While travel can be massively rewarding, it can present a set of unique challenges for those who are chronically ill or disabled – but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. EVAN YOUNG shares some of his tips below.
When chronically ill or disabled, even travelling to the train station sometimes feels impossible. Travelling for pleasure usually sits on our priority lists somewhere below showering and making it to the grocery store without crashing – but that doesn’t always mean we can’t do it at all. I used to think I’d never make it out of the house, let alone the city or country. But with plenty of hard work, patience and diligence I managed to not only prove myself wrong, but survive the unknown far better than expected.
Of course, no experience with chronic illness and disability is the same. Though we are all incredibly tough and resilient people, more than most realise, some struggles are more taxing and expensive than others.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a position to travel, whether it’s to the CBD or Canadian Yukon, here are some tips to help you have your best possible time.
Spend a good amount of time planning and researching (but don’t go overboard!)
Almost every non-able-bodied person is afraid they may suffer, relapse or make decisions with repercussions in unfamiliar places. Good planning (and travel insurance!) can help assuage such things.
Is there anything specific you want to see or do? Write them down in order of preference, factoring in your budget and physical limitations. You may only tick off the top few, but at least you’ll get a chance to do something you really want.
It’s also worth checking ahead at this stage whether your locations or activities have the facilities to suit your needs. Are you able to rent a scooter, or move through tours at your own pace? Is your accommodation’s shower wheelchair friendly? Is the air clean? For every few areas around the world accessible and friendly to those with special needs, there’s a couple that aren’t.
But while careful preparation may help ease anxiety, consider whether you’re over-planning: you don’t want too rigid a schedule!
Don’t place too much pressure on yourself to have a good time
You’ve been waiting a long time for this trip. You’ve spent countless hours and energy you didn’t really have planning for it. You’ve declined other invitations to be active or social, and worked hard to be in your best possible shape. You’ve watched friends go on the trips of their dreams, and heard all about it when they get back. Now, it’s your turn.
There’s a good chance you’ll feel your symptoms swell while you’re away, so try not to get downtrodden if you find yourself in a spot of discomfort. I know staring out the window of a hostel isn’t the same as hiking up a mountain, but try and look at the bright side: you’re still out of the house and well enough to be somewhere new!
Pace yourself – there’s no rush
Obviously, you want to fit as much as possible into your trip. But it’s not worth packing to the brim if it means you’re going to crash and set yourself back. It’s OK to take a few rest days; in fact, they’ll probably make your trip that much more manageable. For every hour, or day you’re active, think about perhaps allocating double that time to rest. Find a balance that works for you and your body.
If you can afford it, plan a longer trip. This means you’ll fit more in, without increasing the likelihood of payback. Plus, it’ll give you extra time to acclimatise to your new surroundings and fight any jet-lag.
Pack extra essentials and meds across bags on long trips
Bags can get lost or delayed in transit. There’s going to be few things more stressful to an ill traveller than coming off a 15-hour flight, only to learn your heart medicine, Epipen or anti-depressant is still thousands of kilometres away.
To avoid this take any extra gear, supporting documentation or medication with you in your carry-on. If you’re bringing any meds or supplements on board trains, buses or planes, make sure they’re clearly labelled with what they are and with your name. Keep in mind however, you’ll likely be charged more the more you bring.
Nine-and-a-half times out ten you won’t have to worry. But on the off chance your bags do get delayed, you’ll be glad you packed extras.
Don’t be afraid to ask for special assistance
If you’re like me, you hate drawing public attention to the fact you’re not able-bodied. You sometimes feel inadequate enough as it is, even before watching those around you perform something that’d put you in bed for a week like it’s nothing at all.
People will for the most respond extremely positively if you ask for support. Feeling uncomfortable in transit, or not up to standing in customs for two hours? Let staff know – they’re there to help. Ask a fellow traveller if you need assistance lifting your baggage. Take advantage of any priority services – skipping queues is pretty easy to get used to. There are all kinds of help available, even to those with conditions not immediately visible, but access all hinges on communication.
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s worth reiterating.
With all the anxieties evoked being active in an environment you can’t control, it’s easy to forget to enjoy yourself. In most cases, especially if you’ve done your homework, there’s very little to worry about other than your worries themselves. Fighting illness or disability every day for little reward is exceptionally challenging. You deserve some time off.
Evan Young is a Melbourne-based writer. He occasionally tweets at @thebevaneffect.