Travelling is something that I personally enjoy. Most recently I have visited Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Barbados. It has to be said that none of these trips were easy. Travelling with fibromyalgia is difficult. Having a variable health condition creates a host of challenges when you are away from home.
Travelling is something I am determined to do, however. And, though I had to give it up for a year when I was at my sickest, I came to the conclusion that if I waited until I was well to travel… Well, I’d be missing out on many exciting opportunities and would be letting life pass me by.
Unfortunately, although we can escape from many things when we travel, our health isn’t one of them. The limitations and symptoms we experience at home are not magically going to disappear the second we travel. We, therefore, need to appreciate the difficulties travel will present and do our homework to make things as easy and stress-free as possible.
Below are my tips on how to travel with a variable health condition, such as fibromyalgia. I hope you find them helpful.
1. Travel with someone who ‘gets it’
Travelling in itself can cause stress and worry. I know what it is like, we have a million and one things going around in our heads before we even make the decision to book, never mind when the actual holiday is approaching:
“What if I have to cancel last minute?” “What if I fall ill when I’m away?” “Will I manage to do this?”
In my opinion, it is so important to travel with someone who understands the challenges you face with your health condition.
This not only gives you the security of knowing someone will be with you to help you and to look after you should you need it, but it also means the person you are travelling with understands that you need to take things at a slower pace. This minimises stress.
As a bonus, they may also be good at reminding you to stop and slow down (given we can sometimes be our own worst enemies!).
A good travel companion doesn’t mind missing out or taking things slowly, they will think about pacing and suggest breaking up what you do (whether that’s suggesting cafes to rest in or finding seats to take a break every now and then).
They won’t mind using public transport, even if they could easily walk the distance. And they will help you out as much as possible (more on that in a bit). They also don’t take offence and understand when we need to go rest and be on our own.
2.Choose your destination & the time you travel carefully
Think about the type of holiday you would be able to enjoy and get the most out of. Are you a city break kind of person or would a beach or villa holiday suit you best? Do you prefer warm weather or cooler temperatures (as this will determine not only where you go but the best time of year to visit)?
Here are a few things to consider when deciding:
- Although city breaks may offer more opportunities for sight-seeing and have a variety of things to do, they are also harder going. If you are set on a city break, one thing worth considering is going for a longer duration. This means that you will potentially be able to see and do more, while still having time to rest.
- Think about the actual travel involved in getting to your chosen destination. If you find car travel difficult, flying may be beyond your capabilities right now (that’s not to say it won’t be a possibility in the future). Perhaps a staycation would be a more realistic aim? Or perhaps you would manage a short flight but flying long haul would definitely be out of the question? Or could you make adaptations or break up the journey to make a long-haul flight easier? (See my tips on surviving long-haul flights).
3. Find accommodation that suits your needs
Personally, I love using Airbnb when I travel as it feels more like a home from home. It also means that if I can’t get out and about, I at least have all that I need and I’m not confined to a hotel room.
It’s worth thinking about the location of your accommodation too. Is it close to the places that you want to visit? Is it near to public transport? Are there shops or restaurants nearby? For me, it’s important to limit the amount of time travelling around so that I can enjoy being out for as long as possible.
Just as a little note, if you need accessible accommodation I would advise getting in touch with whoever you are staying with beforehand. It’s worth checking that their definition of accessible fits with your own personal needs prior to booking.
4. If you are flying, book special assistance at the airport
Special assistance isn’t just limited to passengers travelling with their own mobility aids. Anyone with reduced mobility or health issues can book special assistance at airports. You can get as much or as little assistance as you need.
It can start from the moment you arrive at the airport (certainly within the EU) and you can get assistance right up to the point of getting in your seat on board the aircraft. It’s worth considering as there would be nothing worse than exhausting yourself before you even board the plane.
You do need to book this but often this can be done online when checking in (always check in online if you can as this makes life much easier) or you can phone the airline at least 48 hours before travelling to book.
