Having any illness or disability while traveling adds a bit of difficulty to your journey, each in its own way. With lupus, overexertion, stress, forgetting to take medicine, and joint pain are my hurdles. Gladly, I took control of my health and found success in balancing both travel and lupus management. Here are my secrets:
1. Set an Alarm
You’d think after 12 years of taking this medicine I’d be used to it. Nope, not me. Everyday I wake up ready to take over the world with my medicine on the bottom of my to-do list. Since I don’t have much of a routine when I travel, it is hard to remember whether or not I’ve taken meds that day. So now I have an alarm set. My phone alarm reminds me at 9:30pm everyday. It’s a good time for me because I’m usually finished eating dinner on a weekday and contemplating bed OR waking up from a late nap on a weekend, ready to take the night by storm.
2. Wear Sunscreen always
I’m really bad at this. Like REALLY bad. Most people of color grow up being told sunscreen is only for fair skinned people. We don’t usually burn, don’t usually tan, and don’t notice the difference anyway. Well, I was a tanner. In college I went through a phase where I would pour baby oil all over my body and fry my skin like sizzling fried chicken. That is until I went to the west coast and tried that trick after getting an exfoliating coconut massage. Yeah, I even burned MY LIPS. Anyway, the sun’s rays can really flare up lupus for some people, and it’ll age your skin faster anyway. When traveling, a lot of tourist attractions are at really high altitudes and will make you even more vulnerable to the sun, even in the winter! The last thing you want is a flare up and sunburn on your vacation.
3. Airline Exercises
As a traveler with lupus, I am more susceptible to blood clotting. Sitting on long flights does not help my chances, so I make sure I do a bit of exercise before flying to increase my blood flow. American Airlines’ American Way magazine offers these useful in-flight tips to increase blood circulation in your legs and feet as you sit:
- Ankle Circles (rotate your feet both left and right in circular motions)
- Foot pumps (lean on your heel and move the front of your foot up and down, as if you are pressing/releasing a gas pedal)
- Knee Lifts (keeping your leg bent, lift your thigh and point your knee towards the ceiling)
- Knee to Chest (with your leg bent, lift your thigh towards your chest)
4. Schedule Rest Days
As I shared in my post about traveling with lupus, I have become dedicated to rest days. Every 2-3 days I make sure I have an itinerary that accommodates my rest day. This means no tours, no partying, and lots of sleep, relaxation, and water.
5. Probiotics & Hydration
While abroad, the possibility of getting sick is pretty high considering the drastic changes to diet, schedule, and exposure to new bacteria. With an autoimmune disease like lupus, we are even more vulnerable. I’ve adopted the habit of using probiotics to help my gut flora and reduce chances of traveler’s diarrhea, as well as account for large amounts of water consumption during my trips. I really notice the difference in my daily health when I am well hydrated and not running to the bathroom around the clock.
Take advantage of those cheap, sort of shady international massage offers! Just don’t bring anything important other than the price you need to pay. In Cusco, Peru I was offered massages on every corner and thought it was just plain weird. That is, until I couldn’t take my aching body anymore and gave in. Best massage of my life! One hour for 10 bucks. So naturally I went back three more times throughout the duration of my stay. It really helped with my joint pain as I acclimated to the altitude.
7. Heat therapy
If you have an opportunity to visit hot springs or find a hostel that provides hot water, definitely indulge! I visited sulfur hot springs in Peru for $5 entry, and booked AirnBnB listings throughout South America that included hot water showers (a rarity). Heat therapy is great for relaxing muscles, releasing tension, and relieving stress.
8. Say, NO.
Sometimes you just have to say no to activities and trust that your travel companion or newfound friends will understand. I’ve learned that the hard way because I don’t know how to say “no”. I don’t like people viewing me as disabled or “the sick girl” so I push myself way too hard and get really sick, and then everyone looks at me like, “Why didn’t you just stay home and rest? Duh.” Well, now I am getting used to saying “No” and to be honest, the only thing that has changed is that I’m sick less often. Which I am happy with.
How do you manage your lupus or general health abroad?