8 tips for traveling with chronic illness
Hey, you have chronic fatigue syndrome or another chronic illness? That's cool, I do too. It's shitty, but it's not the end of your life. If you're maintaining the illness well enough to travel then these tips are for you.
Anyone living with chronic fatigue knows the most difficult part is accepting the condition. Sometimes living with an invisible chronic illness can feel surreal, and you might try to ignore it and push past your limitations in an attempt to live without the condition. Of course, that's not how things work. If you gallivant off and pretend your disease doesn't even exist, you're in for a shitty time where you'll feel fatigued all the time. You have to accept that you are traveling with chronic fatigue and work with your condition, not against it.
Only you get to decide how you feel, and you must come to peace with your lot in life. You have no other choice, so don't force yourself to suffer unnecessarily wishing you were dealt a different hand. If you're struggling with this, read more here.
Be grateful, because you are traveling. Zip it - I don't want to hear about what cool thing someone else did that you would love to do too! You are traveling! You are so lucky!
You are alive, you are ambulatory, you are in good health, you have the financial and political freedom to leave your home to explore the world. Few people ever get to experience what you have. Freedom! Be grateful for your opportunities and revel in this new place you find yourself in. You may feel inhibited but others would kill to be in your position.
Take the time to reset your frazzled brain and meditate. If you're not into meditation, use travel time to sit peacefully without using your phone or reading a book. Take time out every day to quieten your brain while awake, hit the reset button and be ready to get up and go once your quiet time is over (for e.g. when the train arrives in the station). Giving your sluggish brain a break is as important in maintaining energy levels as giving your legs a break is.
Understand your limits. Don't hate your limits - embrace them! Feel out the corners of how far you can push yourself, draw the line and explore the world up until those edges. By ignoring the pace you need to move at you can easily wear yourself out and lose yourself time as you struggle to recover.
Instead of scheduling a 12 hour day like your friends might, stick to a 6 hour day. Allow yourself to sleep in and linger over meals. Sure, you'll probably see less, but you'll prioritise the things you really want to see.
Check opening times of the sights you want to see and schedule all your activities for the afternoon and early evening. Try to put activities that are geographically close on the same day to avoid excess travel time. It helps to keep a list of all activities because you might need to rearrange your schedule a few times to align your energy levels with opening hours. Try not to put more than two activities on in one day if you can avoid it.
5. Wise choices
Only choose what you can do, rather than what someone tells you is a 'must-do'. Guess what, if you have chronic fatigue you probably shouldn't be hiking to Everest Basecamp. But what you probably can do is a scenic paraglide! Still adventurous but without the physical exertion! You can still find your own unique way of getting that adrenaline rush.
It goes without saying that party holidays are a ridiculous choice. Make a wiser choice and enjoy your time instead of struggling.
Try and spend as much time in nature as you can. Not only is nature relaxing and good for energy regulation, it's great to get a sense of real adventure and exploration without having to overexert yourself too much. Just being in nature is all you need.
7. Eat clean
Holidays are a time for revelling and spoiling yourself, but when your digestive system is the key to your energy levels you need to continue to eat mindfully. There is no reason you can't have dairy-free treats like vegan donuts and milkshakes, as long as these are balanced by full, vegetable heavy meals. It can be tricky to find (affordable) fruit on the road in certain countries, but you can order a hearty veggie dish pretty much everywhere on the planet. Maintain three square meals of plentiful nutrition a day and keep the junk as extras on top of what you eat not replacements of your necessary nutrition. It's better to temporarily gain a few kg's than it is to sacrifice energy and wellness on an insufficient diet.
While this may seem counterintuitive at first, we know a certain level of movement is necessary for regulating your metabolism and sleep patterns. I'm not suggesting you go to the hotel gym for a session on the bike, but rather that you incorporate casual walking into your daily schedule. Even walking around giant museums and galleries can be quite a work out! Be sure not to eliminate exercise completely from your routine, but work within those limits of yours to keep your blood circulating and your head clear.
These 8 practices help me to travel for a few months a year. I live with what can be a debilitating condition but with vigilant self-care I can be just as sick while also seeing world famous scenery on my own schedule, at my own pace, with a whole lotta self-love.