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.

nyccollage1Me 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!

step0003Conquering 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?

24 Comments on Are We There Yet? – Travelling With a Chronic Illness

  1. Miriam Sagan
    August 20, 2014 at 1:52 am (6 years ago)

    I enjoyed this. Build in some rest–sitting in cafes, a bus tour of a city, an intense focus on a smaller area…being disabled and a traveler I use my cane and also, if it works for you, go to hot tub or hot springs or get some local bodywork while you are en route assuming this is ok for your condition. People ARE nicer when they see the cane.

    • lisermarie2013
      August 20, 2014 at 12:23 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks for the tips! There will definitely be a double decker bus tour of London!

  2. Hope
    August 20, 2014 at 1:53 am (6 years ago)

    I don’t know if this will be useful for you, but I recently discovered that airports (in the US, anyway; I’m not sure about other countries) have expedited security lines for people with disabilities, or if that airport doesn’t have a separate line, you can talk to a TSA agent, who will take you to the front of the line. This was a huge relief for me, since I was afraid I would collapse if I had to stand in a long line.

    Also, if you use a metal cane and can’t walk through the scanner without it, they have wood canes you can use long enough to go through the metal detectors.

    Also, bags with wheels are my best friend. I went out and got a set of wheeled luggage because all I had was a duffel bag I can no longer lift if it’s full. I even got a backpack with wheels for my carry-on.

    Ask hotels if they have elevators–some of them don’t, and lugging a suitcase up the stairs felt like it was going to kill me. I literally had to sit down partway up, trying to act cool: “Yeah, don’t mind me. I’m just chillin’ on the stairs with my suitcase. I’m cool.” If they don’t have stairs, tell them you need a first floor or handicap accessible room.

    • lisermarie2013
      August 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm (6 years ago)

      Oh I’ve had my share of experiences at the airport with a cane and I didn’t have to wait for anything. I unfortunately won’t have a bag with wheels. I will be backpacking but I’m really hoping my backpack won’t be very heavy! Thanks for the helpful tips! 🙂

  3. surgeryattiffanys
    August 20, 2014 at 7:43 am (6 years ago)

    Great post and great to see that your illness doesn’t slow you down! I really admire your spirit. I had to continue ‘backpacking’ around Europe after breaking my leg skiing. I dumped half of my luggage at an airport storage (travel light). Jackets with lots of zip up pockets are very useful. Decrease the size and weight of your own backpack and allows easy instant access to essentials. Get a backpack with wheels on it. In case you need to rest your shoulders and the weight on your legs. I had crutches and my leg killed after a day of hobbling, stay on top of the pain killers/medications and take proper rests. If I rested well, I enjoyed the days more and lasted longer during the day. Really hope you’ll have a great trip!

    • lisermarie2013
      August 20, 2014 at 12:28 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks for the kind words and the helpful advice! It must have been so hard for you to backpack Europe with a broken leg! You’re a tough one!

  4. helensamia
    August 20, 2014 at 8:50 am (6 years ago)

    The subway stairs in New York beat me by the end of the day!

  5. James Patrick Casey
    August 20, 2014 at 8:53 am (6 years ago)

    My last foreign holiday was one to Australia, and the entirety of the preparation time was spent getting thousands of doctors’ letters saying I was allowed to bring fluids onto the plane to manage my diabetes. And then the bastards at border control made us leave half of it behind anyway.

    It probably won’t be an issue for you if you’re holidaying with your boyfriend, but I also found that being surrounded by people that know your condition and how to treat it helps, otherwise you could have a problem and have to explain what’s wrong with you to random bystanders in the hope that one of them will understand you, and then lend a hand.

    • lisermarie2013
      August 20, 2014 at 12:54 pm (6 years ago)

      They shouldn’t have taken your fluids from you! Jerks!

      • James Patrick Casey
        August 20, 2014 at 1:21 pm (6 years ago)

        They clearly feared the potential for explosives being concealed there … in a liquid.

  6. lauralizard
    August 20, 2014 at 11:15 am (6 years ago)

    I don’t have any advice, but j just wanted to say that your trips to NY sound just like my recent trip there! First day amazing, second day death! I take hope in that you’ve learnt and that maybe I will one day too! I hope you have an awesome time over here in the UK-be kind to yourself 🙂

    • lisermarie2013
      August 20, 2014 at 12:54 pm (6 years ago)

      Thank you! I’m pretty friggin stubborn so if I can learn a few lessons about taking care of myself while travelling I bet you can too!

  7. ellie2810
    August 20, 2014 at 11:57 am (6 years ago)

    You add a spark of humour to everything that not many people can hope to achieve, when they have such an illness as yours. People should be like you in the fact that they look for the positives, yet they’re still aware of the negatives. Amazing blog. Though you’ve probably heard that, numerous times.

    • lisermarie2013
      August 20, 2014 at 12:55 pm (6 years ago)

      Thank you so much! That is such a nice thing to say, I appreciate it 🙂

      • ellie2810
        August 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm (6 years ago)

        It’s alright! I try to tell people the honest truth. 🙂

    • lisermarie2013
      August 20, 2014 at 1:17 pm (6 years ago)

      I actually have one! Thanks for the heads up though! I got one as soon as my weird allergies started happening.

  8. melissagee8
    August 20, 2014 at 6:25 pm (6 years ago)

    Hop on hop off bus tours are my saving grace! If you are having a bad day you can just ride the tours all the way through, or get off and enjoy the sites as you see fit! I always do them when travelling. Edinburgh has I think 4 or 5 different lines and you can get a 2 days pass to try them all! Lots of hills there, but taxis in Ireland and Scotland were actually pretty reasonable as well.

    I also brought a foldable cane, and arranged for wheelchair assistance at all airports as I have trouble standing or walking for long. This was incredibly helpful, and don’t be too shy to ask for it, nothing worse than tiring yourself out at the airport before even getting to see anything! If you are travelling with your boyfriend they might even let him take it and push you without the airport worker. It does also get you through the line ups easier as well!

    • lisermarie2013
      November 28, 2014 at 3:34 pm (6 years ago)

      I forgot to reply to your comment and thank you for the suggestions! The hop on-hop off buses definitely saved me on the trip!

  9. Sunshine
    August 20, 2014 at 10:23 pm (6 years ago)

    Wonderful post! I too refuse to let this disease cut into my wanderlust, though I’ve had to learn a few new tactics along the way… But for the past 10 years I’ve traveled by train, 1) to avoid the stress of flying and 2) because on a moving train, I am actually quite graceful compared to everybody else! I don’t even bother with the walking stick. 🙂 Bon voyage!

    • lisermarie2013
      November 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks for the suggestions! Travelling by train was definitely my preferred travel method. So much easier for boarding, less stress and lots more room to get up and walk around to stretch those muscles.

  10. Amanda Ricks
    August 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm (6 years ago)

    Hi Lisamarie2013 thanks for the follow. I really your blog too so you’ve got a new follower too!

  11. Lisa
    February 1, 2015 at 8:22 pm (6 years ago)

    I used to LIVE in NYC! I did the umbrella thing for dizziness! Or sometimes I would use one of those mini shopping carts for that! Helped a lot as I didn’t have a car to get around.


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