Travelling can be difficult at the best of times, but when you have a disability or a health issue to contend with as well as your luggage, different cultures, language and everything else, it can be really challenging. People can be unsympathetic and dismissive, especially if your disability or health issue is not visible.
I am partially disabled after a (happy) accident 21 years ago which left me with limited use of my right arm and hand. I also lose the use of my arm every day – it freezes up and is immobile for minutes or hours – which restricts what I can do.
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For some reason, my arm locks up on virtually every flight I go on, so I try to get a window seat on the right-hand side of the plane to prevent getting bashed by anyone sitting next to me. I do not let this stop me from travelling even though when I am travelling alone I can have issues carrying things, opening doors, eating etc, in fact, it spurs me on to travel more.
I am not the only person travelling with a health issue, so I reached out to some of my blogger friends to find out how they cope with health problems and disabilities when travelling. Their stories will hopefully inspire anyone who thinks they cannot travel with their disability or health issue.
Table of Contents
Travelling with a Health Issue or Disability
Jenn Coleman from Coleman Concierge
I have always been an outdoorsy girl. Adventure and exploration were more than activities for me; they were part of my identity. I was devastated to learn that I needed a bilateral knee replacement at 26. I fought against the surgery with yoga and exercise, but at almost 40, I had to go under the knife and have my left knee replaced.
Literally, on the way to the hospital to get my right knee replaced, I got into a major car accident that postponed the surgery for another year. During that time, I met Ed, the love of my life, who shared my passions. We lucked into a Havasu Falls hiking permit, and I was determined not to let my disability keep me from my identity.
During my battle with my knees, I learned the special ways of my body. I created a detailed Havasu Falls packing list that, combined with a lot of pluck and perseverance, allowed me to complete the trip. I was determined to make the hike myself, no packs on mules or helicopter ride down. That wasn’t who I was. I carried my own load 10 miles down and ten miles back with my new left knee and righty waiting for surgery.
I had to start early in the morning and return late at night. I used planning to overcome physicality. Fighting off the operation for so long left me with no fast-twitch muscles and very little proprioception. I needed to use hiking poles on the downhill to keep balance. I should be a brand ambassador for Ibuprofen, however even 800 milligrams of “Vitamin I” can’t help you with the midday desert sun. My slow pace made us the first to leave the trailhead and the last to arrive at camp, but we made it. I refused to let my disability define me.
Read more by Jenn at Coleman Concierge
Seanna Fallon from Seanna’s World
Living with Complex PTSD doesn’t define me and it certainly doesn’t stop me from living a life of adventure. Over the last few years, I’ve done an Arctic expedition, camping for 2 weeks in -30 degree temperatures, I’ve trekked through the rainforest in Sumatra, hiked through the desert in Israel, galloped on horseback through the jungle in Belize.
I’ve done most of these things alone, or with groups of people I barely know. You could say I’m living my best life and from the outside my condition isn’t obvious.
But it definitely isn’t easy, and sometimes I’d rather not travel at all. If I could get all the money back from trips I had booked, looked forward to and then bailed out of because of my mental illness, I could probably go travelling for several months.
When I am travelling, I’m triggered easily. I often find pretty fundamental travel situations hard to deal with. A man being slightly flirty, or touching my arm in a friendly way can disregulate my nervous system so much that I’m an absolute mess for the rest of the day. Surreal experiences (as travel situations are) can trigger my psychosis and making mistakes, like getting on the wrong train can crush my self-esteem.
My head is a hard place to be at the best of times, but travel holds a magnifying glass up to all of these things.
But it’s worth it. For every emotional struggle, there is a sunrise mountain climb. For every fear that holds me back, there is a stunning national park waiting to be explored.
And living with my illness means I have all the more gratitude for the adventurous life I’m leading.
Read more by Seanna at Seanna’s World
Gemma Goodman from Little Miss Gem Travels
My name’s Gemma and I run the travel blog Little Miss Gem Travels – it’s dedicated to part-time travel, using weekends and annual leave to explore the world. Focus is on city breaks and the discovery of small, independently run businesses that give a place a sense of history and character.
At the age of sixteen, I was diagnosed with Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine that affects the whole body as it pushes your torso out of shape. Scoliosis is a condition that effects everyone differently, no two people with have the same degree of curvature or experience the same level of pain.
After having spinal fusion surgery in 2007, three weeks in hospital, six months off work and almost a year of recovery, I slowly came to the realisation that it was possible for me to live my life without being in pain every day.
Scoliosis is a huge part of my life, having major spinal surgery was the best decision I ever made, and travel is now one of my main priorities, something that would never have been possible all those years ago.
Travel has become a huge passion of mine over the last few years, but it is physically challenging, which is why I love to use my blog to prove that the world can still be explored even with physical limitations.
