What it’s like traveling when you’re chronically ill

Me in Greece. I was annoyed about how many steps I had to climb and how hot it was. The Acropolis was not worth it. 

Traveling when you’re chronically ill can be difficult, especially when it involves traveling in an airplane or international travel. I just got back from a trip to the Mediterranean and though it was an amazing vacation, it was rough on my body.

Flight from Home to Toronto Canada- 2 1/2 hrs

Layover- 4 hrs

Flight from Toronto to Spain- 7 1/2 hours

Total travel time= 14 hrs

Time of arrival in Spain= 9:00 am

Hotel check in time- 3:00 pm 

Time I finally get a chance to sleep- 6:00 pm

Total hours without sleep= 28 hours

Result= exhausted, hurting, and sleep deprived me

Plane travel is not for the faint of heart. They do not make airplanes to accommodate someone with chronic pain. My legs were in so much pain after being cramped for so long. I even had the aisle seat due to my careful planning, but it wasn’t enough. Sleeping was an absolute joke. I’m in too much pain to sleep in my bed most of the time, so sleeping on the plane was never going to happen. I knew that and was prepared, but going without sleep for so long definitely took it’s toll.

Traveling when chronically ill involves so much preparation.  Since I knew I was going to be without my luggage for a very long time I made sure my carry on bag was stuffed with prescription medications. I have no doubt the TSA agent thought I was some sort of druggy, but I have a lot of medications I use on a as needed basis and who knows what I might need over the 20 hours before I got to my hotel or if the airline lost my luggage. I felt like a walking pharmacy.

Another way I prepared was before my trip I spent hours researching which tours I was going to take and how much exertion they involved. I carefully planned my days to allow for adequate recovery time. For example, I knew that visiting Rome was going to be a rough tour requiring lots of walking, climbing hills and steps, but Rome is a must see so I chose to do it anyway. So the next day I made sure I did an easy tour. It was kind of a bummer to miss most of Naples, Italy but I knew that I couldn’t kill myself  trying to see everything or I’d eventually collapse and I would see nothing. The principal of pacing which I attempt to apply in my daily life is essential to traveling as well. Oddly enough I’m better at pacing when I’m on vacation then in real life.

Another thing that was really tough at first was feeling like I was holding back my husband. There were a lot of things he wanted to do that I was too tired to do. At first he kept pushing me to do things I knew were beyond my ability. We quickly got annoyed at each other and I snapped at him that he should just go do what he wanted and leave me alone. After that he realized that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if he wandered off, so he did and I didn’t have to feel guilty anymore. I think eventually he learned that he needed to respect my boundaries more, and I learned that sometimes he needed permission to leave me behind so he doesn’t feel guilty.  By the end of the trip we had a nice system going wherein I would seek shade and a place where I could sit, and he would wander off and explore without me.

I knew beforehand that Europe was not disabled friendly, I’ve been to Paris before and noted the distinct lack of elevators, but I really noticed on this trip that I take America’s ADA concessions for granted. Six different countries and most of the time there were no elevators, and the few elevators I saw were all broken. There were so many staircases I had to hike that I couldn’t help but wonder how any disabled person gets around. I did not see one person in a wheelchair the whole trip, and I have no doubt that is because they can’t even leave their house without encountering stairs. Every bus station, every train station, every museum, every restaurant, all had stairs and no elevator (or at best a broken one). The only exception (and it was an awesome one) was at the Acropolis in Greece. It was pretty impressive that they had an elevator, considering the Acropolis is at the top of a huge hill. It was probably mostly for use in archaeological excavation but still, bonus points for Greece.

Overall I’d say the most important part of traveling is extensive preparation. It makes things stressful before you leave, but if you’re prepared for anything you might come up against it makes for a more relaxing vacation. Despite the miles of walking I came home from my trip feeling nice and relaxed, it couldn’t have been any better.

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