10 tips for thriving on long road trips with a chronic illness

April 18, 2024

Over the last eleven years of blogging here at Caravan Sonnet, I have been so humbled and blessed to share about so many different travel experiences. In sharing about traveling, I naturally started discussing practical tips on how to travel with a chronic illness due to my health issues

These posts have ranged from general tips (like my post on 5 important tips or traveling with a chronic illness) to specific tips on enjoying different Disney parks with a chronic illness (Magic Kingdom HERE and Animal Kingdom HERE), or why you should stay at a Disney Resort if you have a Chronic Illness to one of my most popular posts of all time-10 tips for cruising with a chronic illness

These posts are always popular because no matter whether you are struggling with an illness or not you want to grab hold of life and soak up every moment. Perhaps illness in a strange way becomes a gift that teaches us to value the moments and the memories more than if sickness had never entered our worlds.
As I have healed my travels have been able to expand into planning some amazing road trips that have been incredible work opportunities and personal highlights of my life that I will treasure forever! In 2017, I took an amazing girls road trip starting in Boston, went through Maine, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. It was incredible. In that trip I drove approximately 30 hours (something that is beyond incredible considering over two years ago I still couldn't drive more than 20 minutes!), saw 3 Canadian provinces and visited 22 cities and towns along the way. It was a whirlwind to say the least and amazing. 

Four years ago, in the summer of 2018, I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend 9 incredible days out in Alaska on an amazing Alaskan Road Trip (you can read all about it HERE) and then in the summer of 2019 I spent another week out in Alaska on a second Alaskan Road trip , which was an amazing girls road trip back to Alaska in different parts which you can read all about HERE

In 2020 (prior to the pandemic shutdown) my mom and I returned home from a special New England Winter Road Trip through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine which was incredible. Since then we have taken several more road trips which I have shared about on the blog and are about to embark on one next week!
Yet, even as I plan, I have traveled enough while I had been fighting for my health to know that you don't "leave" your sick body and automatically get a "new one". I do a ton of preparation behind the scenes for all major trips that no one sees, but have still walked away learning some important lessons that I now take into each road trip.

Traveling - and a road trip especially- does takes a risk and a courage- especially when you don't feel well, but if you are like me and wanting to live despite being sick... if you want to grab onto your experiences and live bigger than your world of illness is allowing you to, than I am applauding you and encouraging you! Here are 10 Tips for Thriving on a Long Road Trip with a Chronic Illness. I hope that these will help you in your next adventure!

1. Prepare As Much As Possible Ahead of Time
While many people may pack the week before (or the day before) a road trip, it is wise to spend time preparing and packing as much as possible in the weeks ahead. While there are certain items that you may not be able to pack till the last minute (i.e. different meds with insurance regulations), doing as much as you can ahead of time will relieve the stress of waiting till the last minute will help your body. Preparing ahead allows you to really think about each item that you want to bring and also allows you to have the time to make sure that you have all of your medications, supplements, etc. 

 Preparing ahead also gives you a beautiful gift I have found. It really allows you to look ahead at the fun opportunity coming up, discuss with your travel companions the upcoming fun ahead of you, and if you are struggling with treatment or sickness, help you to look outside the difficult and painful days that you are having.
2. Try to Alternate Driving with Someone Else
Unfortunately on two of the major road trips I have taken so far (through MaineNew BrunswickPrince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia and the 2018 Alaskan Road Trip) the girl that traveled with me didn't have her license so it wasn't possible to alternate at all driving with her. I realize looking back that her taking the time to get her license for the trips would have been a real gift because I don't think there was a consideration of how taxing that can be on anyone (healthy or not) to drive the entire time... but I don't regret those trips at all because of the beautiful experiences and I choose to pursue them and am so so glad that I did.

In an ideal situation though, alternating the driving hours with another person would be the best case scenario. Try to mix up the hours and trade off and on. 

This keeps you more "fresh" and not only allows you to see more of the world that you are driving through, but it also allows your body to get a much needed rest from concentrating on the road and driving well. In addition to this it allows your body to "move" a bit more and not be in one position the entire time of your road trip. 

