Traveling With Chronic Illness: Face Your Fears and See the World

We aspire to travel because travel is alluring, it’s undefined and can foster new opportunities and life changing experiences.  The reasons people travel differ for every individual but whether the goal is to sightsee, work, volunteer, or visit family and friends travel is a beautiful thing.  People who suffer from chronic illness unfortunately may not view travel as a possibility or have legitimate fears based on the complexities of managing a confirmed diagnosis.  Of course it should go without saying that traveling while in a physical or mental state of severe discourse is not wise and certainly not recommended; however, if you are living with and managing well a chronic illness at home it’s not impossible to still do so while exploring the world.  I live with Crohn’s disease daily and after recovering from a third surgery I decided to actively seek out and pursue a teaching opportunity in Madrid, Spain. Each surgery deepened my appreciation for living and propelled me to take a chance on moving abroad. It wasn’t easy, I had to work through challenges and that changed me for the better so if you are in a position to travel here are ways you can prepare yourself.   

Photo via  GirlTrek

Photo via GirlTrek

Do Your Research

We know what we need to be comfortable and the right preparation and planning is guaranteed to minimize anxiety so do your due diligence.  Become knowledgeable about the medical care in your anticipated destination.  How close is the nearest hospital, clinic or urgent care from your place of stay?  In the event that you need a specialist will you have access to one?  When traveling to a place where you don’t speak the language don’t assume native doctors can speak your language however some hospitals do have translation services.  Ask your primary doctor if they have any insight on international care or specialty hospitals.  Notify him or her of your travel plans and ask the best way to contact them if necessary.   


Insure Yourself and Valuables

If transporting medication do a quick search on to confirm if your medication has to be checked in.  If your medicine doesn’t have to be checked, opt to put it in your carry on bag.  Treat them as valuables and keep them on you, in the event your checked bag gets lost or delayed your medicine will also.  Know the names of your medication in the language of your destination and if you can bring more than enough and transport it in different bags.  Find out if your health insurance from home covers you while traveling.  You can also purchase travel insurance and carefully read through your policy, make sure it includes emergency medical care and treatment.  Call and ask specific questions about coverage, it could mean the difference between being covered for medicine administered in a hospital vs getting a prescription and fulfilling it with a pharmacist.   


Build a Support Network  

Join online travel groups or forums before you leave, read through the experiences of other travelers, ask questions, someone else may be able to relate to your situation and offer advice.  Find out if non profit organizations specific to your illness have local chapters in your destination.  Let close friends and family know about your plans. When moving to Europe I had at least three of my friends tell me, I know someone that lives in X you should connect with them out there. I made good friends from friends of friends and family of friends. You get to gain inside knowledge about the area from a local and a possible go to person on a day you may not feel your best.    



Inform your ICE contacts of all travel plans, email a copy of flight and lodging information.  When living in Spain I took advantage of opportunities to venture to other countries in Europe and made sure at least one person from home knew my whereabouts, not just my residence and contact information in Spain but my travel itinerary for holiday weekends.   


Take Comfort Items

Put into practice the “travel light to travel far” mantra and pack only the essential but let your essentials include a piece of home, your favorite framed photo, your favorite mug that makes your coffee taste extra special in the mornings even food can be a comfort item granted that it’s portable and won’t set off alarms at the airport.  Set up Skype accounts for your loved ones before you leave home. Before leaving for Spain, I ordered my father's smartphone and showed him how to sign in and connect. To be able to have face to face conversation made the distance feel that much shorter. 


Don't Forget to Enjoy!

And finally...enjoy. Smile. Learn and have fun. Take in the sights, participate in local activities that you wouldn’t typically do in your home town. Commend yourself for taking a step outside of the everyday routine. Catalogue your experience in some way through journaling, photos, videos, or blogging. Your experiences will allow others to be inspired and give you something to reflect on on the not so well days. 

Chealynn is a native New Yorker with a degree in Africana Studies.  A lover of food, books and talk radio who finds culture, language and people fascinating and likes to believe she was an anthropologist in another life. She previously taught and resided in Madrid, Spain and subsequently in London, England working in a community center serving the Bengali population.  This twitter newbie can be found at @cheyfeu.