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5 Chronic Illness Travel Essentials for Spoonies

July 22, 2022

Hannah Ost

The wing of an airplane among clouds.

Summer has set in for the Northern Hemisphere and a lot of people are planning on taking a trip abroad for the first time since the pandemic began. Traveling can be a hugely exciting experience. But the reality is often a little more complicated for those of us with chronic illnesses.

Standing in long lines at security checkpoints, hauling heavy luggage around hot cities, packing that luggage in the first place — these are just some of the struggles that can make traveling stressful. But traveling can also be a life-enriching experience. As a long-term spoonie just back from a solo trip to Paris, I have a few tips to make your life abroad easier.

Related: 5 Tips for Summer Travel with Lupus

Tip #1: Dress To Compress

Traveling often involves waiting in some sort of line. If your airline or travel company offers any kind of disability assistance, be sure to make use of that. Note that most of the time, it is best to call up at least 48 hours before you travel to arrange this.

If there is no assistance, standing in line might be inevitable. Compression socks are the way to go. Talk to your doctor about which level of compression is right for you, then purchase a couple of pairs for your travels. Wear them while you’re traveling to and from your destination, along with your best pair of sturdy shoes, and relax in the knowledge that you’re supporting your body in the best way you can! Read more about the benefits of compression socks from Healthline.

Tip #2: (Suit)case Closed

You may think a lightweight, fabric suitcase will be easier to manoeuvre, but let me tell you, a case with four wheels changes the game. Instead of dragging your case behind you, simply give your mobile case a nudge and let momentum take the wheels. Bonus points if it’s a hard-shell case — it doubles as a seat!

When you pack your case, try to distribute weight as evenly as possible. Place your heaviest items towards the middle of the suitcase, so the case itself can support some of the weight.

Having a physical packing list written down is useful for rationalising how much you are actually taking with you! Throw that into your bag when you’re done, so when brain fog kicks in and you can’t remember if you packed those brown sandals or not, past you has it covered.

Tip #3: Pack It In

Speaking of packing, it can be a very fatiguing and often overwhelming exercise for those of us with health problems. The simplest, most time and body-efficient method is to use packing cubes. Split your tops, bottoms, underwear and toiletries into separate cubes and load them into your case. When you arrive, simply take the cubes out and put them on the shelves. Do not unpack the cubes (this is the key bit!) Each day, take out what you need and then either put it back in at the end of the day or place it into a separate laundry cube. This keeps everything organized, with minimal effort. All you have to do to repack at the end of your holiday is to throw the cubes back into your suitcase and go!

Tip #4: Let’s Get Medical

All the classic advice here rings true. Get yourself a doctor’s note, a list of your prescriptions and a record of all the medical numbers and addresses at the destination(s) you are visiting. If you’re traveling abroad, there may be limits on what medications you can bring into the country. But how do you transport the bucket-load of medication that seems to accumulate when you have a chronic illness?

Here’s my advice: Take that list of medications and make two first-aid kits. The first is a full-sized kit, full of all the medical things you’ll need for your holiday. Label it clearly so anyone can find it in an emergency. This goes into your main suitcase.

The second is what I like to call a “mini med kit.” Find a receptacle small enough to fit in your purse or pocket. Put a couple of each pill inside and label the outside with the names of the drugs and the amount (e.g. 2x ibuprofen). I recommend cutting them straight out of the packet so you can easily differentiate between medicines when reaching for them. This “mini med kit” is kept on you at all times, like your passport, so you don’t have to dig through luggage to find what you need.

Tip #5: R&R (Rest and Recreation)

I take a diary everywhere I go. I have a specific travel diary, in which I can mark out days when I am exploring and days when I am resting. Traveling to and from a destination is often energy-sapping, so be sure to mark out a day on either side of traveling to and from your destination for rest. Don’t worry about “wasting” a day — order some local food, research excursions for the coming days or test out the hotel room bath. With rest in mind, booking flexible tickets is also a good move, just in case your body doesn’t feel like traveling and you need to rebook.

Related: Managing Lupus Symptoms: Fatigue

Wherever you’re heading this summer, I hope these tips help to support you and your body on your travels. Happy holidaying!

Hannah Ost is a writer from Kent, England. She works on multiple creative projects,
from journalistic pieces to poetry collections to librettos! She has chronic fatigue
syndrome and enjoys sharing ways to manage life with a chronic illness in her writing. Connect with her at www.itshannahost.com or on Medium, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Here at Lupus Chick, our mission is to help you live a thriving Autoimmune Life

Learn more about us >

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