Tips For Traveling with a Chronic Debilitating Illness

So, you want to get away from the stresses of everyday life, but one of those stresses happens to be your chronic, debilitating illness.  What can you possibly do? Where do you want to go? How do you want to get there? How much time will you be taking? Who will be with you on this trip?  What do you want to do while on this trip? How will your illness need to be accounted for during the trip? Excellent questions!! The easy answer is that there are tricks to make traveling easier, just as there are with any other activity. The key is understanding how your illness may affect you under any given circumstances.

Traveling with a Chronic Illness
Traveling with a Chronic Illness


First, let’s start with the planning phase.  It is imperative to look at how climates and temperature changes will affect your illness.  Can you plan your trip for a time when the weather is more stable and comfortable for you?  For instance, do cold weather fronts affect your joints to the point where you cringe just at the thought moving?  Winter may not be a very good travel season for you unless you are traveling south of the equator, where the seasons are reversed.  Also, plan for rest time to try to prevent fatigue and those sore joints or muscles.  Flights can be hectic if you plan an extremely short layover, so give yourself time for a quiet, easy movement between terminals.  Many people like to jam pack every possible thing into their itinerary, trying to catch every site in the area they will be visiting.  Don’t try this with a chronic, debilitating illness!!  You WILL fail, and you may even land yourself in the hospital with a HUGE flare!

Do your research on the facilities where you plan to stay.  What items are provided in the rooms?  Do you really need to pack your hairdryer, if they provide one?  Do they provide laundry service or laundry facilities? Another obvious point to mention here is to make sure that if you are not on the ground floor, the facility HAS a working elevator.  Don’t accidentally book a 5-story walk-up and then find you can’t make it up the first flight!  If you call the hotel directly, you will be able to talk to them and let them know what your physical limitations are, so that they might better accommodate you.

Space events evenly during your trip, not back to back, as with back to back events you will have to hustle from one event to another without proper rest, hydration, or medication. Leave yourself time to return to your quarters and get a good rest in, maybe a shower, or whatever you need to be able to continue.  Some events offer multiple times during the day or week that they may be attended.  Make a list of the events you want to attend, then prioritize that list, so that if you aren’t able to make the event you had planned on, you may be able to swap it out with another, less-desirable, event occurring later in your trip.  Give yourself options.  Don’t set anything in stone and don’t expect to be able to stick to the plan, no matter what.

Coping with Luggage

Luggage can be an issue during these trips.  The best type of luggage for someone with a chronic, debilitating illness would be a decent-sized rolling suitcase, but not just any old rolling suitcase.  First, choose a type that can sit on four wheels and can be nudged in any direction.  The two-wheel sort with the extendable handle only travel in one direction easily and can be very hard on sore hands or shoulders and possibly the spine.  One that rolls on its own is much easier.  Also, opt for one large suitcase and one carry-on piece.  With the type of suitcase described, the carry-on has a handy spot riding atop the larger suitcase.

Coping with Luggage - Chronic Illness
Coping with Luggage – Chronic Illness

Pack as lightly as possible. Do you really need to pack a fresh suit for every day you will be gone?  In some cases, a small bottle of washing detergent and a few sheets of fabric softener may weigh less than the three or four extra suits you want to bring, AND they will take up less space.  Think about what can be left out to lighten your load.  Luggage can and will beat you up, if you allow it.

Traveling with Medication

Your medication can be problematic.  Understand that if you use a pill planner box, you cannot take this with you without either the paper prescriptions or the prescription bottles.  If the medication is separate from the proof that they are yours, then they are considered illegal.  Also, plan to keep them with you in your carry-on.  You may need some of them during the travel and they will do you no good if they are in the luggage that has been checked.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

At the airport, when you check in, let them know your physical disabilities and request assistance getting around.  There are skycabs, trams, wheelchairs, etc, available for people with various physical disabilities and illnesses.  All you have to do is inform them of how you need to be accommodated.

This also goes for most of the events or sights you will want to visit.  Be open and honest with the people at the various places you want to go to.  Chances are, you are not the first disabled person wanting to visit, and they probably have plans in place for those eventualities. 


Another consideration is company.  Some people like traveling by themselves, while others like to make trips a group affair.  To each their own.  However, consider if your illness will allow you to travel on your own.  Do you need somebody to help you keep track of your meds, rest, activities, etc?  Do you need someone to help you in and out of the shower?  Is there someone who already fills this need in your life who can accompany you?  Being hundreds or thousands of miles away from home with a chronic, debilitating illness can be frightening, unsettling, or downright dangerous.  Play it safe. 

If you don’t want someone traveling with you, then have things set up to deal with the trip.  Set reminders on your cell phone, keep a copy of your medical information in your purse or wallet, including your diagnosis, current medication list, as well as name and contact information for both your “In Case of Emergency” contact and your regular treating physicia(s).  There are even apps for your smartphone that allow you to keep this info available on your screen, but, alas, cell phones can die, or be stolen, lost, or broken.  Best to have a hard copy somewhere within easy reach.

Last but not least; Breathe, Have Fun, and Enjoy Yourself!

Enjoying Vacation with Chronic Illness
Enjoying Vacation with Chronic Illness

You put a LOT of thought and preparation in to this trip.  Take the time to truly soak in the atmosphere at your preferred destination.  Keep track of what works and what doesn’t.  Make notes for yourself for the next trip on how you want to make it easier.

Author Bio: Pamela is 48 years old and has suffered from Fibromyalgia for about 5 years. She lives in Louisiana with her three dogs. She has a vested interest in helping people in similar situations to her own, and she seeks to educate people about her illness and how best to deal with it.

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