I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 15 years old. Crohn’s Disease is a Chronic Illness that will not go away. It can be managed by medication and a healthy and balanced lifestyle, but you’ll never be cured. You do not need to put your life on hold when you’re diagnosed with a Chronic Illness. You can still study, have children and travel abroad. My Chronic Illness has not stopped me from travelling by train to Tibet and overland to Nepal. It did not stop me from travelling in South America, Iran or Turkey. I travel everywhere in Europe but I have to plan my travels precisely. Do you have a Chronic Illness? Do you wonder if you can still travel with chronic illness? Read how to prepare for travel with a chronic illness, based on my personal experiences.
Read more: The Chronic Illness Chronicles – Guest stories by travellers with a Chronic Illness.
When you’re chronically ill, your life will be affected by your illness in one way or another. If your illness is under control and your doctors clear you for travel, there is no stopping to it! You can go to any place you’d like, you just need to prepare! But how to prepare for travel with chronic illness? I guide you through my 10 practical tips.
How to prepare for travel with chronic illness?
There are a dozen million different variations for being ill, so there is no way to tell you what to do in your specific case. However, I can provide you with some common tips for travel with chronic illness that can be useful for your specific situation.
Go see the doctor!
From the beginning, I have a hate-hate relationship with my doctors. I never found one that I liked. They prescribe me my medication and that is about it. However, I did learn over the years, that if you don’t tell them how you feel and what your daily struggles are, they cannot help you.
I found my doctor reluctant to help me find a way to travel the world but he did do it in the end. When I first told my doctor about my plans to go to South America, his response was: can’t you go somewhere else?
Of course I could, but I wanted to travel to South America. So we discussed all the problems and solutions and in the end, we came up with a plan to help me get to South America and stay healthy during the process.
It’s never too soon to start preparations for travel when you’re chronically ill.
There is no such thing as too soon when it comes to travel preparation for people with a chronic illness. I wrote this post almost 6 months before I’d travel to Peru. I’ve booked my ticket months before that, but I have been preparing to go to South America for 2 years prior to that. Two years?? What kind of preparation did I do?
Get your travel vaccines in time
I have a chronic illness, called Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is one of the inflammatory bowel diseases and causes irritation in the bowel system. And in my case: fatigue, urgent need to move bowels and fevers. And stomach ache, of course. Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness and an auto-immune disease. I take certain medications that inflict with my auto immune system further but they keep the disease under control. My doctors have cleared me for all travel but I need to be very careful with taking travellers vaccines.
Why do you need travel vaccines?
In different countries in the world, there are different types of infections and diseases. People born and raised in the area might have built antibodies for these diseases, but you might have not! Read more about vaccines on the website vaccines.gov and make sure you check which ones you need for your next destinations.
Check 6 months before your departure which vaccines you need.
For travel to some countries of South America and Africa, a yellow fever vaccine is required. For me, this is the real problem. The yellow fever vaccine is a so called “live-attenuated viral vaccine“.
Which means they use an actual virus and weaken it down just enough for your body to make antibodies but not become too sick. And there lies the problem for me.
The medication I’m taking is preventing the antibodies to do their work, which may cause me to get actual yellow fever because my body cannot make the antibodies quick enough. So.. we don’t want that.
Together with my doctors and the doctors from the local travel health clinic, I made the decision to stop with the medication for a short period of time. This was over two 2 years ago when I was feeling great and took the chance.
I slowly quit the medication and once all traces of the medicins were gone from my body, I could get the yellow fever vaccin. The vaccine is valid for 10 years but they are working on extending this period. Once I got the shot, I started again with the medication.
Please, always make sure, to check with your doctors before quiting or starting with your medication. What might have worked for me, might not work for you.
So, when I decided I’d go to South-America in 2016, I was prepared and already got the vaccine for yellow fever. Other vaccines may need to be repeated so start your preparation in time. Because travelling is great, but the most important thing is to return home safely.
Other travel vaccines that you need to take
Depending on the area you’ll visit, the type of travel you’ll do and the length of your stay, you might need to have vaccines like:
Always consult with a professional from your travel health clinic or your doctor to see what is needed for your upcoming travel plans.
Get travel insurance
I always recommend everyone, with or without a chronic illness, to get travel insurance wherever you go. I have a general year round travel insurance and together with my national health insurance I’m covered for travel vaccines, medical bills abroad and more issues that can arise when you travel abroad.
