In case you haven’t guessed, I love to travel. Unfortunately, as my health has got worse and worse it’s become more difficult – but that doesn’t mean impossible. If you’re sick, and you’ve had to endure the endless Facebook posts of your friends backpacking around the world, wishing you could join them but feeling thoroughly grounded with your condition, then read on!
I believe travel is one of the most healing pursuits there is, and it’s something that should be accessible to everyone. Obviously, chronic illness is a spectrum, one that I’m still on a pretty good side of, so if you’re unsure about whether you can travel with your health conditions then ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s The Worst That Can Happen?
This is a phrase that is often asked flippantly and rhetorically when traveling. Shall we bungee jump off that cliff? What’s the worst that can happen? Shall we jump on this guys boat and go to that island? What’s the worst that can happen? Unfortunately, when traveling with a chronic illness, the question becomes less rhetorical and more essential. Knowing what the worst-case scenario may be is the first step to being able to travel confidently with health problems.
Start by considering every aspect of your trip and have at least a vague idea of what the repercussions might be; know how certain activities, such as flights or long hikes, will interact with your conditions. If there’s a risk of it being fatal or you’re restricted with mobility problems, then these are obvious red flags in your plan. However, this doesn’t have to mean the end of your trip – it just means you need to travel smarter. Factoring in more time for rest, traveling by a different method, opting for a nearer location or visiting family so you have a good base at your destination are all great, but small, adjustments that can reduce risk and increase your enjoyment of the adventure!
- What Are My Limits?
Next, you need to decide how far you’re willing to push yourself. Can you cope with a few days of horrendous discomfort or agony or will you have to spend time in the hospital? Is there a risk to your life? Traveling is an incredible and essential experience, but you should never put yourself in harm’s way just for the sake of it. One of the most difficult parts of traveling sick is accepting that you probably won’t be able to do what everyone around you is doing. There’s so much life and energy in the nomadic community that it can be hard to embrace this when you’re plagued with chronic fatigue and other symptoms.
Fortunately, there is an answer to this as well! There are many ways you can enjoy a destination without feeling like you’re failing to keep up. One of my greatest discoveries was using Airbnb, instead of forcing myself through the trauma of a hostel stay. While it definitely reduces the social element, it makes it much easier to focus on your own needs and not pushing yourself too hard. Plus, often you get to meet wonderful and fascinating locals who will show you a side of their city that you could never see otherwise!
- Will There Be Support?
This is the next essential element when planning your travels with health problems, and it’s two-fold. Firstly, you need to have an idea about the practical support you might need and whether you’ll be able to access it. If there’s risk of hospitalization, then it’s probably best to avoid countries where the healthcare is somewhat iffy. It’s also important to consider whether the local cuisine will support your dietary requirements or if you’ll be able to access the medication you need in case yours goes walkabout.
On another level, you need to consider whether you’ll have enough mental and emotional support when you’re out there. Having a chronic illness is hard, and if you’re able to do it completely independently then hats off to you because you’re a stronger person than me. Whenever I travel, I try to make sure I’m meeting up with people who know and understand my condition for at least some of the journey. Sometimes it’s also possible to find new friends, but you have to consider that with language barriers, the nuances of different dialects and the general complication of explaining abstract health problems to people who aren’t sick, it can be hard to find support on the road. Whether it’s actual hired care or just a trusted friend, I really recommend not traveling alone.
- Do I Have Savings?
This is a cold and hard truth of being ill: it’s expensive. Even when you’re not traveling, the costs of being sick – such as medications, treatments, canceled plans and dietary requirements, to name a just few – can add up quick. A reality that I’ve had to face is that traveling when you’re ill, a lot of the time, means parting with money. You could be too sick to catch a plane or go on that excursion you’d booked; you might have to see the local doctor because things get tricky. You also need to avoid over exerting yourself, which often means taxis when others walk, or expensive takeout because you’re too tired to cook.
While others can get by working on farms or volunteering on placements, it’s impossible to commit to that kind of physical demand on your body when you’re sick and already pushing yourself. Because of this, it’s wise to have a pot of money that you can dip into in case of an emergency.
- Do I Believe That I Can?
Have you got through this post and still feel unsure about whether or not you can travel? Maybe you’re worried about transporting medical machinery, or whether your condition will handle to trip. It could be something as simple as you’re scared of being in pain and away from home (trust me, I’ve fought with this one viciously). By far the biggest barrier to taking that step out of your door is believing that you can do it.
If I can promise you anything it’s that, with enough planning and consideration, you can successfully adventure the world. Sure you may have restrictions, but just getting on the road and experiencing a new place – even if it’s only the next town across – is an incredible and enlightening pursuit. Every barrier you come to, there will be ways to get around. If you can identify and solve all the potential problems, then the only thing standing in your way is the trust in yourself that you will be able to deal with whatever is thrown at you.
As well as sharing posts about my experience, in both travel and health, I really want to help you guys as much as possible with planning your own trips. If you have any questions that you want to shoot my way, I’d be happy to answer. Obviously, I’m going to try and come up with as many helpful articles as possible to help you as well! So do you think your health stops you from traveling? Leave a comment below and let’s get this discussion going!
If you want to know more about traveling with a chronic illness then check out my YouTube channel for vlogs, tips and pretty montages 🙂