First thing’s first: if you have a chronic health condition, there’s likely to be no going back to exactly how things were before. The clue’s in the word “chronic” – it’s not going to go away. That doesn’t mean that things will be exactly how they are now, forever – and it doesn’t mean that things will necessarily deteriorate. But being clear about how things are now helps you to plan for any travel that you might want to do. For example, trekking to a volcano in Hawai’i might not be advisable if you can only walk for half an hour, but a city break might be right up your street. By being honest about your current ability, you can work to avoid any unwanted flare-ups of your condition in future.
Work to improve your tolerance levels
That said, we don’t have to accept that things can’t be different in the future. For the people I work with who have pain, figuring out a baseline level of activity and then slowly increasing this to enable them to do more can have really dramatic results. I’d recommend finding a healthcare professional to work with you on this – a physiotherapist who understands about your condition, or a clinic set up for your type of health difficulties – but there’s plenty of information about increasing your tolerance levels freely available online. Just promise me that you’ll go s-l-o-w-l-y – you likely know by now what happens if you push yourself. Not good.
If you’re someone who loves packing a million and one things into a holiday, you’re likely to be good at planning. My dad in particular is someone who loves a spreadsheet and used to create an itemised timetable for family holidays when I was younger, complete with approximate driving time between distances. I’ve inherited some of this enjoyment of planning (but not the compulsion to create driving timetables!) which helps me work with people to plan their days in detail, including rest breaks. Pacing your activity levels (stopping before your symptoms become too difficult to cope with, and resting for a while to give your body a break) is really important if you’re considering travelling, or doing anything else for that matter. Travel is great for exploring and learning, but it’s also great for sitting in coffee shops, or on sun loungers, or sitting in your hotel room and watching the local news for a bit. A mix of more active and more sedentary things will help you keep going for longer, and hopefully avoid a “crash” on day three of your break because you’ve done too much.
This might include the beauty of the place, the experiences available, the culture and pace of life, or something else that connected with you personally. This will be different for all of us.
I’ve saved the biggest one to last. Psychologically, I think that this is the hardest one for an independent travel-lover to both accept and get their heads around, but it’s super important. If you need to take a break, tell your travel partner. If you need a wheelchair to get through the airport, ask. If you could do with someone lifting your suitcase into the taxi, find someone who can do that instead of you. Part of living with a chronic health condition is recognising that sometimes, you can’t do everything yourself. There’s no shame in that – asking for help is a difficult but necessary part of managing activities such as travelling – and you never know, your travel companion might also need a break, and is likely to be more than happy to help you with moving and handling. You don’t have to do everything yourself. You never did.
So, there we have it – my top tips on how to cope with travelling when you have a chronic physical health condition. Huge thanks to Charlotte for letting me write it. If you’ve got any questions, you can find me over at www.clinpsychsarah.com – enjoy your travels!