Crohnie Travels: Navigating the World with Crohn's Disease
A blog on navigating the world with Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), including travel tips and lifestyle support. A nonprofit worker, voracious reader, lover of travel and journeys, woman of faith, and Crohnie of 21 years.
My entire blog Crohnie Travels is centered around one of the greatest loves of my life - travel. So how could I write a post about "travel burnout"? Like most things in life, sometimes you need a respite from what you love so you can recharge and rest, particularly if you live with an autoimmune disorder. I love my family, yet sometimes I need alone time. I love my daily workout, but sometimes my body needs rest more. I love travel, but sometimes I need to recharge and have a staycation.
I've been quiet on the blog because I've traveled for five weeks straight, all while 6 months pregnant and not sleeping well. Thankfully my IBD is maintaining, although I worry about tipping the balance. Here's how I'm taking care of myself on the handful of days I'm home between trips:
Let Others Help!
It's true in pregnancy, and it's certainly true with Crohn's / IBD. Sometimes we just need help. When the exhaustion sets in, the pain is intense, and the discomfort unending, we need to be able to let family, friends, and neighbors help. I know that's easier said than done. A well meaning friend could bring over a dish that she thought she saw you eat a couple of months ago, but now your system can't tolerate it. Be specific and clear. If a friend calls and offers to help, ask them to stop by the store and pick up some Ensure shakes, bananas, and/or other foods you can tolerate. Let your spouse pick up the slack, and don't let the guilt preventing you from accepting well-meaning offers of help. I've often felt guilty about my husband picking up extra chores, but because he's not traveling through the week like me, he has more energy to do so. He's also learned I have a hard time asking for help, so he tries to listen to my hinting, which is a weakness of mine I am working on!
Rest, rest, rest!
If you're living with an autoimmune disorder, you already know that rest is critical to health. Yet when a flare kicks in, quality sleep can be elusive. Too many nighttime cramps or trips to the bathroom can be disruptive to the restorative power of deep sleep. These past few weeks on the day or two that I've been home, I've slept as much as possible - setting up my room with all the sleep hygiene techniques, such as closed drapes, no blue lights or night lights, sleep mask, ear plugs, white noise, and comfortable pillows. Then during the day I work on my laptop from bed, staying elevated and encouraging ongoing slower days. The temptation to catch up on everything is strong, but your health is more important.
Can you afford (or have frequent flier miles for) an upgrade to business class or a bulkhead seat so you can get more sleep on that long flight? Or upgrade your hotel to an AirBnB with a kitchen so you can prepare all your meals instead of eating out? If at home, how about hiring a night doula for your baby or young child so you can have a week of interrupted sleep, or ask a trusted family member to stay with you awhile? Is there a supplement you stopped taking to avoid the extra expense? Whatever you can think of as a splurge, consider it! If you're on the verge of a flare, you may be able to avoid one by bringing in whatever resources are available and within your budget.
I'm going to go and try to take my own advice. Comment below with your tips to avoid travel burnout or a flare!
You can't click on a health site or blog these days without running across the glowing benefits for bone broth. You'd almost be convinced it's the cure to all ailments. Does it live up to the hype? Here's my two cents!
Bone broth has a ton of nutrients, including a great amino acid profile, and is easy to digest, making it perfect for us with IBD. Research shows it helps decrease inflammation in the body, helps heal the gut lining and can potentially even help reduce food sensitivities. And that's not even getting at its ability to help with joint inflammation and overall immune system health.
If you're reading this and thinking, wait, is bone broth different from chicken or beef broth/stock, check out this article to understand the difference.
The primary ingredient in bone broth is collagen, which is why I've chose to supplement with collagen in addition to my daily cup of bone broth. Over the past six months, I've noticed a huge difference in my skin, hair and nails. I even received a compliment from my hair stylist on how lush my hair is! I have actual strong nails for the first time in my life, rather than the broken/brittle ones I've always had. I can only imagine what's happening inside my body with strengthening my gut.
I recommend an organic, pasture-raised option for both. Here's a great recipe to make your own.
Be sure to check with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet. Crohnies unite!!
One of the most frequent questions I get is about how to travel with a flare. Check out the first part of my post, describing a trip to Scandinavia with a flare. Flying overseas made it worst and was extremely painful. I had not brought along a copy of my prescriptions in the haste of packing while dealing with the flare. So many issues right from the start!
