5 tips for travelling with fibromyalgia

Did I mention we’re going on our honeymoon? Did I?! In four weeks time we’ll be catching a plane to Vancouver and spending three weeks travelling across Canada, before spending a few days in New York and coming home.

The last time R and I went on holiday for more than a week was five years ago. We spent a week in France at a villa with a pool, then a week in Switzerland camping in the alps. It was effectively a two week holiday split in half to accommodate both of us and our differing holiday ideals. Those who know me will know which half was my choice, and I’m pretty sure those who don’t can take a good guess.

Our very different holiday dreams meant that finding a honeymoon we would both love equally was a challenge. I wanted to lie on a beach in Mauritius whilst R wanted to trek through the Himalayas. Neither of those were going to happen.

We pretty quickly settled on Canada. It’s one of the few places we have both wanted to visit, long before meeting each other. It’s a country with varied landscapes, lots to do, and it’s led according to strong, liberal, democratic values. To be honest, I’ll be impressed if we come back.

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We arrive on 13th April and we’re staying in a cabin in the woods on Vancouver Island, driving across the Rockies, getting a three-day train to Toronto, staying in Montreal, then hopping to New York before flying home. We’re both so unbelievably excited about every bit and are counting down the days.

But, before I get all carried away and dream of a world that is not mine, let’s be real. I’m a chronic pain sufferer after all and real is what we do best.

Travelling across a large country, stopping at six destinations and book-ending the holiday with a nine hour flight will inevitably take its toll. Packing up, travelling to the next destination, exploring, then doing it all again will be physically draining and I want to make sure I get as much out of the trip as I can.

As chronic pain patients we often talk about ‘saving our spoons’, conserving our energy and then trying to slowly release that energy to survive the fun times. Although not the most practical approach, it’s a lifestyle I live by. When the fun times are over, I rest and recover and start the whole process again.

But how do you save enough spoons to last for almost four weeks of fun times? Well, you don’t. You can’t. So instead, I’m choosing to use this four week lead up period to remind myself that my health can’t be picked up and put down depending on what’s going on in my life. I’m determined to travel with my health, not fight against it.

These are are the five rules I’ve set myself to make that happen:

#1: Pack lightly

Apparently the weather in Canada is a little unpredictable in April. It may snow, it may be glorious sunshine so “pack for all temperatures” was the advice I was given. My plan is to layer layer layer. I’m taking a small number of items that can be mixed and matched to create multiple different outfits; dresses that can be worn with long sleeves underneath or jumpers on top, skirts that work with bare legs and thermal tights, and black skinny jeans that go with absolutely everything. I refuse to lug around a bag full of things I never wear.

#2: Plan thoroughly 

Luckily this isn’t a problem for me, I’d be planning everything anyway. It’s not what spontaneous travellers want to hear, but if chronic pain is an issue then there are some things that you have to consider. Accommodation and its proximity to metro stations is important, as are making sure activities you need to book are interspersed with days you can rest. Try to roughly plan your route so that you’re not making it difficult for yourself unnecessarily. If you prefer to aimlessly wander then just go armed with a taxi number so you can be rescued if things get tough.

#3: Be sensible 

I am the Queen of Sensible. It bothered me as a youngster but I’ve come to terms with it and decided being sensible is excellent. (Good God, I sound like Lesley Knope!) I don’t get many wild party invites but I can plan a damn good relaxing weekend in a country cottage with cheese and wine and I’m okay with that. Travelling for me means being strong enough to be sensible and a promise to only destroy myself for things that are reeeeeally fun. When we went to Switzerland, R went off to climb a mountain whilst I lay in the sun reading my book and eating cheese. (I win.) When we went to South Africa, R went off to climb a mountain whilst I got the cable car to the top then sat in the sun reading my book and eating ice cream. Do you see a pattern? Sometimes I don’t want to sit and read though, sometimes I want to get involved and that means being sensible and deciding what I’m going to sacrifice and what I’m willing to endure to climb that mountain.

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#4: Gadgets 

There are things out there that make coping with chronic pain a bit easier. Travel pillows are useful for long haul flights, suitcases on four wheels mean there’s less pulling involved, eye masks to block out the light, Uniqlo magic jackets that are super light but keep you super warm (I just got one and I love it), stick on heat pads for your toes, light and foldable walking sticks, etc etc. Work out what your biggest challenges are, think about what would make them easier to manage, then Google.

#5: Medication 

Some people choose to manage their pain without meds. I am not one of those people. I will take whatever I need to take to keep me going and deal with the consequences later. (This is the less sensible side of my personality.) Get your prescriptions in plenty of time, buy as much over-the-counter pain meds as you need, get a travel-size medicine bag so you can decant into it each day and go into this feeling armed.

I honestly believe that if you take your meds, plan ahead and behave as sensibly as you can then your trip can be the holiday of a lifetime.

For those who want to hear how I get on in Canada, I’ll be updating my Instagram and Facebook regularly during the trip. I’m hoping to blog whilst I’m away but if that doesn’t happen, you can bet your painful bones I’ll be blogging about it on my return.


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