Previously I’ve written about working with a condition, amongst other aspects of life but I haven’t shared any travel stories. This is the first post in a series on travelling with chronic illness.
Fresh out of school 10 years ago, I travelled to Cuba for two months to learn Spanish and fail at Salsa. I did both of these tasks semi-successfully, while also navigating the hiccups that crop up when you run out of antibiotics in Fidel’s empire (el jefe was still technically in power when I visited).
Travelling was simpler for me then, in the medical sense, as I didn’t take many of the medications I do now. In addition to Cuba, I spent 3 months travelling around India, 6 weeks in Bosnia, and later, 3 months in South Korea. Even given my limited medication needs and excellent health at the time, I later found out that some of my wider family believed my mum was irresponsible for letting me travel.
Last month as I travelled to Vietnam for the first time, I reflected on how much more anxious travelling now makes me. As I got on the plane I fretted about how to keep my refrigerated medications cold, my nebuliser equipment sterile, what to do if any of my drugs got confiscated or lost (even though I had them all on my carry on, of course) and whether the lower oxygen in the cabin would prove a problem for the first time.
When we arrived I worried whether I’d get sick from the pollution in Ho Chi Minh City (I didn’t, because I made like the locals and sported a sexy tartan pink face mask) I worried whether I’d have hypos all the time, and generally found reason to worry about a lot of things.
I found it interesting, because I’d always been a confident traveller. But I think, in some way, I’ve become much braver than I used to be. In the last two years, I’ve paraglided off a mountain in Turkey despite a fear of heights. I’ve climbed 5 mountains in the Lake District despite my fear of hypoglycaemia when I exercise. I’ve screamed all the way down a 900m zipwire across a Thai jungle (I actually got more scared abseiling down a very tiny 30m drop, but that’s another story). All of these things, I would never have dreamt of doing when I was younger and I had less reason to be afraid.
And so my message is this; if you have a chronic condition or something in your life that holds you back more than you’d like, please know that adventures are still possible.
Exercise caution and understand your limits for sure. I no longer aspire to be a war correspondent as I briefly did when I was 18; no one wants a girl with a severe dust cough and a reliance on all the pills in sensitive conflict zones, am I right?
But on a serious note, know that your difficulties don’t mean all adventures are closed to you. Some may not be possible, some may take a lot of planning and a whole lot more patience, but you will likely appreciate them so much more. It’s dreaming of those adventures – however large or small- that make it all worthwhile.