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5. Have realistic expectations
When you arrive at your destination try to keep your expectations in check. Like I said above, your illness won’t suddenly disappear when you travel. It’s therefore important to be honest with yourself and really think about what you can manage to do without causing a flare up.
Or if you do decide to push yourself at any point, you need to be okay with the consequences. Realistically, you may even experience a flare up from the travelling itself and you will probably need a day of rest (or more) at the start of your holiday.
As much as you will probably want to see and do everything, this is also sadly unrealistic. We need to remember our limitations and keep in mind that our health may not be as good as we hope it will be.
My advice is, therefore, to think about the top one or two things you absolutely want to see or do and make them a priority. Take the approach that anything else you manage to do is a blessing.
With that in mind, try to focus on what you are able to do and enjoy yourself as much as possible. If you aren’t able to do as much as you had hoped, that’s totally understandable. Remember to be kind to yourself.
6. Be willing to adapt
If you are going away and know it is going to be difficult for you, think about ways in which you can adapt and make things easier for yourself. Even if you don’t use a mobility aid day-to-day, consider one when travelling. I travelled to Amsterdam without a mobility aid and spent a good portion of my time in bed because I was so exhausted.
When I went to Copenhagen, I travelled with a wheelchair and it made such a difference. I was able to pace myself better, do more and stay out longer because I wasn’t tiring myself out anywhere near as much.
If you don’t have a mobility aid, do your research and see if you can hire a wheelchair or scooter (if you have no one to push you or prefer to be independent) at your destination. You may even be able to hire one at home and take it with you. It is honestly worth considering and can make all the difference.
7. Make plans but be flexible
Like most people with a chronic illness, I always like to plan, plan, plan. As well as planning what I need to take (supplements, my heat pad, painkillers just in case… the kitchen sink?) I also plan the things I want to do. It’s also equally important to plan rest into each day and to plan for entire rest days too.
If you are going out, plan to make rest stops in cafes or find somewhere nice to sit if the weather is decent. Pace yourself and take things slowly. Also, plan to do any activities that you know will tire you out earlier in the day. That way you will have more energy for them and you can rest afterwards too.
It’s important to be flexible when making plans though, as our health can be unpredictable. If you plan to do something one day but don’t feel up to it, that’s fine. You can do it another day or even later in the day if you feel better from resting. Equally, if you find yourself feeling better than expected, take advantage of that.
Plan for the trip home too. Make sure you are as rested as possible for travelling home and then give yourself time afterwards to recover.
8. Accept help
If you are travelling with other people be accepting of their help. I have to say that I am the worst for this and sometimes say no even if I know it would help me because I don’t like to be a burden. However, keep in mind that if someone can help you out, it will conserve your energy and will mean that you can potentially do more and suffer less.
Here’s a tip for anyone travelling with someone who has a chronic illness. If your pal is stubborn like me, don’t just offer help, take action (obviously within reason, don’t nanny us!).
For example, instead of asking if you take our suitcase for us just say “I’ll take your suitcase for you because I know it’ll make you sore” and take it. I promise we will be grateful.
If you can make life easier in any way, whether it’s the simple act of finding us a seat, or offering to do something for us that saves us energy, know that it will be hugely appreciated. This can be things like offering to go and purchase any tickets we might need while we sit and rest, especially if there is a queue.
Or if you are staying in an apartment, offering to cook or to go get take away if we look like we’re too tired to go out for dinner. Anything that helps us to feel as well as possible, no matter how small it is, can be a massive help.
9. Remember self-care
Lastly, just a quick comment on self-care. If you have self-care practices that you do regularly at home because they help you to feel as well as possible, try to remember to do them at least some of the time when on holiday.
This can be simple things like stretching, meditation, deep breathing, etc. Although we often don’t want to do these things when we are away, remember that they can help to balance the energy draining activities that we do.
What do you think of these tips? Do you have any additional suggestions? Let me know down in the comments below.