10 Women Share Their Secrets to Traveling with a Chronic Illness

Take a hot water bottle everywhere

“I always travel with my hot water bottle,” says Lizzie, who has joint hypermobility, multiple allergies, endometriosis, hypogammaglobulinemia and migraines. “Hot water bottles tend to soothe flare-ups and make them easier to cope with.”

Bring a full-body pillow for long car rides

“If traveling long distances in the car (as a passenger), I always take my full-body pillow (or pregnancy pillow) to wrap around me in the front seat,” says Hazel, 35. “It provides support and protection from bumps when in pain. I also never travel anywhere without taking my painkillers and my mini hot water bottle.”

Plan ahead for meals

You may know your dietary triggers. Dairy, gluten and caffeine are common causes of flare-ups for many chronic conditions. Emily, 36, has stage 4 endometriosis alongside a number of allergies and anxiety. She recognizes the dietary connection with her symptoms and plans trips accordingly. 

“I love to travel,” Emily says. “My husband and I plan ahead and check out restaurants that can offer fresh produce. We usually try to stay somewhere where we have our own cooking facilities, so that I am able to cook fresh food.” 

Travel with cold packs

“One thing that kind of helps reduce my pain is cold packs,” says Paola, 38, who has deep infiltrating endometriosis. “Placing them on your abdomen, where the pain is the worst, actually reduces bloating and inflammation a little bit, so it makes me feel more comfortable. They’re lightweight and easy to carry around, and you can keep them in the mini-fridge of your hotel.”

Check prescription medication laws at your destination

Eliza, 26, travels frequently and has chronic migraines and an autoimmune condition.

“If traveling with certain drugs such as opiates, it’s absolutely essential you look at the legal status of the drug before flying. Certain countries have very strict laws concerning the possession of these. You need to travel with a doctor’s letter that corresponds with the name on your prescription to prove you’re not drug trafficking!”

Exercise — if it helps

Aga, 28, has Hashimoto’s, migraines and endometriosis.

“I’ve recently started doing light exercise in the morning, and it has helped my pain as well,” she says. “I’ve been doing PiYo — it’s a mix of yoga and Pilates.”

If light exercise helps reduce your symptoms, yoga and Pilates are two practices you can take with you wherever you go in the world.

Note: For many people, exercise can exacerbate chronic pain — only you know your body. 

Book a longer trip

“With chronic illness, you have to be ready to change your plans at the last minute,” says Julie,* 29, who has epilepsy. “You may really want to go snorkeling, but when the time comes you might wake up feeling bad. Allow yourself some rest days, and then hopefully the next day you’ll feel better. If you only have one day here and one day there, you might feel you are missing out.”

Pursue new interests

“I used to love adventure sports,” says Megan,* 34. “Since getting diagnosed with a chronic condition that impairs my ability to exert myself, I’ve become a bit of a culture buff and foodie. I’m not saying you should allow your illness to stop you doing what you love. In my case, I just found a new love. I love learning languages and using them to learn more about cultures. And yes, I would travel all the way to India for a good curry.”

Ask for help when you need it

“Ask the person you’re with to carry your heavy bags,” says Erika, 19. “Or get a bag on wheels and pack as light as you can. Ask for airport assistance if you’re struggling. Whatever it takes to put less strain on yourself.”

Purchase good travel insurance

“It can be more expensive taking out travel insurance that covers medical expenses if you have a pre-existing condition,” says Ellen,* 38, who suffers from chronic pain. “Often, travel insurance won’t cover a pre-existing condition, but if you hunt around you might find one that does — at a premium cost. Even if it doesn’t cover your condition, it’s worth taking out travel insurance anyway so you know you’ll get medical assistance should you have an accident or unrelated symptoms — though hopefully that won’t happen.”

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