How I Manage Travel With Chronic Illnesses

07.March 2013

Our Journey

This is it. Everything we have with us.

RTW BaggageAnd this is the tower of medication that I have to bring with me. In one of those bags.

I have had psoriasis since I was 14 years old. It can be difficult to treat in Canada, where it’s cold and dry, but here in Thailand it clears up fairly quickly due to the sun and humidity. Even so, I carry a couple of tubes of ointment and cream as well as a (heavy) bottle of special shampoo in case I need it.

I developed Crohn’s Disease when I was 21. This is the biggy. I am extremely lucky to be in remission with medication but I MUST take the medication or relapse will occur. Relapse is always ugly but the big fear is that it will never resolve again and I would be faced with surgery or worse.

I was diagnosed with high blood pressure about 4 months before we left Canada. Not surprising given my family history but annoying and it means more medication to carry.

It’s definitely a love/hate relationship. I simultaneously hate that it all takes up so much space and yet I am grateful that my conditions are treatable by medication. I am basically healthy on a day-to-day basis so, for me, managing chronic illness on the road comes down to five simple steps:

1. Be Prepared. I went to my doctor early and discussed my travel plans. We agreed that she would provide me with a one year prescription for each of my medications (the most she was able to do by law). I visited the pharmacy early too as they don’t keep that much stock on hand and so had to order it in for me. As a side note I had to pay for 9 of the 12 months medications myself as my insurance only covered three months at a time; this is important for the budget!

2. Pack Properly. As tempting as it was to throw all similar pills into baggies for ease of packing I didn’t. All the medications are in their original, sealed, labelled containers. Luckily, other than needing to stay dry, they don’t need any other special care. I also have a copy of the original prescriptions with me; firstly in case I have any trouble at borders or immigration and, secondly, for when I need to have the prescriptions renewed. I only have a one year supply with me so I’ll need to visit a foreign doctor at some point and this will help.

3. Take The Medication. This isn’t specific to travel; it’s proven that those with chronic illness often stop taking their medication when they are feeling well. This is definitely something I struggle with. I feel well and normal most of the time so taking mouthfuls of pills seems redundant. Lets just say that I have ‘experimented’ enough with this over the years that I am now committed to taking the damned medication!

4. Listen To Your Body. As Crohn’s is my major problem I mostly listen to my gut.  I want to avoid a stomach bug as much as anyone but have the added worry of possibly triggering an attack. Luckily I don’t have to be any more careful than a normal person and, quite frankly, I’m probably less careful than most vegetarians or celiacs I know. I do tend to need a lot of sleep though so, although I would rather stay up later and get up earlier, I let my body sleep as much as it wants. And I nap often.

5. Don’t limit yourself. While it’s good to be honest about what you can and can’t do, don’t use your illness as an excuse for not doing anything. I’ll admit that once, after being really sick, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to do anything like this but once I broke it down and dealt with each issue separately I couldn’t come up with a reason not to. What if I get sick on the road? I’ll see a doctor. What if I feel crappy for days on end? I’ll slow down and rest. What if things get really bad? I’ll go home. What will I do when my medications run out? I’m not sure yet but I’ll figure it out. Future Gillian can really worry about all that; this Gillian just has to take care of the now. Don’t limit yourself for any reason. There is a way through it and, even if the end doesn’t look exactly as you planned, you will still be moving forward and that’s what matters.

Managing chronic illnesses while travelling is a very individual pursuit. Obviously there are some conditions that are far more limiting than others. I definitely consider myself lucky but also wanted to show that it is possible.

Do you travel with a chronic condition? How do you manage it?

 

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19 Responses to “How I Manage Travel With Chronic Illnesses”

  1. Dale Says:

    Wow. I guess I should count myself really lucky – I rarely get ill.

    The singer of a band I was quite fond of when I was just a *tad* younger has Crohn’s and that really limited the amount of large scale touring he could do which really bummed him out, fans too.

    Telling yourself that anything is possible and that you can do everything you’d hoped & dreamed for with just a little (okay, probably a lot :P) preparation and a LOT of determination; anything is possible.
    Dale recently posted..6 Months Travel Anniversary – Now What?

  2. Talon Says:

    I am so sharing this with my readers.

    I have some chronic illnesses as well, but don’t have to carry the stack of meds you do. Thank you so much for sharing this. It helps prove what many of us have been saying for a while: If you want to travel, there are no excuses not to. (Well, minimal anyway.)
    Talon recently posted..Visiting Ireland

  3. Kate @30Traveler Says:

    This is great advice Gillian esp. the part about going to the pharmacy early. I often find that when I go to get a longer supply of medications before a big trip, the pharmacy is out of something on my script or doesn’t have enough supply. They just say come back in a few days, and I’m like “but I’m flying out tomorrow morning.” I don’t have any chronic illnesses but I get medical kit type stuff on prescription. I also travel with bottles of vegan vitamins.
    Kate @30Traveler recently posted..6 Long Term Travel Tips for Vegan Travelers

  4. Rachel Says:

    Good advice! I’m lucky because I’ve more or less grown out of my asthma and don’t have to take any prevention meds for it anymore, just carry a rescue inhaler for those rare times the pollution gets to me (like Ulaanbaatar).

