Be prepared! Some tips to make travel with chronic illness less stressful

We discovered last year the wonder of going on a February half-term mini break – something to look forward to at the end of the long winter. So earlier this week we headed to the Kent coast for our sea-air fix. I do love getting away from the city and being somewhere beautiful!

Now the kids are a bit older, it’s a lot less stressful – we don’t have to worry about highchairs, nappies, sterilising equipment, 45 changes of clothes. We’ve even ditched the buggy this year, hurrah! Remembering all the stuff we used to ram into the boot makes me appreciate the ease with which we can get up and go now.

But there is a certain element of packing and preparation that I will always have to do – packing for holiday with a chronic illness. Babies and long-term conditions make for similar holiday-mates in this respect – you have to be prepared for all circumstances.

It has made me quite anxious in the past. When I should be getting excited about new adventures, I have felt overwhelmed. I’m gradually building up some systems that help me avoid this feeling. Here’s my top tips:

  • Plan what you need nice and early. I get prescriptions from three different sources, two of which are mail order. About a month in advance I think about placing orders and getting any extra bits I might need. When getting meds prescribed by my GP I make sure I include an explanatory note like, “I’m ordering extra as I’m going on holiday.” I’ve had a few last minute begging sessions at the GP surgery the night before travelling, which is never fun.
  • She’s making a list, she’s checking it twice (and once more to be absolutely sure). I have a list of EVERYTHING I might need. I also have a dedicated sponge bag where I leave my holiday supplies. Each time I go away I can just check expiry dates and top up with anything that’s missing. My diabetes team advise taking at least two times the supply you’ll need while away, so it’s a pretty hefty bag now!
  • Plan for the worst case scenario. Nine times out of ten it won’t happen but it’s worth taking the time to plan for tricky situations. I take alllll the painkillers I could possibly need. Yes, you can usually buy them where you are on holiday, but you don’t want to be faffing about with that while you’re away. I also take antibiotics if I’m going abroad (if I can persuade my GP to prescribe them), spare batteries and consumables for my insulin pump and blood glucose meter and a glucagon pen. You don’t want to be wasting a whole precious hour in Paris trying to buy the right type of battery for your pump (speaks the voice of experience!)
  • Note to self. I leave my insulin and injections in the fridge until the last minute, so stick a huge note saying “INSULIN!!!” on my door the day before departure, so it’s the last thing I see when I leave the house the next day. This gets one of two reactions when I see it: “Argh, nearly forgot!” or a smug, “Yeah, I got this.”
  • Translate ahead of time. If I’m going abroad, I spend some quality time with Google translate before leaving. I print a document (and have it on my phone) with phrases I might need detailing my conditions and medications.
  • Do an airport walk-through ahead of time(in your head). Airports fill most parents with dread, but having to get all my medical ‘stuff’ through adds to the stress. Most of the time no one even asks questions, but I have had all my insulin, pump and other equipment checked before. I make sure my doctors’ letters saying I can travel with needles, pumps, etc are right there with my passport.
  • On the day… If my rheumatoid arthritis has been playing up at all, I take painkillers at the beginning of the day to help make travel more comfortable and reduce any worry about pain. I pack plenty of sugar supplies for hypos and a few gluten-free snacks in my rucksack just in case I am caught short without anything safe to eat. And I check that list one more time…

I do still get a bit tetchy before going away, even for one night. But putting some systems in place has definitely helped me look forward to a break rather than worrying about everything that could go wrong.

If I’m feeling unwell when I have to travel, it definitely has an impact, but it has always been worth taking the trip! Telling my family or whoever I’m travelling with means they can help me make the journey as easy as possible.

What are your tips for dealing with holidays, airports and travel?

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