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I love to travel. I love everything about it, from sightseeing, to hiking, to doing things I’ve never done before. Most people physically feel better and have more stamina when they are on vacation. Travel used to be a lot easier before I became chronically ill with Lyme disease, but fortunately, with a few adjustments, I am still able to do it.
I thrive on vacation planning. Sometimes when you have chronic illness, all you can think about is the pain and the myriad of other symptoms, but when I’m reading hotel and restaurant reviews online I’m able to forget about it for a moment. There are studies about how vacation anticipation can significantly boost your mood, so if I’m not on vacation, I’m planning one.
There are certain challenges that those of us with chronic illness face when thinking about being away from the comforts of home, like how to travel with loads of medication and how to manage fatigue. Below are my top 12 tips for these and other issues:
1. Choose your destination wisely.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you do better in cold weather or warm weather? What about damp or dry?
- How will you get there? Are you able to fly and for how long? Can you drive for a long period of time?
- Once you get there how will you get around? Is there a lot of walking or waiting a long time for public transportation?
- What are the typical things to do? Is the focus sightseeing and walking, like in New York City, or relaxing on a beach, like in Mexico?
- Is there access to healthy and organic food options?
2. Plan an itinerary.
Remember that vacation anticipation boosts mood. Spend time planning out each day of your vacation. I use TripAdvisor and Yelp, to look up things to do and read reviews. If it’s a big trip, I might treat myself to a guidebook and read it cover to cover.
The most important reason to make an itinerary is so you can spread out your activities. If you are doing something strenuous one day, plan a less intense activity the next.
I typically plan things to do during the day and leave my evenings free for a slow-paced dinner and time to relax. If you’re anything like me you start the day with a certain amount of energy and willpower, which diminishes throughout the day. Plan accordingly.
3. Find healthy restaurants in the area and look up the menus online.
Many people with chronic illness are on some type of anti-inflammatory diet to manage symptoms. It’s important to maintain diet as much as possible on vacation to avoid flares.
I recently vacationed in Phoenix, Arizona and was ecstatic to see all the healthy, organic, whole food restaurants in the area. Not all destinations are so health conscious.
I need to eat 3 meals a day in order to take all my medications and supplements, so when I travel I search online for 3 restaurants (and cafés for smaller meals) a day near the hotel or attractions I will be seeing. I usually start with TripAdvisor and Yelp for recommendations. Then, I go onto the website and search through the menu to make sure it’s allergen friendly. These days most restaurants have a menu online and most healthy restaurants list common allergens on the menu.
In places where healthy food is few and far between most restaurants have salad and then I keep little vials of oil and vinegar in my purse, which luckily don’t have to be refrigerated.
4. Schedule relaxation into your trip.
I never used to splurge on massages before I got sick, but now I use my illness as a reason to spend the extra cash. When I’m away I like to schedule a massage or mani pedi to take a small break from being on the go.
Other options are to schedule in time to lay out by the pool or find a drop-in gentle yoga class in the area.
5. Find the right pill organizer.
Chronic illness and a jam packed cabinet of medication and supplements go hand in hand; however, you can’t travel with your cabinet, so a great pill organizer is the next best thing.
I have an organizer that has 4 large compartments and the days are separate from one another. This allows me to take only the days I need and carry the separate compartment with me throughout the day. I even have two, in case I’m traveling for more than a week.
The TSA does not require you to pack medication in the original bottle, but they do request that it is “labeled.” I don’t really know what that means, but I’ve always just given the agent the heads up that there is medication in my bag and they’ve never seemed concerned. Here’s a helpful post from from the TSA blog. Make sure you pack medication in your carryon in case your luggage is lost.
It’s probably best to do a quick Google search before you fly to see if any of the protocols have changed.
6. Research the nearest hospital.
Ten plus years of strange new symptoms popping up randomly caused me to develop health anxiety. I’m always wondering what is around the corner and if it will be serious.
Therefore, it is important for me to know that there is a descent hospital relatively close to where I will be. Last summer, we spent a few days in Northern Minnesota and it was a 30 minute drive to the nearest hospital. That did not put my mind at ease, but it was important for me to know in case anything did happen.
7. Bring 2 or 3 essential oils.
- Headache/nausea remedy by mixing 1 drop of each and rubbing on my temples, forehead, and behind my ears.
- Stomach ache remedy by mixing 1 drop of each and rubbing on stomach.
- Pain remedy by mixing 1 drop of each and rubbing on low back or wherever you have pain.
- Relaxing aromatheapy bath by adding 3 drops of lavender to hot water.
If you have 2 or 3 go-to oils it’s a good idea to bring them along. Make sure you put them in a strong plastic baggie as they have a tendency to leak.
8. Pack some allergen-friendly snacks.
You never know when there won’t be anything available for you to eat, so having a few extra snacks in your carryon or suitcase is not a bad idea.
Here are some suggestions:
- assorted raw nuts (if you tolerate)
- nutrition bars (Larabars, Epic Bison Bacon Cranberry Bars, Trader Joe’s Fruit Bars, OneBar)
- Pacific Bone Broth single servings
- Jackson’s Honest Sweet Potato Chips
- Plantain chips
- SeaSnax seaweed
9. Get the right shoes.
Another thing you might want to spend a little more on is a good pair of shoes. Shoes can make a huge difference in back and leg pain, especially when you are walking more than you’re used to. Quality shoes usually run over $100, so if you can’t afford that check out places like Ebay or Threadup where you can buy slightly used high end shoes for much less. Nordstrom Rack also carries a good selection of high end walking shoes at a discount.
10. Rest when your body tells you to rest.
I’ve found that I have much more energy while traveling. It’s a sort of vacation adrenaline, which allows me to do more than I would at home. However, when you have chronic illness there is always a limit.
Make sure you rest when your body tells you to, otherwise you risk not being able to make it through the activities planned for the next day.
If the hotel bathtub seems clean, take a long, hot bath, or take a nice afternoon nap in the crisp clean sheets.
11. Be in nature & meditate.
Since I was diagnosed with chronic illness, I’ve planned more vacations that revolve around spending time in nature. Maybe it’s because running around in the bustle of a big city seems exhausting, or maybe it’s because when I’m in nature I tend to feel better.
I also try to spend a few minutes meditating each day. It only takes 5 minutes to center yourself and gain a boost of energy. It’s usually good to take a moment after a busy day just to calm the senses and have a moment to yourself. Breathe in the lavender oil you brought with you before you begin (yet another use!).
12. Cheat a little (if you can).
On our most recent trip to Arizona I had the opportunity to eat gelato made from the fruit of a cactus. And I took it. I typically don’t eat dairy, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.
This may not be a good idea for those who need to stick to the diet for serious health reasons. However, if you are able to handle a small amount inflammatory foods, pick 1 or 2 local favorites during your stay and give them a try.
Where is your next vacation destination? What are some of your concerns about traveling?
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