Traveling While Differently-Abled

In a mix of sorrow and blessings, I’ll have 4 weeks in Italy between May and July. I’m in my way home from the first of two trips. The first was with my mom and sister. My mom and dad had always planned a dream trip to Italy after they sold our childhood home and retired. Gone too soon, my dad passed away abruptly from a heart attack right before they planned to retire and sell the house. So my mom turned it into a mother daughter trip and it’s one I’ll never forget. It was my first time to Italy, and we actually met 3 distant relatives with little planning prior in Corleone and Cerda in Sicily. I learned a lot about my heritage, which has strongly been influenced by my maternal grandparents who are both Italian, first-generation born Americans.

As much as I love to travel, doing so with my chronic pain issues creates a lot of things to think about, plan for, and interrupted plans. I used to travel a lot lighter, but I have to plan for every possible health issue. Nerve pain, fibrosis tension, immune issues, asthma attack, stomach issues from meds, etc.

I’ve come up with a Top Ten Tips for Travel When Differently-Abled. 🙂 It’s a few tips for how to enjoy a vacation as much as possible, even if you might have health issues. I hope this is helpful for others! Read my other post here on why I call myself “differently-abled.”

  1. I’ve started an Evernote packing template that has everything on it so I don’t have to try to remember everything every time I travel. And I’ve created sections for must-pack items, and then optional items. This has reduced the mental stress prepping for a trip.
  2. Pack Your Fave Pain Managemennt Tools! When I pack, I bring a Theragun, a Theraface, a manual tension massager, tension oil, all the meds I might need to avoid a flare or to take once one sets it, a roller stick, a tennis ball to lay on, and usually my own pillow. I need a suitcase practically just for all this stuff. It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s a pain in the ass to pack and I’m always worried until I get to where I’m going that I forgot something.
  3. Prescription Planning:
    1. 30-60 days prior, I inventory all my prescriptions and make sure that my 90 day prescriptions will cover me during the trip. It’s stressful realizing you’re going to run out, and you’re out of refills. So after looking at that, if I do have any that will run out, I set up doctor appointments that might be needed, or reschedule them to prior to the trip so I can get refills prior to going.
    2. Pack your prescriptions in the original prescription bottle they came in. This rule, I rarely follow for most daily prescriptions. However, anything that’s a controlled substance or that would be a problem if it was confiscated, or would cause withdrawal if I were to not have it, I always bring those in their original prescription bottle. I literally travel with 10 prescription bottles. And then have 10 others in my daily pill containers.
    3. Always put your meds in carry ons. Luggage gets lost and rifled through all the time.
    4. There are two sites you should check before you travel internationally to see what the rules are about traveling with your meds (CDC and INCB Country Regulations. In some cases you’re supposed to have a formal letter from each prescribing doctor verifying your conditions and which meds they prescribe for those conditions. The idea of doing this super stresses me out. I have 6-8 specialists that manage my conditions so coordinating letters from each of those would be massive headache. I would say, you could prioritize the ones that prescribe anything that could really be an issue, i.e. controlled substances or rare drugs. I’ve travelled to 15 different countries and have NEVER been stopped or hassled about meds, including for controlled substances. Have any of you? If so, I’d love if you shared what happened in the comments.
  4. Make sure if you have any CBD, THC, or Hemp lotions, pills, etc. that you check about laws in the states or countries you’re going to. I’ve traveled with THC lotion and not been stopped between San Diego and Seattle, but traveling cross states with any cannabis products is technically illegal because by crossing states it becomes federal law and jurisdiction. So travel with this at your own risk. For most states where it’s legal in both, I’d assume it would just be confiscated, but you could have more serious consequences and problems in states where it’s not legal, and I definitely wouldn’t press it traveling internationally unless a stay in a foreign prison sounds fun to you.
  5. Health Care Coverage
    1. Check your health insurance to see what kind of health care coverage your have outside your state/country. In some countries, it doesn’t matter because they don’t charge for healthcare, but it’s good to look at that in the case you need to go to the hospital.
    2. Especially for international travel, identify where the closest hospital and urgent cares are, and what hours they are open. I rarely do this, but if I’ve been having more issues lately sometimes doing this just gives me peace of mind that I have a plan just in case.
  6. For people with chronic pain and fatigue issues, get a rolling bag for your carry on. I have bad head, neck, and facial pain and this has made traveling so much easier on my body. I was having a lot of nerve flares every time I traveled and it was because I was carrying a shoulder bag, backpack, or heavy purse.
  7. Invest in a good neck pillow, ear plugs, and eye mask.
  8. Don’t plan more than you’d do normally. I know thats easier said than done. This was an issue in Italy for me. Or plan for what you ideally want to do, but accept that you’re probably going to have days where you aren’t going to feel good. Just like we do at home. So I try to not overbook things, and I mentally try to set my own expectations that if it’s too much for me, then I can bail and take care of myself. I missed seeing the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and The Basilica. I was trying to avoid a flare. It was easier to decide to stay at the hotel because I knew I would be coming back to Italy in a few weeks and will have another chance to see it then. I also missed the papal mass with the pope, but I wasn’t dying to go to that. I had to take pain meds for 3-4 of the days. And I guess I am going to start taking them again today, so two flares in 2 weeks is definitely not normal. But that’s ok. I got many good days and had some amazing experiences. Therapy has helped me accept that I don’t get good days all day every day any more, but that means that some days for some time during the day, I am having amazing experiences. A lot of this is expectation setting with yourself, and acceptance that you don’t become a superhero because you aren’t home anymore. The same limitations you have everyday follow you on vacation. So don’t lie to yourself and then get bummed out when your body does exactly what it always does.
  9. Pay for the upgraded seats, whenever you can. I’m dreading my flight to Italy with my husband and kids because we are flying coach. (Oh the horror!) My mom flew us business class – which had the lay-flat seats (thank you again, momma!). Business class for our upcoming trip is $11k per ticket. 😂😂😂 Abso-fucking-lutely not. But for someone with cervical dystonia and occipital neuralgia, overseas flights sleeping upright is a recipe for disaster. So we’ll see how it goes….I’ve planned minimal things for us the first day or so. We are going to Venice first.
  10. Bring a Sherpa….aka your husband or someone who can help carry things during the days, lift your luggage, etc. My husband is a must bring!

Ok that’s all I got for ya! What am I missing? What are your recommendations? Any suggestions for my next trip to Italy as a differently-abled body?

Ciao, ciao!

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