Read more on Gemma’s blog Little Miss Gem Travels
Sassy Wyatt from Blind Girl Adventures
Travelling when blind seems redundant to a lot of people. How do you get around safely if you can’t see where you’re going? And sight-seeing, isn’t that kind of pointless?
Although sight is the primary sense of taking in the world around you; the smell of the crisp yet salty sea air, hearing people converse in their native tongue, and tasting the rich, textured and flavourful delicacy allows me to experience and appreciate the world around me, just in a different way.
I always take walking tours hosted by local tour guides, it gives me time to ask plenty of questions but more than that, I learn about a city or town’s history, their architecture and even their traditions just by being present. I might not be physically able to absorb the beauty with my eyes, but I can feel the cobbles under my feet as I did in Ghent, imagine the brightly coloured cubed buildings balancing atop each other like I did in Rotterdam and learn even more history than I knew in Trentino.
Blindness isn’t my only disability though, it’s actually a secondary condition to my chronic illness arthritis. And this is where travel truly becomes tough for me, I have to remember not to push myself too hard, even when I want to see and do all the things when I travel, sometimes the pain and exhaustion overrides any exploring or activity I want to participate in.
From a practical standpoint, there isn’t much I can do except take hire doses of my medication and rest as much as possible. I’m lucky that the medication I’m on gives me far more mobility and pain-free days than I had in my childhood.
So yes, blindness brings its own set of challenges when it comes to travelling but it’s the extortionate travel insurance, medical certificates and doctors notes, and of course, the paperwork and vaccinations bringing a guide dog along that make travel complex and convoluted when travelling as a disabled person.
However, I won’t let that stop me. For as long as I have the passion and curiosity to travel, it’s something I plan to do until I am no longer a part of this world.
Read more from Sassy on her blog Blind Girl Adventures.
Natalia from Something of Freedom
Travelling with endometriosis comes with a lot of challenges. One of the biggest challenges for me personally is pain management. In many countries we visit my pain medication (Co-codamol) is illegal, which means I often don’t have access to one of the most reliable sources of pain relief.
As a result, I’ve had to find alternative ways to deal with the pain. The most effective thing I’ve found so far is using a hot water bottle. There are some days when that isn’t enough, but getting plenty of exercise and eating healthily also help to keep the pain to manageable levels.
Another major challenge I face due to the condition is fatigue. My love of travel means I want to see as much as possible in each destination, but because of my endometriosis, this isn’t always possible. Some days I just don’t have the energy to be active, and so I have no choice but to spend the majority of the day in bed. To combat this my partner and I travel at a slower pace to make sure I have time to rest when needed, but also have enough time to see everything we want to!
Although the past few years have been difficult travelling with endometriosis, know that it’s still possible to travel with this chronic illness. Sometimes this means looking for alternative therapies or changing the way you travel, but it’s still 100% worth it to be able to see more incredible places around the world.
Read more from Natalia at Something of Freedom
Naomi from Probe Around the Globe
Travel with Crohn’s disease is literally a pain in the bum. I can never go anywhere, without wondering where the nearest toilet is and if it would be safe to stuff my face with the delicious foods you’ll find when travelling. However, this worry has not stopped me from travelling all over the globe, from Mongolia, to Iran and Bolivia and around Europe.
Crohn’s disease is an auto-immune disease that cannot be cured. This chronic illness will stay with me for the rest of my life, so I decided to adapt my life slightly, to still leave room to travel. I adapted my travel style and found a way to balance my trips to enjoy them, despite my illness.
For example, I rather take the train than fly, because it leaves more room to move around and go to the bathroom. I take breaks in the middle of the day or even take a nap, to have enough energy to do all the things I want to do. And I diligently take my medication, even across different time zones to not skip a dose.
I’m not going to pretend it is all unicorns and rainbows. Often it is shitty and messy and I’m exhausted 9 out of 10 trips. But to me, it is still worth it and I love to travel, even with Crohn’s disease.
Read more of Naomi’s travel on her blog Probe Around the Globe
Ali Garland from Ali’s Adventures
Travel is my biggest passion, and despite dealing with a chronic illness, I travel multiple times a year. I’ve lived with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease that affects my colon since I was 18 years old.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve realized that certain foods affect me more than others, so I’ve worked on reducing those foods. I limit the amount of gluten, dairy, eggs, beans, and corn I eat, and that really helps. Such a strict diet is obviously easier to deal with when I’m at home, but I don’t let it stop me from travelling.
Luckily I can be flexible, but being careful about what I eat when I’m on the road definitely helps keep things in check. In addition to prescription medication I take daily, I also started taking probiotics a few years ago, which seems to have improved my condition, so I always bring those when I travel.
Colitis is not a fun disease – in fact, it’s one that has landed me in the hospital several times, including once when I needed several blood transfusions – but by paying attention to what I eat and always travelling with plenty of medication and probiotics, I have found a way of coping that works for me and still allows me to see the world. Whether it’s a short weekend trip or three months away, I don’t let colitis stop me.
