Traveling with Chronic Health Conditions

Fresh off our holiday excursion in Portland and Seattle, I am once again struck by how much extra thought and planning goes into traveling when you have a chronic medical condition. In our case, we deal with not one, but two major conditions. Along with my fibromyalgia, my husband has  Type 1 Diabetes, never fun to live with in the regular routine of life, but especially worrisome when that routine is upset by travel and all its unpredictability.

For Mark, life involves monitoring blood sugar, maintaining the insulin pump equipment, injecting himself with shots of insulin, counting every carb he consumes (even a simple passing cookie), and planning ahead to make sure he has all the equipment and insulin he needs. Breakfast and lunch are roughly the same every day, with variety only in a carefully planned dinner I prepare. Every minute of snow shoveling and exercise must be accounted for, since it can affect how fast Mark’s body burns through carbs.

For me, life involves constant aches and pains, fatigue and numerous health quirks like overactive sweat glands and acid reflux (sorry for the overshare…). The restorative sleep cycle is disrupted in people with fibro, so I struggle nightly with falling asleep and staying asleep, and I wake up bone-weary before my day has even begun. I am in constant pain – I no longer remember what life was like without it. To maintain a bearable quality of life and be able to continue working part-time, I try to follow a specific regimen (try being the operative word!). Waking up and going to bed at a consistent hour. Taking mornings slow when my body is at its stiffest and most painful. Physical therapy such as stretching, yoga, and brisk walking 40-60 minutes a day. Cooking meals from scratch, avoiding processed and greasy foods, and eating a diet heavy in veggies, fruits, whole grains, and fish. Managing my stress with devotions, meditation, exercise, and copious amounts of movie-watching and reading. And somehow still working 20 hours a week.

Now throw any sort of travel – whether a day trip to the lake or two months backpacking around Europe – into this mix and it’s amazing we deign to travel at all! I completely emphatize with others in our situation who just don’t bother – who has the energy to cope with all the extra planning? But I refuse to allow fibro to dictate everything about my life, and luckily so does my husband. Fibro took my full-time teaching career and ability to play recreational soccer and basketball. Diabetes took spontaneity and a love of food from my husband. (Which makes sense – who would see eating as fun when you have to carefully count everything and then stick a needle in your side?) These conditions WILL NOT take a love for traveling the world from us!

So we do what’s necessary to make our health routines and travel compatible. That means copious amounts of planning and being cognizant of melding our health routines into the travel pace.

– Planning ahead for all medications and medical supplies we will need. This often means Mark is on the phone with the doctor’s office and insurance company making sure he can get all the insulin, needles, and test strips he needs while we’re gone.

– Getting a signed letter from our doctors explaining our conditions. Especially useful when Mark’s taking diabetic needles and liquid insulin through airport security.

– I often throw a few easy, healthy recipes into my luggage. 3×5 cards are super light and easy to pack and come in handy when the only options facing you are cooking for yourself or greasy restaurant food.

– When making reservations for accommodations, selecting places that make cooking for yourself easy, like hostels with kitchens or renting an apartment or house-swapping. Cooking for yourself allows you complete control over what goes into your meal and allows for accurate carb counting for Mark.

– Limiting restaurant meals and picnicking as a healthy alternative to restaurant food when you don’t have the option of cooking for yourself.

– Fitting our exercise routine into the sightseeing. For example, in Portland I spent 1 1/2 hours ice skating with an old high school friend amid the festive holiday decorations of the local mall. A great way to catch up and still get your blood pumping. A lower-impact option would be a walk through a  park, especially on days when your joints are especially painful.

These are just some ideas and ways we plan for travel with our health in mind. Unfortunately, we will never be able to strike out into the world, carefree and footloose, without a plan. Fibro and diabetes are not forgiving mistresses. But at the very least we are not prisoners to our conditions.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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2 Responses to Traveling with Chronic Health Conditions

  1. James says:

    Great post! I have Type 1 Diabetes myself and it is definitely true that there is a much larger aspect to planning for travel (or anything for that matter) with such a condition. I had never though about selecting accommodations specifically with cooking for ourselves in mind. That is an excellent idea that I’m going to have to use the next time I travel.

    • chronictraveler says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I never thought about cooking for ourselves either, until I traveled through Europe and realized how many options there were with access to a kitchen. It seems to be more of a challenge when traveling through the United States, but well worth it.

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