I’m not going to recommend a travel insurance company here, because I only have experiences with my national one. (If you’re a Dutch resident, you can always send me a message to ask for my insurance, it is a great one!).
Talk to your travel insurance
Before you leave to travel the world with a chronic illness, talk to your insurance. Check your policy to see if they cover costs to treat the current illness abroad or to what amount. I know, that in the emergency that I’d need hospitalisation due to an immediant flare up of my Crohn’s disease, my insurance covers this.
Get cancellation insurance
Many people nowadays have travel insurance, which is great! But what if something happens and you can’t go in the first place? Or you do go and something happens on your 3 week trip and you need to cancel all your further plans.
The cancellation insurance will refund you any costs that you’ve already made, in case you cannot pursue your plans. For example flights, car rental, holiday rentals or booked tours. Like in the case of your illness deteriorating but also in case of an emergency at home (like the death of a close relative).
Request a medicine passport at your pharmacy
When you have a chronic illness, changes are you have a list of prescribed drugs to take. Or cremes or inhalers or need medical equipement. Request a special passport at your pharmacy where they list all your prescribed drugs and what they are used for. They will make the passport out in English and use the common Latin drug names so any doctor can identify them.
A medication passport can be helpful when you travel. The border control can check why you’re carying so many drugs and verify you need these for private use (and are not a drug runner).
On the other hand, in case you do need to see doctor, you have a document that list all your drugs and why you take them.
Familiarize yourself with import (and export) rules of a country
Ok, it can be hard if you want to go backpacking through Europe to learn all the rules of all the countries. But you might have been prescribed Medical Cannabis as this is legal in your country of state. But you cannot take it abroad with you to a country with different rules. Check what information you can find online and request help from your pharmacy if you have any doubts.
Request your medication on time
Duh! I keep making the same mistake over and over again. Each week before I leave for a new trip, I need to count my medication and continue counting for the duration of my trip to see if I still have enough or not. Do yourself a favor and make sure you have enough medication for more than the length of your trip.
You do not want to return home and rush to the pharmacy on the first day of your arrival home with a jet-lag.
The drugs you’re prescribed will probably not be available abroad and it is always better to have the medication that you’re body is used to to prevent any negative side affects.
I always discuss with my doctor additional medication. In my case, I always travel with an extra prescribed antibiotics treatment, in case I have severe symptoms of my Crohn’s disease. I always carry a packet of ORS with me too, to help me get rid of the Delhi Belly quickly.
Inform your embassy and relatives
Ok, this might be a bit of a long shot but in some cases it can be useful to inform your embassy about your travel plans. I filled out the standard form on the website of the Dutch embassy in Iran with my travel plans for Iran. I didn’t need it but it is always good to have people know where you are, especially if you plan to travel to destinations off the beaten track.
I always give my parents an overview of my flight times and where I plan to go on what day. As I suffer from travel planning OCD, this is not hard for me to do.
But even if you’re more a YOLO traveller, you can always send your loved ones a message where you’re going in the morning. This way, they can track you down more easily in case of an emergency.
Get your Chronic Illness status in writing
I request a letter from my doctor once every 2 years. The doctor states in English what my diagnose is and what my general treatment plan is. I keep this document together with my medication passport in case someone needs it.
In case I’d need to see a doctor abroad, I can show the letter and I hope things will be easier and quicker to help me.
I always carry the letter on me. In the worst case, I’d be in an accident or something else bad happens, people can find information on me quickly. This is especially necessary for people who really depend on their medication, like diabetes travellers or people with allergies. In such cases, when time is vital for your treatment, try to find the translation for your condition in the local language (and learn it by hearth too!).
Travel with Chronic Illness around the globe
Above preparation tips show you the things you can arrange before you travel with a chronic illness. My tips can also be useful for people who are in bad shape or in bad health. Or for healthy travellers that just like to prepare for the worst!
I am the living (and travelling!!) proof that you can still travel with a chronic illness. It just takes a bit more preparation than for other people. Luckily, until now, I have not needed any of the above mentioned precautions (knock on wood). But it does ease my mind to know I have done everything in my power to prepare as well as possible to travel with a chronic illness.
Do you travel with a chronic illness? How do you manage? Do you have any further tips or advice? Let me know in the comment section below!