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Admittedly, I struggled a little bit, wondering if I should write about the topic of “Traveling with a chronic illness” or not. When I launched Travelous Mind beginning of this year, the main thing I wanted was a platform to share my travel experiences with others.
I wanted to write about a deeper form of traveling and best case scenario: maybe even inspire some people. I never really intended to make my lung disease Cystic Fibrosis a subject matter. In the past I’ve more or less tried to actually avoid the topic because I always feared that people might think that I wanted their sympathy or just wanted to get some attention. I just always wanted to live as normally as possible and I am definitely happy that I never joined the self-pity-party or got into the mindset of feeling sorry for myself.
I now know that my disease isn’t all bad and that it has made me into the person I am today. And that I can be proud of having learned to cope with it as well as I have over the years. And most of all: in spite of it all, always pursuing my dreams, no matter what.
What I’ve also realized in the few months of blogging is that I actually can inspire people with the things that I do. And that is such an indescribable feeling and has become so very important to me. People who write me emails or messages or tell me that they are also suffering from some type of illness and that they dream of being able to travel the world and follow their dreams- I cannot put into words what that feels like. Therefore I now think I can and definitely want to cover this topic. I don’t want to shy away from it, but rather embrace it and write about it openly and forthright.
About traveling with an illness.
Traveling with a chronic illness
In this blog post I’d like to get into the topic of traveling with a disease in general and explain to you why I travel, in spite of the obstacles I meet due to my illness, and why you too should do the same (no matter if you’re sick or healthy). In the next part of this post I will then give you practical tips on how to travel with an illness, concerning what to do about the medicines you have to take and all the other obstacles that may present themselves.
Good news first: Traveling with a disease is not easy, but without a doubt and most definitely possible!
A short info for those who don’t know what Cystic Fibrosis** is: CF is an inherited, genetic disorder that affects mainly the lungs, but also most of the other organs as well. Due to a faulty gene the exchange between salt and water in the body doesn’t work properly. The result is that people with CF have problems breathing, they often have respiratory infections that can quickly lead to pneumonias and some other symptoms.
What that means for us? To give you a general idea: Many inhalants, breathing therapy, loads of medicine (antibiotics, enzymes, vitamins, liver medication..), IV-treatments every few months for 2 weeks each, a lower lung function (mine is about 50% compared to a „healthy“ person’s), therefore problems breathing, lots of coughing, a shorter life span (on average about 35 to 40 years) and external oxygen supply if necessary (luckily not in my case). Especially when it comes to traveling one of the biggest problems is that a totally normal run-of-the-mill cold (or worst case: more than one consecutive common cold) can turn real shitty really quickly.
All of this of course has an influence on the way I travel, but, above all, it pushes me to do it anyways, because as you can maybe imagine: I have thought a lot about the subject of „time“ and know very well, that it can all be over pretty darn quickly. That is why I believe we should use the time we have for those things that our heart desires.
Yes, there are, without a doubt, a few downsides and obstacles that need to be overcome if you have some type of disease and want to travel.
For me, there are always some things while traveling that I can’t do or times I can’t keep up with the people I’m traveling with, because I’m just out of breath quicker than most people. Surfing is a good example for that (although I will never stop trying 😉 ), also snorkeling (I’m not allowed to do it at all because of the bacteria that can be inside the snorkels and can be really dangerous for my lungs) or other extreme sports, which are a problem for me as well.
I’ve had problems breathing while on long flights, due to the lack of oxygen in higher altitudes, as well as in certain places that are really high up (Machu Picchu therefore might not be the ideal place for me to be hanging out at). I also try to avoid large cities (Mexico City was definitely not a picknick for me and my lungs) and trips that include me having to cross through many different altitudes or climate zones (which was the case when I was road-tripping through Mexico). There’s of course also the problem of having to take large amounts of medicine with you, having to do inhalants and breathing exercises in hostels for example, cleaning the inhalers and so on. But more on those kinds of details in the next post.
One of the things I find worst though, are those (rather rare) moments of fear, that have only occurred maybe twice during my previous travels, when my health rather suddenly changed for the worse after a cold or two and I started feeling ten kinds of shitty. I always carry some emergency medicine with me though in case something like that happens and I know what to do in most cases. Otherwise: We do have doctors everywhere in the world 😉
…and why you should do it anyway.
Sure, traveling under these circumstances is a challenge, for sure. But still, I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. When you travel you realize how well you’re actually off, with or without a disease, when you see how much shit some other people on this planet have to go through. Especially here in Germany (and most of Europe, the US and so on..) we are lucky to have medical care that is as good as it is- which we often take for granted. The great thing about traveling: You can go where ever it suits you, where your body and soul feel in synch and at their best. (For me and my lungs being at the ocean is absolutely the best because of the salty and fresh air.) While traveling you also learn to value and appreciate your life even more. You suddenly know what you’re doing it all for, all the medicine, the exercise and the general “working-your-ass-off”.
Don’t let the disease define you.
You do carry a huge portion of responsibility around with you though, having to take such intense care of yourself and your body. You have to be super-independent, be able to really take care of yourself and listen to what your body has to say. But at the same time there comes an immensely large portion of freedom along with it. Experiencing that, you are no longer a „sick“ person, but you actually become a „self-determined“ being. Don’t let the disease define you. You should be the only person defining yourself.
That is why you too should go out und just go for it.
A short note: It is clear to me that not everyone who has a chronic illness has the same illness and the same symptoms as I do. You possibly have more obstacles to face than I do. Still I want to encourage you and maybe give you the tools to be able to pave your own way or give you the courage to find a way to do it anyway, if somehow possible.
Do you have an illness that represents a hindrance for you? No matter if you have an illness or not: What is keeping you from following your dreams? Have you had any similar experiences or anything else you want to talk about concerning this subject-matter? Write it all in down in the comments section or write me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!