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Vacationing with Chronic Illness


August signals the winding down of summer; children go back to school, the temperature begins to cool off, and people are squeezing in one last vacation. But for chronic illness sufferers, vacations are often challenging. The idea of leaving your daily routine may seem daunting; not because you don’t want a vacation, but because of the complications it may bring. Vacationing with chronic illness may feel like taking along an undesired guest; the medication, accommodations, and worries you carry with you are unwanted luggage.

But this doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a vacation! Your vacation may take a little more planning, but it will be entirely worth it. Below are some tips to keep in mind while traveling:

Take time for breaks

The prospect of an entire day on the go may be scary for chronic illness sufferers. You may be concerned that you will need to rest, but will be unable to. Or maybe you’re concerned that your traveling companions will be upset if you are unable to participate in every planned activity. Worry not, though, as you can avoid these pitfalls by planning breaks into your itinerary. Most people make lists of things to do or places to visit. Supplement this by making a side note of good resting places nearby. Keep in mind that resting doesn’t have to mean stopping the fun. You can find a coffee shop to sit and relax or, if the weather is nice, a local park where you can read a book or have a picnic. Take a small break even if your symptoms are not acting up; a lull in activity is beneficial for everyone in your group.

Consider your limitations

This may not seem like the advice you want to hear. But knowing what your body can and cannot handle will help you avoid discouragement or embarrassment on vacation. If you know that climbing stairs is difficult and causes you pain, don’t schedule a hiking trip to a mountain top. If there is something that your partner or family members are insistent on, find ways to compromise. Instead of walking up the mountain, rent a car and explore once you get to the top. Also, remember that your companions love and respect you and would not want you to be in pain or push yourself. Plan to have a conversation with them when a vacation plan seems like too much.

Make comfortable accommodations

Before booking a hotel room, consider the amenities you’re looking for. You might want a kitchen so you can cook dinner with local foods, or a pool for the kids to swim in at night. Sites like Airbnb offer the opportunity to rent a house or apartment instead of a solitary room. These kinds of accommodations have many advantages; you can readily immerse yourself in the culture of the area, and enjoy the comfort of your preferred accommodations.

Create opportunities

There’s no telling how your illness will be while on vacation. Whether you have nothing but good days, or maybe a few bad days, remember that positive thinking and gratitude will help you get the most out of your days. So often, chronic illness sufferers blame themselves for “ruining” plans because their illness prevents them from participating in the day’s activities. In times like these, remember that it is not your fault, and no one is mad at you. Instead, think of it as a new opportunity. Sit and people watch the locals in lieu of touring the city. Have someone gather fresh produce and try your hand at making a cultural dish. Vacations are a time for spontaneity; just because you are unable to adhere to an itinerary does not mean the day can’t offer you gratitude.

Be mindful of old patterns of negative self-talk that you can’t have fun. Some people find that being caught up in the excitement of a new place makes their chronic illness much more manageable. It is common to experience more energy or less pain than on days at home. Some people find themselves forgetting about their illness altogether! This is a great reminder that your illness is part of your life, but does not define you. You are independent of your diagnosis and can live a full life.