I have a chronic illness. I also happen to love travelling and have been doing so in abundance this past year. I have been on approximately thirty-five flights in the last year between business and leisure. In the beginning of my travel-spree I not only ignored the fact that I have a chronic illness, I basically ignored my body’s needs all together. I am in the prime of my life, I thought. My twenty-four year old body will be able to handle this! BRING IT ON!
Since then I have learned a valuable lesson: your illness does not hibernate while you play.
It all started in New York City. I was spending a long weekend there with my sister last May. It was like a dream come true. The Big Apple had seemed out of my reach for so many years, and here I was turning on Empire State of Mind on repeat and boarding a plane to the City That Never Sleeps. I packed a fifteen dollar pair of flats and figured they would be adorable and perfect for touring the city. I knew there was going to be plenty of walking involved in this trip – as it’s the best way to see everything I wanted to see – but the adrenaline was so high that I didn’t register that as a potential problem. The first day was great. I was radiating energy. I walked so briskly that my sister had trouble keeping up. I skipped down a few streets. I even stood up to let other people take my seat on the subway. If the elevator at the Empire State Building had been out of order I would have considered taking the stairs! I was relieved that my body was allowing me the chance to enjoy my vacation. And then the second day happened. I woke up, rolled out of bed and could barely stand. My muscles were aching as if I had run two back-to-back marathons. The thought of recreating the extensive walking tour of the previous day made me wince. But I put on my cheap flats and I boarded the train back into Manhattan. I spent half of the day walking around sightseeing, and I was still having a blast, but the pain wouldn’t leave me. It finally began to rain so we ran into The Strand (an amazing bookstore) to escape the downpour. It was there that I found an umbrella that looked like it could double as a cane, and I quickly emptied my pocket of dollar bills to pay for it. I used the umbrella to shield me from the rain when it was raining and then I happily continued to cart it around the entire weekend in the sun just to have something to lean against. At that stage of my illness I was very weary of people seeing me with a cane, so the umbrella was the perfect disguise. Everyone has an umbrella, and it’s only natural to lean on it! Not once did I consider wearing a comfortable pair of sneakers, because you have to look fashionable in NYC. So instead I hobbled down Fifth Ave and I even went into Mac to buy expensive makeup just so I could sit and rest my feet long enough to have someone apply that makeup on my face.
Me hobbling through Central Park with my Umbrella-Cane
Two weeks later I found myself back in New York City, but this time with my best friend. We had dreamed of being in New York together since we were children so we were over the moon excited. Look out, Big Apple! But the Big Apple had other plans for us and decided to throw a heat wave our way. The heat didn’t affect me horribly (meaning I didn’t actually die) but it certainly didn’t help. I felt dehydrated constantly and all of the walking was again taking its toll on me. It quickly became a tour of cafes and other interesting places to sit down in New York City. At one point we limped (okay the limping was just on my part) into a fancy stainless steel mall on the Upper East Side, we each picked a bathroom stall and then proceeded to sit on our respective toilets for about thirty minutes just to get off of our feet. Mine were killing me. We ended up finding a drugstore so that I could buy an ankle brace to help my throbbing foot because we realized how pitiful it was to waste our trip to NYC in a shopping centre’s public washroom. The bathroom did, however, have television screens in the mirror. It was admittedly cool to experience the kind of public washroom Chuck Bass would find himself using. On the second night of our once-in-a-lifetime-trip we were so exhausted that we found ourselves taking the train back to our hotel in Jersey at 6 pm to buy cupcakes and eat them in bed while watching some made-for-tv movie. We certainly knew how to live it up!
Conquering the stairs/napping at the NY Public Library
You would think that I would have learned a lesson from my trip to New York. You would think that I would venture out on my next excursion better equipped to deal with the chance that my body would disobey me. Nope! This summer my boyfriend and I went to Toronto for a long weekend. I packed slightly comfier flats and some cute dresses, but I forgot to pack the cane that I bought for the occasion and my Upper East Side ankle brace. We got off the plane on Toronto City Island and Boyfriend pointed to a spot that looked like a hop, skip and a jump away and told me that it would be easier and cheaper if we just walked to the hotel. So I handed him my giant wheel-y suitcase and followed his lead. Over an hour later we showed up at our Hilton, sopping wet with sweat and panting like dehydrated dogs. Well, I’ve walked as far as I can walk on this vacation, I thought. There was something wrong with our booking at the hotel but I think the Front Desk Agent felt so horribly bad for us that he said no, nevermind, it was fine really, and gave us an early check in so we could rest up. We rested up and then left the hotel to see the sights of downtown Toronto. Our sightseeing tour quickly turned into a “let’s find a store that sells inexpensive ankle braces” tour. No trip is complete without a tour of the city’s drugstores! I probably would have felt at home in a Seniors Tour of Toronto. I finally found an ankle brace and then I wobbled around for another couple days. We even had to get a rickshaw ride back to our hotel one evening because I still wanted to do touristy things but only while sitting down. My favourite part of Toronto was Danger Lagoon in the Ripley’s Aquarium because I could stand on a conveyer belt thing and I didn’t have to walk for ten minutes. The Royal Ontario Museum was expensive to get into and I didn’t get to see all of it because walking was just the worst. While we were in the dinosaur exhibit I told Boyfriend that I was jealous of the old man who got to be wheeled around in a wheelchair.That was a high point for me! On the second evening I opted to stay in bed and watch Michael Bay’s Transformers on tv instead of exploring Toronto. I know, that’s a sure sign of desperation. All in all, Toronto was really nice and I saw some cool things, but I would have seen way more if I had brought a cane or if we had maybe used the subways once or twice instead of walking everywhere like people who can walk places without dying.
So the reason I am writing about this is because I have a very big trip coming up in two weeks. Boyfriend and I will be traveling to Ireland, Scotland and England. For two weeks. Using our legs to walk places. Carrying heavy backpacks. Stop laughing!
I have now gone on enough trips with chronic illness as my sidekick that I have learned a thing or two. To prepare for this trip I have purchased a sparkly pink travel cane that folds up really tiny. I can use it to help me walk further and also to ward off muggers. I have also added “two ankle braces just incase” to my Packing List. I went to my doctor and got extra prescriptions for things that I might need. I have been putting on my Blundstone boots and my headphones and walking the paths in my city like I’m on a mission from God, just to try to condition my muscles for the hills of Edinburgh and the countless miles we will be walking.
All of this preparation does not guarantee that I will have a pain-free trip, though. That’s one of the worst parts of having a chronic illness like mine; you can do everything in your power to ensure good health but your body might have entirely different plans for you. It is just as important to prepare myself psychologically for the idea that I may be in pain while on the vacation of a lifetime. Boyfriend has been preparing for that too. If my body betrays me, we will be just fine, because we will adapt and do what we can to ensure that we have as much fun as possible. Travelling with a chronic illness is half preparation and half positive attitude. It’s not about wearing cute flats and dresses and making sure you look super fashionable all the time. It is about being as comfortable as possible so you are not letting your body down when it’s counting on you the most. It is about making the most of every moment and experiencing every new and beautiful experience you possibly can.
With all that being said, I’m very interested to hear from you guys. What things do you do to prepare yourself for a big trip like this? Any tips for me and other chronic travellers on how to see the world with the least amount of impact on our bodies?