How to travel with a chronic illness… and survive

Getting sick on the road not fun? Getting on the road when sick not fun?

I have a chronic illness, asthma, which forces me to take into consideration some safety and health aspects on the road. Whilst I got diagnosed only before I turned 30, I have been on the road months and months after that, coping pretty well.

I want to share with you some things I have learned, living and travelling abroad. You may have different needs and experiences, and you should always apply all the tips you get to your own special condition. Anything can happen on the road, but preparing and listening to your body can take you pretty far without extra worries.

  1. Your illness shouldn’t stop you from travelling. Even if you have some serious limitations, you can always find a way to travel. Whether it’s around the world or to the next town, it all counts and you will have fun as long as you have prepared well. Right before I got diagnosed, I had made a decision to go to Uganda for three months, living under conditions no way suitable for me and my new chronic buddy. I did not cancel my trip. I had to go see a doctor in Kampala. I had to take antibiotics I didn’t want to. I took double doses of my daily medication and triple doses of my new rescue medicine on almost daily basis. But it was okay, the new experiences 100% made up for all the trouble. And it wasn’t all like that, anyway. We visited Zanzibar, where the air was so good to my lungs, I never wanted to leave. I mostly had problems in villages with a lot of dusty roads, and sometimes in Kampala in traffic jams. Otherwise, the warm and humid air was actually really good for me.
  2.  Keep your illness under control. Get your self checked before take off. If your illness requires regular check ups, get one done early enough before your trip. This way, if there is anything that requires more attention, you can get it taken care of before you leave.

  3. If you think your condition is worsening, don’t panic.  No matter where you are, there are always people there willing to help. In case of emergency, try and stay calm and ask for help. If you’re having a serious attack or episode, people will very fast notice you’re not okay. However, try and carry a piece of paper or a card your initial medical information on it with you. That way, anyone treating you will fast figure out what’s wrong and what to do. Even more importantly, figure out even before you go what will you do in case of an emergency. Which number to call, where’s the nearest hospital and how to have an access to your medication.
  4. Get enough prescription drugs to take with you. It may be a bit expensive, but from my own experience it is usually a lot more expensive to buy them abroad, unless your insurance covers the expenses. You might wanna check beforehand if your medication is available at your destination (see also tip number 6).
  5. In a lot of places, like India and some African countries, counterfeit drugs are way too common. They either have no correct active ingredient, or they have maybe half of what is promised on the label. This is meant to make the patient buy another dose of the medicine since the first round of treatment didn’t make them well. When I had to buy antimalarial drugs in Kampala, I only used the drug store pointed to me by our guide from the health care center our group volunteered at. Didn’t catch malaria, no unusual side effects, and the price was convincing; not too cheap but definitely not overpriced, either.

    Not all your problems on the road are chronic. Some of them just stem from clumsiness. Keep your nurse available at all times!
  6. Some countries have limitations as on how much prescription and OTC drugs you can bring in. However, the most I’ve carried with me is six months worth prescription drugs without any problem ever. I have only heard anyone ever having problems with taking hormones meant to treat her menopause to a Middle-East country. Check the local terms and conditions before take off.
  7. Don’t always trust the information you get on the availability of your prescription drugs in your destination. We once tried to get antimalarial  drugs in Delhi, where they were supposed to be readily available, but no, they absolutely were not. We ended up hunting the drugs for days in different drug stores and being told several times the drugs would be available tomorrow only to end up with a handful of overpriced and probably counterfeit pills… (Yes, okay, fine, I took them. Maybe wouldn’t anymore, though.)
  8. If your condition requires so called rescue medicine, keep it with you all the times! This includes asthma, diabetes, allergy and so on medicine.

  9. Keep enough medicine in your carry on luggage to help you through the next week. Even if your check in luggage gets eaten by the monsters of aircraft, you’ll still have no worries while waiting for your stuff to come back. Just keep them in labeled prescription containers with your name on them, and if possible, an English copy of the prescription. This saved my aforementioned friend so she could bring her medicine with her through the customs.
  10. Remember, it’s doable!

Share your awesome tips for travelling with a chronic illness in the comments!

Plus one bonus tip: Get your teeth checked (this is one of our micro projects, as well. See how well we’re doing with them now!) if you intend to be gone for longer. This is essential for everyone, as the health of your mouth has a straight link to your general health, but especially for anyone who needs to pay extra attention to their health.

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