3. Be Realistic About What You Can and Can't Do
When you are planning your trip you will want to be realistic about what you can and can't do. My mom and medical team (whom I used to run everything by before any trip) were always kind and compassionate sounding boards gently saying sometimes, "do you think that you can realistically do this?". While I could have chosen to be offended by their words, I instead knew that they were coming from someone who knows that my heart wants to go on that 10 mile hike up to the top of Denali, camp out and do it all again the next day plus drive nine hours to our next location all in a span of 48 hours... but my body is just not physically able to. Take the time to be realistic about what you can and can't do and you will end up enjoying your road trip a lot more than if you try to pack if full of things you can't do right now. 

I say "right now" because... it doesn't mean you will never be able to do them it just means maybe right now you can't. It doesn't mean that in the future you can't go back to a place and fit in the twenty additional things you want to do. I know for me personally there were a lot of things on the first trip to Alaska that I wished I could do but couldn't, but then a year later I was so excited to do them! My best advice is to come to peace with where you are at and start a bucket list for a return trip.*smiles*

4. Plan Your Activities Wisely
Following along with #3, make sure to plan your activities wisely. Think about the timing of the things you want to do and what times are best for you in the day. Think about the amount of energy each activity will take and how that will look in your overall road trip adventure. For our road trip MaineNew BrunswickPrince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia I walked away feeling extremely happy with the planning that I had done to alternate between activities that used a lot of energy to activities that didn't, knowing that I would be driving the entire time and that in itself was a big activity. I also found that this allowed me to fully enjoy the road trip and also created treasured times of spontaneity. 

For example... on our second day of our MaineNew BrunswickPrince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia road trip we were traveling from Camden, Maine to St. Andrews-By-The-Sea, New Brunswick. It was about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive. We got up early in the morning and after a yummy breakfast at the Lord Camden Inn, we spent time walking around Camden (which is adorable!), driving through gorgeous Maine into Canada and then in St. Andrews-By-The-Sea we explored the Kingsbrae Gardens, walked around downtown St. Andrews, and drove across the ocean floor to Minister's Island. In addition to that I saw this beautiful little lake in Maine during our drive and said to my friend, "Ali! Let's go see it!", which we did. The day was full, but all of the activities were low stress on my body and it was a completely relaxing and fun-filled day, which energized me for the entire trip! 

In 2019 as I was planning for Alaska there were so many more activities that I am excited to do and explore- specifically more hiking! This energized me because I was healing more, but five years ago it would have energized my heart, but not my body. Only you know what energizes you and doesn't. Taking the time to plan your activities wisely will ensure that you have fun, not just for one day, but for the entire trip.

5. Plan, Prepare, and Pack All of Your Medications, Supplements, Etc.
One of the things that can take a lot of time in preparing for a road trip is planning, preparing and packing all of your medications, supplements, etc. Honestly it can take a bit of maneuvering (and a lot of patience) to make sure that you have all of your meds before your trip. As much as it is possible try to let your doctors know in advance that you will be going on a trip and that you will need meds (and extra meds depending on your situation) for the duration of your vacation. 

I can't encourage you enough to work on this ahead of time as some medications can only be purchased with insurance at certain intervals so you will want to work this out with your doctor and insurance company. Also, if you are flying to a place before you start your road trip check with the airline as some airlines require that your medications are in the original containers not just in random pill containers.

Don't forget to pack all of your supplements and any other alternative meds you might use for your situation. I don't like wrapping my supplements and vitamins in aluminum foil, but for traveling I have found it so helpful to pack my pills in aluminum foil already separated out for the times that I take them. (For example: breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning snack, evening, midnight, etc.) Having my pills already prepared allows me to easily have my supplements available and also allows me not to bring along my hundreds of supplement bottles. In addition this saves me time in the mornings as I just pick up what I need for the day and head on out!
6. Plan Your Travel To and From the Road Trip Wisely
If you are flying someplace to start your road trip then plan this travel portion out carefully. The last thing that you want to do is exacerbate your symptoms or start off or end your road trip on the wrong foot. Think through your travel plans carefully so that you can fully enjoy every minute of your trip!
7. Make Use of Assistance if You Need It
Many places along the way will have "assistance" in various forms if you need it. This could be at the airport, or a hotel, or even just making use of your handicap tag. Sometimes the reality when traveling is that travel itself can create a lot of stress and strain on those who are chronically ill. You can spend a lot of energy walking, standing and waiting, and pain trying to get your bags, yourself, etc. in and out of the car. Making use of assistance can be a blessing and something to consider if you need it. 
8. Set the Tone of Your Limitations Early
I have shared this story many times here on the blog, but on my first cruise I wanted to "get away from sick world" and asked my friend not to share that I was ill. Let me be honest- I hate being the center of attention so in some ways this worked fabulously to allow me to "get away", but it also created a ton of awkward situations and eventually led me to apologizing for not being up front more with my health to the new friends I made on the cruise as they were apologizing to me for not knowing!

