Monday, April 20, 2015

Leaving On A Jet Plane

#HAWMC Day 20:  If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? Maybe you’ve already traveled to an exciting place and want to go back. We know travelling with a chronic illness can be challenging, so any tips for others that you can share would be great!

I feel like I'm cheating a little on this one, because I run a travel planning company. Travel is, more or less my life. People always ask me my favorite place, and I find this question extremely difficult. My "favorite" depends on what I'm looking for - a city escape, time with nature, lying beach with a fruity drink in my hand, exploring an exotic or unique landscape. But if someone said they could teleport me to somewhere right this minute, I'd choose Paris. 

I've been to Paris twice, once as recently as this past November. The first time I visited, about eight years ago, I wasn't excited. I was new to the travel industry, and I had not heard very positive things about Paris. We all know the stereotype - they're rude, they hate Americans, etc. I had a conference in Lyon and I thought, "I'm so close. I work in the travel industry now. How can I not go to Paris just to see what it's like." I fell in love. With the city, that is. This past trip only solidified this. 

When I'm in Paris, I feel like I belong. To someone who, in 35 years, as almost never, ever feels like she belongs, this is borderline miraculous. I don't know what it is about the city. Everyone there is chic and fashionable and I am ... not. My french is more or less limited to names of pastries, asking for the toilet, and the word "canelle", as it's French for Cinnamon, which is the name of my dog. (Fun story, I know this because I met the "house dog" of a hotel I was staying at, who was also named Cinnamon). So I'm not sure why I feel such a sense of belonging in this city that so many feel repelled from, and unwanted in, but I do. 

As for traveling with chronic illness, that greatly depends on your illness, of course. First and foremost, meds, meds, meds, meds.  If there's a time difference, you may need to adjust the time of day that you take them to keep on your schedule. Set alarms or ask someone to keep you accountable. Bring a few extra, in case for any reason your return flight is delayed/cancelled/etc and you are there longer than expected. Even many of our over-the-counter meds can't be found overseas, so don't count on running to the drug store to pick them up once you get there. Finally, as a travel planner I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT PACK YOUR MEDS IN YOUR CHECKED LUGGAGE. Or even a carryon that's big enough that it may have to be checked at the gate if they run out of overhead space. I was on a flight with a woman who had put her insulin in a large carry-on that they checked at the gate. Our plane was then grounded for mechanical issues, and the next flight out for her was the next day. She had to stay overnight in a an airport without her insulin because the airline said they "weren't authorized to retrieve her luggage". Understandably, she was freaking out. Just keep them on you. Always. Please. 

Ok, that rant done, - sorry, occupational hazard - a few more things I find helpful: 
  • If you need to travel with any medical equipment, make sure that you have the proper written documentation from your doctor. I recently watch a woman kicked off a plane because she didn't have documentation for her oxygen tank. She was about as happy as the insulin lady above (note; also make sure all meds are in the original packaging. Customs doesn't like unidentified pills). 
  • When you first arrive, try to adjust to the time zone. If you can make it until about 7 or 8 PM and then go to bed early, it helps to adjust your body to the time difference. 
  • Try to keep more or less to regular schedule. If you usually go to bed at 10 and wake up at 7, don't stay up until 2 AM every night and sleep in until noon. Illness doesn't take a vacation (unfortunately) just because we do, and I think for many of us, routine is key. 
  • Build in rest time. I'm guilty of being go, go, go when I'm on a trip because I don't want to miss anything. I've learned I have to build in a day or two to relax - go to the hotel spa, order room service, or at least do something less physically strenuous to give myself a break. 
  • Alcohol. If you have an illness that is affected badly by alcohol, it's still affected badly by alcohol when you're on vacation. This is a sad but true fact. 
  • If you have food allergies or sensitivities, try to learn the words for these foods in the local language before you go, so that you can at least attempt to ask about them. The same is ideal for your condition, though I'm nearly certain that cyclothymia doesn't translate into other languages, and I suspect many chronic illness sufferers are in the same boat.
  • Other countries seem to have a different idea of a food "containing something" - as in, it doesn't contain it if it's not the main ingredient. While I hate to advise being a finicky traveler, sometimes it's too important not to be. 
Ok, I think that's it. As I said, travel is kind of my life, so I apologize for the particularly long post! Wherever this prompt takes you, I hope that you have a fabulous time! 


  1. I love traveling with you Maya! I definitely cannot narrow it down to one trip any where in the world. I have such a long list! India is definitely high up there. I want to ride the Maharaja express train. It looks amazing!

    1. Kris, India is number one on my list as well. At the moment, I think Cuba is number two, though Tibet and Nepal are also up there.