.
What’s in my carry-on:
- – Extra underwear (if not an extra change of clothes).
- – Meds -I always keep my meds in my carry-on (all of them). This includes rescue meds as well as daily meds. I use Pillsuite to organize my meds into easy-to-carry travel pouches, so I don’t have to carry big bottles.
- – Nightguard – I wear a TMJ splint and not sleeping it in means extra pain, so I make sure it’s in my carry-on
- – Toothbrush – nuff said
- – Snacks – because you never know when you might get stranded on a runway for hours
- – Laptop / tablet / phone – If you travel with electronics make sure they are in your carry-on. If you can get away without your laptop, leave it at home. It’s heavy and you can probably do most of what you want on your phone anyway.
- – Chargers – whatever electronics you are travelling with, make sure you have chargers in your carry-on.
- – Wallet – no need to bring your whole purse (your carry-on is basically one already). Take out all non-necessary things from your wallet and just bring it.
- – Oska – I don’t go anywhere without my Oska. And, if you don’t know what Oska is, you can check out my review here (but, no I don’t leave home without it).
- – Extra bottle of Zeal – I love that they have this stuff in travel bottles. Zeal is a great energy supplement and has definitely helped me a lot when I travel. Again, if you don’t know what it is, you can check out my review here. While I typically only take this once in a normal day, when I travel I bring enough to take it twice a day to make up for the extra wear on my energy.
I’ve always loved to travel but for a few years there I was pretty scared to do it. Going into planning all these trips so close I really wondered if I could pull it off. Had I had more time to think about all the trips, it might have scared me out of doing it. But, half of the trips were planned on pretty short notice. Most of the trips themselves were also pretty short.
The hardest part was not having enough time in between to get caught up on work and rest. So, I probably wouldn’t plan two trips just four days apart again. I think 10 days was enough time, though.
Do you travel? If so, what tips do you have for the rest of us? What questions do you have about travelling