I am not suggesting that you can't have a vacation "away" from your fight for your health, but I am suggesting that you can quietly set the tone for your boundaries. I remember on the first road trip that there was a day near the end of the trip where I was driving 9 hours, I was exhausted, and I was trying to find our way out of Halifax. A suggestion of music was offered and I just said I couldn't do it. I am sure it was surprising and confusing to understand, but my body was extremely tired and trying to navigate a new city and still had about 7 hours of driving left of the day. I knew in that moment that I couldn't have music as I was trying to listen to directions. Maybe for you it will be something different. Whatever it is, your true friends will be understanding and extremely encouraging. 

Also... laugh. Just laugh. Fill the days with grace and laughter leading up to and on your trip. 
So speak up to those around you, embrace the grace, and laugh. It's a treasured thing you won't regret. *smiles*
9. Expect Difficult Times and Have a Backup Plan
It can be hard when you are cruising to accept that sometimes your body might struggle and have difficult times or days. I am sure so many of us have heard- "just think positively and you will have a wonderful trip-you won't feel pain or sickness at all". That would be awesome, but the reality is that many times we will experience pain or sickness because we are still in our bodies. That is okay! 

Don't let times of sickness and pain ruin your road trip. Last fall on the final morning of our New England and Canadian road trip I twisted to lift my big suitcase on to the bed to pack things up and something snapped in my lower back and I immediately couldn't move. Now my lower back has always been a tender area in this journey (due to being bedridden and not able to walk for a while) so I am typically extremely sensitive to this, but this was beyond that. After seven days in the car driving, in one position (no matter all of the stretches and breaks we took), my back just decided it was done. Unfortunately this meant that we weren't able to see the final thing we were going to and I had to drop my friend off at the airport a few hours early so I could drive the five hours home immediately. 

At the time it was hard and there were a lot of tears, but one thing I had to remember was all that I had been able to do and all that we had done in the last six days. As I drove home I started thinking about all of the amazing things I had seen, all that I had been able to do, and all that my body had been able to do. It was humbling. What may have looked like a "typical or normal vacation" to many people was the highlight of many days for me. So when you encounter something similar don't grow discouraged. 

Accept your limitations, cry if you need to, find the joy in the day and the time, and have a backup plan. Take some extra time to rest and relax and get down to the bare necessities of what has to be done- even if this means altering your original plans. Most importantly, take a deep breath. Nothing is ruined in the long-term scheme of life- keep the joy and faith, even in the difficult times and treasure the memories.
10. Try to contact some restaurants and your lodging ahead of time about Food Allergies
Many people dealing with a chronic illness also deal with a myriad of food allergies. Even though on a road trip there is typically always some sort of food place around... the food that is available might not be something that you can eat. While I love planning things out for a road trip, I also love being spontaneous and fun and detouring and seeing other things if the opportunity arises. So what I typically do is contact the places I am staying at and ask them for a recommendation or two of a restaurant in the area that is sensitive to food allergies. If the website doesn't then answer my questions I will then call the restaurant and discuss with them personally. I really haven't had to much trouble so far and don't anticipate any in the future. It may take a bit of extra planning but its worth it so that you don't waste any time on your trip dealing with a food allergy reaction! 

I hope that these 10 tips have been helpful for thriving on a long road trip with a chronic illness! If you are looking for tips for long road trips in general you may find my post 10 Tips and Tricks for Long Road Trips to be helpful! You can find it HERE! If you are looking specifically for more tips on traveling with a chronic illness you can click on the links below:

I hope you find these tips very helpful! Happy Thursday friends! I hope you have a wonderful day! 

**All pictures in this post are from our time at Peggy's Cove which you can read about HERE. This was one of my absolute favorite stops on our MaineNew BrunswickPrince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia road trip! **

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