Read more by Ali on Ali’s Adventures
Faith Coates from XYU and Beyond
Hi, I’m Faith and I am a “mature” traveller that doesn’t mean I’m old and wise sometimes just old. I have several conditions that make travelling difficult. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjogrens (which the fabulous tennis player Serena Williams suffers from), along with Diabetes.
The nerve damage from RA has affected my feet and I find it very difficult to walk and my balance is compromised. I have to take care to ensure that access to various sites I want to see is easy enough for me to manage. This, unfortunately, makes some places virtually inaccessible. I also get fatigued very easily and find I can only manage about 4 hours site seeing before I need to rest.
I often can’t do a town walk or a food tour because 4-5 hours of walking is just not possible and that really annoys me. I’ve tried to push myself to do them because I love learning from locals and trying foods from every country. It’s hard to come to terms with this on some days as it feels like my inability to walk is a character weakness and not “real”.
The real disadvantage of a “hidden” disability is that you appear lazy, or it is blamed on the fact that you are fat and you aren’t taken seriously. Oh and don’t get me started on packing light when half your carry on suitcase is stuffed with medications lol.
I’m very lucky though as a dual citizen of both Canada and Ireland I have the best of both worlds and as a house sitter, I have been able to travel places in Europe that I never thought I would get to see. My husband and I have created a base in Ireland and we travel to various house sitting jobs and because they are generally longer-term as in 3 weeks or more we get to travel at a much more leisurely pace. This makes travelling with hidden disabilities much easier.
Read more on Faith’s Blog XYU and Beyond
Nabiha Khan from Verses by a Voyager
A major part of travelling is meeting new people and communicating, especially when you travel solo. As I stammer, verbal communication isn’t my favourite thing to do.
During travelling, there are multiple occasions when speaking is important especially when asking strangers for directions, guidance or trying to make new friends while on the road.
I have always faced difficulty in doing so as I do not speak very fluently. New people often find it difficult to understand when I speak. However, with time I have learnt to overcome my stammering. I take my time before speaking up and make sure I get comfortable and then speak to new people.
Sometimes, when I look forward to having long conversations with a stranger, I tell them upfront that I stammer. By doing so they show more diligence and patience while listening to me and I feel more comfortable as I can take my time and speak to them. Interaction with new people is an important aspect of travelling and I am learning to overcome my stammer and enjoy interacting with strangers.
Read more from Nabiha at Verses by a Voyager
Ashley Hubbard from Wild Hearted
Travelling can be scary for anyone but as someone battling mental illness, it’s an entirely different ballgame. As mental illness portrays itself in countless different ways, travelling can either help these issues or make them worse. Even more complicated – it can help sometimes and make it worse for others with no rhyme or reason it seems.
I’m 33 years old and have lived with anxiety and depression since high school and through several traumatic events in my life, it has escalated and I now also suffer from PTSD. I find that travelling helps with mine though – when I’m experiencing new things and places, I’m able to not think about a lot of the things that feed my anxiety and depression.
When I’m home and have time to be comfortable, those thoughts and feelings creep up more. However, there are moments during travelling such as getting my open water diving certification when all of my anxiety and PTSD came rushing to the foreground and I had to deal with right then and there in a foreign country doing something extremely foreign to me.
I’ve found that guided meditations, skipping the caffeine, deep breathing exercises, and finding a good travel pace and balancing city life and nature help me personally.
Read more on Ashley’s blog Wild Hearted
Danielle Lawson from Live in 10 Countries
Feeling the urge to explore the world? There’s nothing quite like it. But it’s true that if you have a disability, you might not find it easy to access support or have the adaptations you need in some destinations unless you plan ahead.
For me, long term travel with an invisible disability was best when I worked in a supportive field – one where co-workers had specialist training and knew that there don’t have to be barriers. When I headed off to Australia on an over 30 visa, I worked in disability support and was able to juggle hours around how well I was feeling.
Another place that had its own challenges was Iceland. Though it’s a stunning country, public transport is limited and I’m not always able to drive. Luckily, you can get around Reykjavik easily without driving and book coach tours from there that’ll take you straight to some of the biggest attractions.
My biggest advice would be to do research – especially talking to other travellers with disabilities – before you hit a new place, that way you’ll never be caught out.
Read more from Ashely on Live in 10 Countries
Alison Fay from Alison Fay.com
I have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, which is an immunological condition where the body reactions to things, sort of like being allergic to everything. Reactions affect the whole body as well as being more allergic-type reactions including anaphylaxis. I also have mobility issues and rely on walking aids and wheelchairs to get around.
Travelling takes a lot of planning, and research to minimize the risk I have a reaction and can access places. I do things like wearing an N99 Mask, book accessible accommodation with kitchen access. Due to how little I can eat, eating out is awkward so the kitchen is a must.
