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The Woes of Traveling When You're Chronically Ill

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I just returned from an amazing six-week vacation to Sanibel Island with my parents. I didn’t know how badly I needed a break until I sat on the warm, salty-aired beach and stuck my feet into the white sand! It was amazing, relaxing and just the break from my hectic life I desperately needed.

woman smiling

However, traveling to and from my personal paradise is so stressful I now need a vacation from traveling to my vacation! Which leaves me with the question: Is it worth it to take a vacation when living with a chronic illness? I most certainly would encourage anyone living with the everyday stress of any illness to take a break every now and again and get away from your everyday life to relax and “just be.” However, if I’m speaking about myself personally, it’s extremely tough to travel.

For starters, I’d love to be that girl who can pack a small, super cute carry on suitcase and matching hand bag and be ready to fly in an hour! Grab a taxi to the airport in high heels and skinny jeans, looking cute, sassy and stylish! In reality, for me that is not only impractical, it’s highly unlikely due to the simple fact that I have a ton of stuff I need to bring to survive my life!

wildlife in the water

OK, forget I went away for six weeks and let’s say I only went for two weeks. The average vacation nowadays seems to be roughly two weeks. I would need to bring first and most importantly two weeks of my daily medicine. I take a variety of pills (32 pills to be exact) four times a day! That is not including acetaminophen, vitamins or any over-the-counter medicine. So there’s that. Then I need my clothes, of course but I have to pack not only for the beach and 90 degree days but also for the cold airport and plane, the air-conditioned restaurants, the cool Florida nights, rainy days, windy days, humid days, not humid days… you get my drift? So a small, cute carry on now becomes out of the question. Not to mention all of my toiletries which I have to buy special for the island.

The very first time I set foot on Sanibel Island I was in love! It was breathtakingly beautiful! The beach is just exquisite but I found that the island wildlife, specifically the insect life, has a taste for my Northeastern blood. So I need to bring provisions. I have to bring unscented everything! Shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, lotion, deodorant, sunscreen and special locally made all-natural bug spray! So again, a carry on ain’t gonna cut it.

Then there is the plane, or more importantly the actual airport. I have lung issues that cause me to have a hard time walking long distances. So running through an airport carrying a purse rolling a bag to catch my connecting flight is a nice image to dream about but in reality I’d make it about two yards and pass out. So I make sure I am prepared and that means planning ahead. I have to make sure I have disability accommodations when I check into my airline and also that I have assistance getting to and on the plane as well as off and to my connecting flight once we touch down at whatever airport my connecting plane lands in at my final destination. That, my friends, takes time and effort and patience. Not all airports are “friendly flyers.” That also means I have to arrive extra early, like an extra hour early, on top of the two hours early the airlines want you to arrive at the airport. Needless to say, it’s an awfully long day of traveling for me!

dolphin fin in the water

Traveling is an amazing experience and I would never turn down an opportunity to see the world in all its beauty. I just need to remember that I am not your average frequent flyer and I need to take extra steps to ensure my trip is fun and enjoyable. Yes, it can be an awful lot of extra work and time-consuming extra steps for me, but the end result is that I have an enjoyable, amazing experience which is priceless.

So to go back to my initial question, is traveling really worth it for someone who is chronically ill? I can only answer that question for myself and for me the ends definitely justify the means every time. Once I set foot on the beautiful island, feel the hot breeze dance across my shoulders, see the amazing wildlife and experience all there is to see and do, I know all the hard work and the day of exhaustion it took to get there was all worth it.

woman sitting on a porch next to a lion statue

There may come a time somewhere in the near future where I will be incapable of traveling and that is a very real statement, especially with my illness, so as much of a hassle as it is to have to pack and check in a huge suitcase, or make sure I have assistance at each airport or even have to bring a ton of extra items, I will continue to take the extra steps to make sure I can enjoy myself at whatever location my destination takes me, until my body doesn’t allow me to do it anymore. You know the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way?” Well, in this very instance that saying is so appropriate. My will to experience new and once-in-a-lifetime memories will always make the way to those experiences possible!

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Originally published: October 30, 2017
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