  5. Charlie Says:

    #3 is the big one for me, I too have Crohns. Every time I take a pill (and many times in between) I think about this. Thanks for the reminder that I’m taking them for a reason, and that I’m in remission for a reason.

    The bottles may be different here, but I recognized the Asacol right off the bat!

    Thanks for the post!

  6. Ali Says:

    Thanks for sharing this Gillian! I think I’ve told you I have colitis, and I actually take the same medication as you (well, the German equivalent now). Here it comes in those blister sheets, 10 pills to a sheet, 3 months worth in a flimsy cardboard box. Which is fine when I’m home, but traveling with cardboard boxes of pills for 5 months was annoying. The box started disintegrating after a few weeks from being pulled out of my bag every single day. But there was no way I was going to let that stop me from traveling. Yes, you have to be prepared, but in most cases it’s not a reason to stay home. I’m so glad you didn’t let this stop you!
    Ali recently posted..Money and Travel

  7. Carmel Says:

    I have pretty severe allergies and while I’ve been getting allergy shots for 2 years for the 18 worst allergens I have here in the Pacific NW, I don’t what I’ll be allergic to in other countries. I still have to take meds everyday, too, and unfortunately, not just anything works for me. I still have yet to talk to my allergist about traveling. It’ll be interesting to see what he says. I guess I’ll just have to be ready to take along a year supply if needed.

  8. Ligeia Says:

    Thank you SO much for posting this! I have a couple friends who are very afraid to travel because of all their medication and I keep trying to encourage them anyway. This give clear solid advice that just might help push them out of their comfort zone. I’ll pass it along to them.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. :)
    Ligeia recently posted..Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant in Chiang Mai – Organic and Delicious

  9. Dianne White Says:

    Hi Gillian,Very well written.This I am sure will help many travellers.Touch wood I am healthy. I am enjoying reading and seeing your adventures,your smilling faces show me you are both having the best time seeing and doing fun things. hugs keep up the great work!!

  10. Sarah Somewhere Says:

    A wonderful post, Gillian, and I take my hat off to you for not allowing your illness to hold you back. You are amazing!!!
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..February in Playa: Settling into a New Life

  11. Trudy Says:

    You are awesome. I love your positive attitude and just getting on with it. So many people come up with silly excuses about why they can’t travel. I love that you have broken down the restrictions and looked at them one at a time and dealt with them. I hope you are having an amazing time so far :)
    Trudy recently posted..Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon; and meeting Monks and Monasteries

  12. Dylan Says:

    Great post! I’ve been limiting myself most of my life.

  13. Ryan Cummings Says:

    Great post and I am completely with you. I have ben taking injection since I was young. Travel has always been difficult with a refrigerated medication and needles, especially through security. When i was in Copenhagen, they tried to confiscate my medication saying it was steroids . When we visited Ireland, it was hard to constantly ask our B&B host to refrigerate “my bag” and on one occasion we had drove 30 miles before realizing we hd left it behind. Then their are the hotels who insist on charge you for a mini fridge. Caring for chronic conditions is not pleasant however I can say that it’s been getting better over he last 10 years.

    Slainte and keep up the fight
    Ryan Cummings recently posted..Letting go of Holiday Hype

  14. Stephen S. Says:

    I love your outlook and that you don’t let it limit you. Like you said future Gillian can worry about that stuff. Life will present a path as long as you keep moving towards your dreams.

    Your an inspiration Gillian!
    Stephen S. recently posted..The Countdown

  15. Helen Says:

    I thought I recognised the bottles of Asacol too!
    Its nice (as it can be) to find another travel blogger who has Crohns, I was diagnosed last year, and I’m now in remission too.
    I actually ended up hiking the Inca trail in full flare which was stressful (no toilets!)and really draining, something that I wont be doing again. In future I will be listening to my body.
    Have you ever found it a barrier to travelling anywhere?
    Helen recently posted..Vancouver

    • Gillian Says:

      Wow Helen!! If you can hike the Inca Trail in full flare then I dare say you can go anywhere! I have not yet found it a barrier but, like I said, I have been in remission for some time now. I do seem to need a lot of sleep though and make sure that I allow for that. Good luck in continued travel!

  16. Kellie Says:

    Its good to know that there are other travellers out there travelling quite happily with chronic illnesses. My skin is my major vice, most of the time its fine once it gets used to a place but the heat and humidity are what sets it off. I’m heading to central and south America so we’ll see how that goes….
    Kellie recently posted..Midweek Eat! Aubergine rolls with spinach and ricotta

  17. Jo Says:

    Well done Gillian, on such a great post. I had been planning a special trip for October this year, and after a 20year remission my colitis decided to have a serious relapse, that left me barely well enough to travel. The one thing I found was to pace myself – I took it easy at the start of my trip, and gradually built up my stamina. By the end if the trip I was walking all day and doing and eating everything.
    Jo recently posted..My favorite beach holiday

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