How I Manage Travel With Chronic IllnessOne Giant Step
This is it. Everything we have with us.
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?