Visiting foreign places, experiencing new cultures and broadening my horizon – that has always been my thing. When I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis back in 2011, though, I thought that my travel-times were over.
But I have always been resilient. Though others might say: stubborn. Which, in this case, was great. And so I was sure to find ways to pursue this passion nonetheless, all the while being careful to not end up in a third-world hospital with severe symptoms of a flare-up.
So far, I managed to do quite well, actually.
One of the factors to consider when traveling to foreign countries as an autoimmune sister is the heat, which can affect your body in different, not so pleasant ways.
Not only does heat trigger flare-ups for some people, there are also various symptoms that might be induced by the extreme external changes your body experiences such as increased fatigue, pain, dizziness, trouble sleeping, shortness of breath and headaches.
Naturally, there are no general rules and every person is different, but it’s good to know about some of these things before heading to a certain destination even if you end up not feeling any different at all.
Also, traveling to hot, exotic countries might not be in your priorities when you are struggling with autoimmune diseases. But heat can evidently also be a huge bummer when you are at home and summer just turns out to be more of an oven-experience than a breezy holiday. I mean, heat waves happen all the time.
Our fellow autoimmune sister Kristin already shared some valuable tips regarding autoimmune diseases and heat intolerance, so I will focus on how to deal with heat when you don’t have your usual box of tricks around you.
How to travel to hot countries: preparation
Research is key
When it comes to traveling with an autoimmune disease in general, doing proper research beforehand is crucial. Apart from knowing what the healthcare system at your destination is like, you have to check the climatic variations per region and season.
Another very important point linked to the hot climate is the water quality: I myself grew up being able to drink water from the tap and people used to the same luxury aren’t always aware that this is not the case for the bigger part of the world – hello, traveler diarrhea!
Consider your medication
There are several types of medication that can render you photosensitive.
In my case it was the Azathioprine, but some kinds of general antibiotics have this effect as well. This is something to consider when you plan to travel to hot countries since “hot” means lots of sun, ergo lots of UV rays on photosensitive skin.
Also, I happen to travel with medication that has to be kept cool all the time – that’s something to keep in mind as well.
The travel pharmacy
As a chronically ill person, having a well-equipped travel pharmacy is essential. Besides the usual things everyone needs, there are a few additional medications you should have for emergencies such as a general antibiotic and an antidiarrheal. For a detailed list of what is essential when traveling with an autoimmune disease, check out my personal travel pharmacy.
Pack some cooling aids
There are useful items like cooling (water-based) sprays you can definitely add to your travel gear. Or just towels that you can wet once you are at your destination – this helps keep the body temperature in check, especially when placed on your neck.
Choose the right clothing
While it’s tempting to only pack shorts and tank tops when you plan to travel to hot countries, you should aim for light breathable pants instead. The more you cover your body (with light-weight fabrics like linen), the less hard the sun rays will hit you.
That’s also super important when you take medication that renders you photosensitive. Sunscreen and hats are also a must!
How to travel to hot countries: the destination
You might assume that this is an obvious one, almost not worth mentioning. But the truth is, I myself struggle with this. At work, I always have a big bottle of water in plain sight on my desk that I aim to empty during the day.
But when I’m on the road, be it in a car or strolling through a city, I tend to forget. I even used to deliberately drink less when on longer car-trips as I feared I wouldn’t be able to find a toilet in time – I learned to just use nature and its bushes instead.
Depending on your destination, you will want to stock up on big bottles of water every time you get the chance. For one, because drinking water straight from the tap is unsafe in most hot destinations (again: research beforehand) and finding stores or supermarkets isn’t a matter of course everywhere you go.
Pay attention to what you eat
Here again, as a person suffering from an inflammatory bowel disease, I know what kind of food triggers my gut. But other than choosing the foods that you know will fuel your body as an autoimmune sister, you should aim for vegetables containing lots of water.
Beware, though: depending on your destination, you should always wash them first with your bottled water – raw veggies might have been in contact with unsafe tap water in restaurants. There are handy little bottles to buy in every adventure store with some kind of natural disinfectant product you can add to your water when washing greens.
Pick your outdoor-times wisely
Don’t go on that 15 mile hike in the middle of the day. Choose the hours early in the morning for hikes, and evenings for strolling through the city. Anything you do between noon and, say, 5 pm should be slow and non-tiring like chilling by the pool, the sea, wellness-stuff, restaurants and cafés, etc.
Know your body
Listen to your body and don’t push yourself. It is okay to plan lots of activities while visiting your dream destination but don’t sweat it (pun intended) when half of it can’t be done.
It’s better to enjoy a few things to the fullest than to do everything half-heartedly and end up needing a vacation after your trip just to recover.
I know that last point is sometimes hard to accept – I’ve been there and I still struggle with the listening-to-your-body-part when I’m traveling – but it is crucial. It’s part of the whole journey we face as chronically ill souls. But we are stronger-minded than the average person and nobody can take that from us, am I right?
I hope these tips are helpful if you decide to not let your disease hold you back on exploring the world. Feel free to comment what other tricks you know for traveling to hot countries while battling an autoimmune disease – I’m open to trying out new things myself!