How to Travel with a Chronic Illness

When I began this adventure travel blog years ago, I didn’t think the inevitable could happen to me. I didn’t think that I would one day relate to others who have told me that they struggle with chronic illness. I thought I’d still continue to live it up as physically healthy as I was and that I could do almost everything. Until one day, your whole life changes. 

I have been sick for a little over a year. I got an illness from living out here in the desert of Arizona (I am originally from New Jersey and moved here 3 years ago) called Valley Fever and if you know what that is, you probably heard how horrendous it is for your lungs and whole body. I most likely got it from being active in my state as I was running and hiking here a lot. It’s made me worried if I can ever live a normal life again, including if I can ever have the ability to work a full-time job again, and then it made me wonder if I can still travel. Luckily, with many health conditions, there is a workaround.

The common saying of “I need a vacation from my vacation” has been something I got used to since being sick and that I made clear of this year from traveling around 7 states and 1 country this summer.

And although it feels like your life may seem over because you go through a chronic illness, let me just disprove it to you that it is NOT. It won’t be easy to travel with a chronic illness, but it’s not impossible either. Here are some simple tried-and-tested tips on how to travel safely and how to make it easier for you.

1. First and foremost: Always consult with a doctor if you are able to travel.

Everyone’s conditions are different of course, and some people’s range from mild to severe and some from life-threatening. It’s always smart to talk to a doctor first if traveling will impact your health. You also would want to ask a doctor for their advice on how exactly you can travel if there are tips they can offer to you. So before you get planning, remember to ask first if it’s truly okay for you.

2. Do A LOT of research.

All locations around the country and world are all very different. You need to do plenty of research to find out if there are hotels that are accessible (if needed), if there are risk factors in the city’s weather conditions that can cause a flare up in your system, if there are activities that you may need to avoid and stay clear from, if there’s a hospital located nearby, and you may need to look up restaurants that you can go to that meet your dietary restrictions. Each itinerary is going to look different per person regarding what the illness is. If you plan on going with others who do not have a chronic illness like yourself, still consider customizing your itinerary so you can do what feels better and safer for you.

3. Plan out activities that you can only do in your itinerary.

This goes hand-in-hand with #2 where you need to do plenty of research. You should always look into if there’s an excursion activity you are interested in doing and then really understand how that works. I say this because as a person with chronic illness, you will have limitations. So, know your limitations. If there’s a 5-8 mile hike, for example, that you can experience during your travels but you know there is going to be a lot of work with your muscles on there, yet you aren’t in the best shape or experience frequent muscle aches, I would probably avoid that and opt for a shorter hike.

4. Make sure to bring your medications and the things that soothe you.

Bringing the medications that are prescribed to you is an absolute must! Another thing is I would bring other things that you know will comfort you through your chronic illness that isn’t so much categorized as medication. For example, I love bringing my ginger turmeric herbal tea bags (I swear by Trader Joe’s ginger turmeric herbal tea!) to help ease my inflammation aches or if I’m going through a flare-up. If you find a weighted blanket or wearing compression socks is what helps you with your illness, then pack those up!

5. Allow for a few hours on your trip to give you time to rest.

Respect your limits. Traveling is going to take a boatload of energy from you! Even flying on the plane, as flying on the plane will have your body take on less oxygen. Walking around requires more physical effort and even getting on bus tours on a scheduled time is work that you need to prepare for your body to be alarmed and to get up and go.

I would plan out an itinerary where there’s a day you can fully rest in between all the activities jam-packed day to day or make the last day of your travels as a complete rest day. If there isn’t, maybe consider having many hours of the night fully dedicated to resting. And when I say resting, I mean little to no impactful activities and just sleeping for hours.

6. It really helps to bring someone else when traveling.

If you go solo, you are responsible to make sure you have everything in check and that you will be relying solely on you to carry everything. That may be a lot of work for someone with a chronic illness when we are conditioned to already take care of how to treat our bodies already. Bringing someone with you to travel will take a lot of weight off your shoulder and can make your travel experiences less nerve-wracking. 

As my friend Emma described to me, it’s the simple things like having someone hold your stuff while you have to use the restroom that can help your body. You can also have someone be your “go to” brain when you’ve already hit the point of extreme fatigue because I understand this firsthand.

7. Make sure you have travel insurance that covers medical expenses.

No matter if it’s abroad or domestic in the United States, you should always have insurance with you, especially travel insurance that has medical plans covered. They are essential if you have to pay for any emergency medical expenses, as you never know if you’ll run into an emergency. Some travel insurances will reimburse you for it too. 

I traveled before with World Nomads Insurance and it is great as a travel insurance option. It has covered a maximum benefit of $100,000 for me for the sickness medical expense when I chose the Explorer Plan. I highly recommend getting a World Nomads Insurance plan. There’s a lot of benefits they can cover for you when traveling. It is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travelers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage, and a range of adventure sports and activities.

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