Yes, traveling with chronic illness is an option! Living with chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, MS and other autoimmune diseases or chronic illness doesn't mean our passport stamping days are over. These chronic conditions may delay our ability to travel; they may influence how we travel, but the only way they'll stop me from seeing the world is if I let them. And I have, for nearly nine months. It's the longest time I've gone without a trip in more than 15 years.
I will not go this long without venturing out again!
I realize I'm probably not the norm, but I love to travel. And when I say that, what I really mean is I LOVE TO TRAVEL! I love airports, airplanes, adventures in new countries and arriving at a location where predictability and comfort, ease you into a state a relaxation just like the threadbare robe hanging in my closet does on a bad day.
There are lots of places I want to see, and even though I may need to approach travel differently than I have in the past, I will continue to explore both new and familiar places until the day I die, or the money runs out. I don't know how it will go, traveling with my health issues and I don't know how I will feel. But I do know how I feel by not traveling, and it's not a feeling I enjoy.
Travel is medicine for my soul.
And as all of you with chronic illnesses know, the right cocktail of medicine is necessary to function. Just as important, are the non-medicine things that make our lives easier, or bearable, depending on our conditions and flare status.
Big D and I have decided to take a cruise. We leave in 10 days! I'll be away from my adjustable bed, neck wraps, heating pads and daily routine for nine days, which means I must figure out what I need that will allow me to be comfortable and enjoy our trip.
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Here are my 10 must-pack items for traveling with chronic illness:
A good pair of shoes.
Since college, I've been more concerned with looking good than being practical, when it comes to footwear. I'm fairly certain that comes out of years of having to wear men's suede shoes because the cute women's shoes didn't fit my then size 10 feet thanks to the ugly and painful bunions I lived with until having them surgically removed at age 19. Growing up, I was privileged to travel a great deal with my dad. We were flying back in the day when you could smoke on airplanes and family could meet you at the gate before security was a thing. He always wore his comfortable and practical white tennis shoes when traveling. Shoes I came to associate with being old and I vowed I would never wear tennis shoes to travel.
Never say never, right? I haven't planned my travel attire yet, but depending on the weather, I'll either be wearing my fashionable and comfortable Tieks or my tennis shoes. But not to worry, if it's snowy or cold when we leave, I'll be wearing a cute pair of comfortable Nike tennis shoes in pink!
Small crossbody purse.
I have a couple sizes of crossbody purses, so the one I use will depend on how much room I need. The smaller one is big enough to hold passports, earbuds, phone, tissues and a few other miscellaneous items. The next size up bag holds all those items, my portable charger, and a paperback book.
I've only been using a backpack for travel for a couple years. Before that, I was all about having a good-looking tote bag with lots of pockets. And of course, it matched my luggage, because that's just how I roll. (pun intended!) Since discovering how practical and easy it is to use a good backpack for travel, my tote bag has been gathering dust. I even found a Tumi backpack that matches my luggage, is practical and grows based on what I need to pack.
I cannot tell you the number of times I've traveled and forgotten my sunglasses at home. My conditions and medications have made my eyes more sensitive to sunlight. Therefore, I'll be packing not one, but TWO pairs of sunglasses for the cruise. A prescription pair and my Maui Jim's Polarized pair with mirrored lenses. Traveling with chronic illness requires even more attention to details. Leaving things to chance and picking up a cheap pair of sunglasses on the fly would only stress me out. I've already got the sunglasses in my backpack, just to be sure I don't forget them!
Noise canceling headphones.
If you have ever been seated next to a crying baby on an airplane, you probably already own a pair of these. I have two pairs and never travel without one of them. The kind that sits on top of your ear and earbuds. After spending years traveling with the larger pair, I discovered Bose® earbuds. I now let my travel partners use the larger pair. The earbuds fit inside my ears and give me much more flexibility – including the ability to use them as a telephone headset. And they work just as well as the larger ones to filter out the unwanted noises. Both of my noise canceling headphones are wired, but they also come in a wireless version. Just remember, wireless headphones don't work with the entertainment systems on airplanes. When it comes to style, it's really a matter of personal preference, but when it comes to brand, I've found Bose® is by far the BEST in the noise canceling headphone category!
Before traveling with chronic illness was my reality, bringing a water bottle on travel was hit or miss. Today, it's a requirement. My cabinet is overflowing with water bottles. Numerous sizes, shapes, and capacities. For our trip, I'm taking my Thermos® bottle with a loop attached to it, so I can connect it to my backpack with a carabiner. Without that feature, I'd surely leave it sitting somewhere.
Travel organizers for my pills.
I don't know about you, but between my prescriptions and supplements, I'm dealing with a lot of pills and gummies. The organizers I use on a daily basis only hold a week's worth. This trip requires different organizers since we are going to be away for more than a week. I absolutely LOVE the organizers I found and cannot wait to use them. I purchased two of each and will take all four with me.
The larger ones are a travel portfolio style, with inside pockets for paperwork and a zipper to enclose everything. The little ones are kinda bulky with the case over the plastic pill box, but they're so darn cute they make me smile. And given the chronic illnesses, we're living with, having a smile when taking pills helps!
This was a tricky one for me. I was going to be traveling with chronic illness, yet I don't look sick. I know if I have to stand for any length of time, I'm going to be miserable. The idea of purchasing a cane sling/seat presented a number of issues for me. I was worried people would think I was using it to get special privileges when I didn't really need it. Yes, I worried people would think I was “faking” it since outwardly, I appear healthy. I was concerned about Big D and whether it would make him look at me differently. Even though he has seen me at my worst, would watching me sit on a cane make the reality of my condition hit him harder. And I also hadn't figured out how I would feel about myself needing to use an assistive device.
I went to the local medical supply store to try one out and I left without making a purchase. Trying the cane sling/seat made me feel like an old person and I didn't like that feeling. But I was still struggling with the fact that I knew I'd need it. I told Big D about my concerns – both my feelings about it and my concerns about his feelings about it. I needn't have worried about him. “You're traveling with chronic illness, if it will make the trip easier, then get the cane. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks, I just want you to be comfortable.” Any question on why I love this man so much?!
Tote & Small backpack.
This might seem like overkill, so hear me out. I have a Tumi tote and small Tumi backpack that fold up small and fit into their own pouch. The tote is awesome for carrying items back and forth when going to the beach, pool or just laying out in the sun. The backpack is easier to carry when walking around town or going on an excursion. And no, the backpack I travel with won't serve this purpose. That bag is too big, bulky and hot to walk around with on your back while exploring a Carribean port.
Traveling with a chronic illness presents new considerations. I'm nauseous every morning and in the late afternoon. I can't rely on finding a suitable snack when going through airports or waiting to board the cruise ship. I'll be packing nuts, peanut butter, and crackers. I'll also be keeping my eye out for fresh fruit and grabbing a piece when it's available.
I'm relaxed, prepared, and excited to get back to traveling again.
Chronic illness need not prevent us from getting away. Whether a relaxing vacation, business trip, or adventure to see the world, it's all possible. The time to start planning is now (not ten days before you're leaving!) The items on my list represent an investment in me and my travel dreams. An investment that will pay dividends for years of trips to come. My traveling comfort and peace of mind are worth every penny.
What are your must-pack items when traveling with chronic illness?