Organising an overseas holiday, while exciting, can also be a daunting process. Making sure you have everything you need, getting the right flights, accommodation, organising the family – all things that can send stress levels through the roof when you should be preparing for a relaxing getaway. Add worrying about your condition to this mix and you’ve got a firecracker ready to go off, or even worse; forgetting about it entirely. These are my five top tips for travelling with a chronic condition.
- Get travel insurance (and read the PDS)
Travel insurance is such a valuable thing to have for everyone when travelling, but especially for us. So why do so many people go without? A new country means new different food your stomach isn’t used to, new viruses, different everything in the surroundings ready to give your body the shock of its life. When this happens somewhere like the USA where healthcare is definitely not affordable, especially for travellers, you would be wishing you’d paid the $120 for travel insurance. The second part of this is to actually read the PDS that’s given, something I’m guilty of forgetting about myself. What good is your travel insurance if it doesn’t cover your pre-existing condition? Many people have been stuck in bad situations where insurance wouldn’t cover them overseas because the condition was considered pre-existing, something you don’t want to happen to you.
- Bring your medication
Obviously if you have medication you need to take daily you would bring it with you on your holiday, however it’s better to be even more prepared than that. My first recommendation is to see your GP or specialist before you go, and get them to write you scripts for your normal medication and anything you may also need. In my case I would use prednisolone in the event of a flare up, so when I travel I take the course of prednisolone with me just in case. Take twice the amount of medication you need, separating it into a couple of bags (one carry-on and one checked) so that if baggage goes missing you always have your medication. I also recommend asking your doctor to write a letter when you see them, explaining the use of all the medication you have on you to streamline going through customs. It’s much easier to hand them a doctor’s letter than explain why you have three months of medication for a three-week holiday!
- Use a diary
In a future article, I will explain the use of a food diary for IBD and other conditions that diet impacts, but for now I’ll talk about diaries in general. If you keep a diary to write down when you’ve had a flare up or have felt bad, with what you ate or did that day – bring it with you. Your diary will likely show you what foods don’t agree with you, or how much exercise is too much. For example, if you walked 15km in a day and you couldn’t get out of bed the next morning; you would know for your holiday that 3 walking tours in a day is probably a bad idea. It will also help navigate the country’s different food. If there’s a trend appearing with processed meat or spicy foods upsetting your stomach, you can relate that to foods that appear in the country you’re visiting and know to stay away.
- Buy a lacrosse ball
This is the first thing I pack whenever I go on a holiday anywhere. A lacrosse ball, or any hard tennis ball sized ball can be a lifesaver for long-haul flights or the day after walking around the city. Foam rolling is such a good way to release muscles and stretch that fascia and connective tissue, but a roller is a bit big to take with you on a holiday. This is where the lacrosse ball comes in. I use the lacrosse ball at home as I find it digs into those hard to reach spots in my hips much easier, and it’s also great to travel with as it takes up no space at all. When you’re 5 hours into a 20+ hour journey to the other side of the world your legs will ache and your back will be stiff. Put the ball behind your back and dig into it, moving it up and down the back muscles. Then sit on it to release the glutes, wiggling around to get into the medial glute as well, followed by digging in with your hips. If you find your feet getting sore, kick your shoes off and roll your feet over the ball as well. This works great when you get into the hotel and want to just lie on that bed and wake up the next morning. Don’t! You’ll wake up feeling ten times as sore as you did the day before. Get the ball out again and roll around on it like you would a foam roller for 20 or 30 minutes before you get into bed. You’ll wonder how you ever travelled without it!
*This February we did the 20 hour flight to get from Perth to Vancouver, the first long flight after I’d bulged 4 discs in my back and I felt great thanks to the ball! I did however have to buy a new one in Canada thanks to the rough landing throwing it toward the front of the plane and subsequently being lost. In Canada I bought a practice ice hockey ball for stick handling drills, this may also be a cheaper alternative depending on where you live.
- Be flexible
I believe the biggest thing that helps travel is the same as training and life in general with any chronic condition – being flexible. Having a set-in-stone itinerary can get derailed at any point leaving you to potentially miss seeing things you wanted to see. Instead, perhaps write a list of things you want to see and do in each area and rank them by importance. Give yourself enough time to most of the activities and see everything you want with a couple of days up your sleeve for recharging and relaxation. By doing it this way you can have those days off when you feel like you need them, and don’t risk missing out on activities you wanted to do. Another great thing is booking flexible flights. Most (non-budget) airlines will let you change your flight up to a day in advance if there is another flight within 3 days either side with seats still available. This is great if you want to stay an extra couple of days to see things you’ve missed, or if you need to get back home sooner than you’d expected with unforeseen circumstances.
Lastly and most importantly you must listen to special free tip #6, and that is to have fun and relax! Holidays should be a perfect opportunity to destress and let your body have a well-earned break from work, exercise and every other life stress. Forget about the real world for a while and enjoy!