Sometimes I wonder if I should quit, and stay in the safety of my own home where it doesn’t feel like the world is trying to kill me, but I try to remind myself of times where I persevered and came through. E.g. In Scotland, I took a boat to Lunga, to see puffins and during this boat ride I discovered I’m allergic to seawater, and I had to crawl to get up the top of the cliffs at Lunga as the island is not wheelchair accessible.
So I could very easily quit travelling, and allow myself to become trapped in the safety of my home but travelling keeps me going, so when I feel like quitting, I just remind myself of how awesome it was to see those puffins and many of the other awesome things I’ve experienced.
Read more on Alison’s blog, AlisonFay.com
Sarah from Travel Breathe Repeat
I’m one of only a few thousand people in the world who have been diagnosed with the progressive lung disease lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). I have cysts all over my lungs which make it hard for me to breathe with very minimal exertion (like one flight of stairs).
My oxygen levels decrease at high altitudes, so I must use an oxygen machine when I fly or visit certain places. I also experience chest pain and, more rarely, crippling fatigue. All of these things make travelling a little different, and sometimes a little more difficult, for me.
But in fact, being diagnosed with LAM – an incurable disease that often proves fatal – inspired me to live for every day, every minute, every breath.
Since my diagnosis in 2010, I’ve visited over 50 countries and spent a full year on the road. With my husband and my trusty portable oxygen concentrator by my side, I’ve gone on safari in Botswana, road-tripped in New Zealand and Australia, been north of the Arctic circle, visited the temples at Ankor Wat in Cambodia, and touched elephants in Thailand.
It hasn’t always been easy – flying with oxygen can be complicated, worrying about getting sick far from my doctors can be scary, and needing full days to rest after too much sightseeing can be discouraging. But it’s worth it. Seeing the world has been the most effective way I’ve coped with having this disease and an unknown prognosis. And I can’t wait to see more.
Read more of Sarah’s travels on Travel Breathe Repeat
Jillian Michelle from Adventure Dragon
It’s difficult to consolidate all my health diagnoses into one pretty package because there are so many of them. I’ve had 13 total intestinal surgeries, including having my entire large intestine and rectum removed and replaced with an ostomy bag.
I’ve also spent over an entire year without a single bite of food to eat after surgery complications required that I receive all my daily calories directly through a vein in my arm instead of by mouth. Aside from dreams of cheeseburgers, my thoughts were filled with longing for faraway destinations that I would probably never be able to reach, and the entire concept for my blog was born out of the determination to not let my dreams go to waste.
To fulfil my goals of travelling to other countries, I crafted a stuffed animal to serve as a sort of surrogate to send overseas in my place. A character of my own creation and the symbol of my blog, he’s a tiny kitten who wears a dragon disguise and calls himself Dragon.
I wanted a mascot that could symbolize my own ambitions and struggles in life, so it was important for him to be small and frail while simultaneously projecting strength and resilience. That’s the reason for his disguise. He’s just a tiny kitten, but he believes he’s a dragon. Dragon travels the world with family, friends, and other bloggers who volunteer to take him on adventures to magical places.
Through being sick, I’ve also discovered a newfound appreciation for visiting destinations near my own backyard. I never used to have much desire to travel around my home country, wishing instead to fly far away to distant lands, but since my doctors haven’t cleared me for international travel, I’ve learned to adapt and experience the world from a new perspective.
I tend to spend more days hospitalized than at home, so I’ve needed to find places close to my house to satisfy my craving for wanderlust. This soul-thirsting need for exploration is how I found lesser-known, quirky places like fairytale town Helen Georgia, located just an hour away from my home in Atlanta. The world is truly a beautiful place, and I’ll never let anything stop me from fully embracing it!
Read more of Jillian and Dragon’s adventures from Adventure Dragon
Gigi Griffis of Vicious Foodie
I’m Gigi—a location-independent writer currently traveling around Europe with my partner and my pint-sized pooch. I’m a riot of mental health diagnoses. Depression. Anxiety. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In 2011, in the midst of one of the toughest depressive episodes of my life, I quit my job to freelance full time. A year later, I hit the road as a digital nomad—boarding a plane for Europe with my ESA (Emotional Support Animal) pup on a one-way ticket. I figured that if I was going to be depressed, I’d rather do it in the Scottish Highlands or the French Riviera.
For me, travel presents some challenges, yes (having an emotional flashback on a remote hiking trail by myself was less than fun, for example). But travel has also helped me manage my mental health, set better boundaries, slow down, and stop beating myself up so much about mental and physical symptoms I can’t always control.
I do hope that this article has inspired you to travel despite having a health issue even introduced you to some new bloggers to follow. Let me know if you have travel and blog with a disability or health problem and I can include you in my next post on disability.