Part II picks up with what happens when you're on the ground in a new city or country, all while flaring. Selecting the Right Accommodation - Do Your Homework!As I've written about in the past, make sure you've already lined up accommodations, as you don't want to be jetlagged in a new city and trying to find a hotel. Preferably you've followed advice from my earlier posts to book an apartment so you have access to a kitchen and possibly even an extra sleeping area.
Having a kitchen on hand allows Crohnie travelers to prepare their own foods in the privacy and comfort of their apartment, rather than having to face a new set of culinary adventures while flaring. As soon as I check into an apartment and unpack, my husband and I always head to the closest market, corner store, or grocery. Stock up on plenty of still water (you do NOT want to drink local water regardless of where you are as different mineral content can be hard on the GI system) as well as foods safe for you. That's personal preference, as IBD do's and don't's in the food realm are so personalized to our individual disease. For me, it's gobs of greek yogurt, gluten-free crackers, eggs, cheeses and protein bars. Get what works for you.
Make sure you don't get sparkling bottled water, which is very prevalent in the rest of the world. It will cause major bloating and discomfort!! If in doubt, ask the clerk. I can't tell you how many countries, I've had clerks say "Gas? Or no gas?" NO GAS!! Get still water. Trust me!!
Ideally, you will be able to enjoy breakfast in your apartment and return for lunch or even pack a picnic lunch if you're not flaring.
Eating in the privacy of your own apartment also allows for extra bathroom time. If your fellow travelers are itching to get to the next site or destination, make plans in advance on a meet-up time as well as a Plan-B if you are still not feeling up to it. Yes, this is the trip to go all-in and plan for phones set to allow texts and data, so you can communicate across your traveling group when separated. Contact your cell provider in the weeks before you leave to discuss plan options, most of which are quite affordable these days! Make sure the cell provider also coaches you on how to change various settings on your phone to ensure you don't go over on data (e.g., ensure your cellular data is set to "off" or only when on wifi). Almost all hotels, apartments and hostels have wifi with a password in the room or your check-in materials, although sometimes the signal is weak. Check the lobby or find out where the router is for a better chance of a solid signal. The pre-planning is worth it! A flaring traveler may not be up for keeping pace with the rest of the group. If you're able to split up with an easy way to keep in touch, you'll be more likely to make wiser decisions on when to rest and when to re-join.
Having an apartment with an extra sleeping space (many have sofa beds or extra bedrooms) also allows the flaring traveler to have extra privacy and space to rest without interrupting the rest of the family or friends group. Being able to close off the bedroom and nap extra hours while others catch up and enjoy the commons area and kitchen is ideal. Have a white noise app pre-loaded on your phone to drown out background noise.
Traveling while flaring comes with additional expense in my opinion, but it is well worth it. In some countries apartments can be found at similar rates as hotels. If you're the backpacking hostel type, splurge on a private room if available. Err on the side of hostels that cost a little more but have better amenities - you may feel better with air conditioning, a private bathroom (or shared with fewer people), a large kitchen, and a private or smaller room, rather than the mega-hostel sea of 40 bunk beds without air conditioning, massive commons bathrooms, and no public kitchen.
Plan for more use of public transportation, taxis/ubers, and less walking. Save your energy for enjoying the tourist sites rather than using it up to walk there and being too tired to enjoy it. Traveling while flaring, I've skipped climbing hundreds of stairs for a view point so I could rest while my husband enjoyed and brought back pictures for me. Prioritize your experience, and please be kind to yourself - don't worry if you can't see everything! Remind yourself you'll return one day.
Bathrooms, Medication, Physician/Hospital Access
I've already written extensively about many other topics relevant to traveling while flaring, including how to find bathrooms while traveling. Check out this post on bathrooms.
Contact your own insurance provider for coverage information while traveling and have lists of in-network providers with you. Be prepared with advice from the insurance on what to expect for pricing in-network and out-of-network. Consider taking out supplemental travel insurance, but be sure you have a travel agent or someone qualified to explain the plan.
Trust yourself. If you visit a medical facility and feel uncomfortable or spend a concerning amount of time explaining what Crohn's Disease is to the medical staff, ask to see a different provider, or worst case - leave (of course handling any payment owed) and start over. This isn't a time for niceties or doubt. I think all of us Crohnies can tell in just a couple of minutes with a health care provider how familiar they are with Crohn's.
What's Next for Part III?
Let me know what questions you have about traveling while flaring!