I want to be a travel writer. There, I said it. I want to live a life of exploration and new cultures and good food – and yet, as people keep telling me, I’m not meant to have those dreams. Because, you see, I have been living with Crohn’s disease all my life.
By Amy Aed
Diagnosed at the age of 14, after years spent in varying states of pain and confusion, I suddenly found myself dosed up on 16 tablets a day and dropping out of school to be home tutored. Between hospital visits and toilet breaks, I spent the ‘best years of my life’ seemingly locked in isolation, angry at my diagnosis and desperately sad that my lifelong dreams of having crazy adventures all over the globe had ended before they’d even begun. If I couldn’t even travel 15 minutes to get to school, how would I fare travelling day after day, scouring continents, eating food that could send my stomach into rebellion?
My passion for travel seeped through the seams of my everyday life, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t push the idea out of my mind.
Looking back on this attitude now, I am glad to say that I was wrong. My passion for travel seeped through the seams of my everyday life, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t push the idea out of my mind. Eventually, when I was slightly older, I gave in, and started travelling the world step by step, school holiday by school holiday.
Now, a ‘straight A’ student at university about to embark on a trip to Amsterdam, I feel like an advocate for travel – even with Crohn’s being part of everything I do. An autoimmune disease affecting my whole body, I am left with constant fatigue, malnutrition (a side effect of my ruined digestive system) and a bunch of other wonderful side effects.
Regardless, from my own experience I have found that it is possible to explore the world beyond our front doorsteps, even if it is a little trickier for those of us with disabilities. I don’t think that having a disability should stop anyone from doing anything – invisible, or not.
Know your limits
Before you do anything it’s important to know your limits. You shouldn’t try to push yourself past what your body can handle, as acting able can be more detrimental to your overall health than if you’d never set foot on the plane. I have learnt that since I can’t digest any form of dairy (along with hundreds of other things), that I shouldn’t go eating cheese on sticks just because I feel as if I’m in some kind of immortal paradise. Regardless of what you do, you should always be aware of just how much strain your body can deal with.
Learn simple phrases, or write them down
Phrases such as “No milk or butter please” or “Where is the bathroom?” can prove to be so important. I have found that hotel workers and waiters are often of great help when it comes to this, as – especially in more tourist-borne countries – they are able to translate phrases in a way that a local chef would understand.
Locals try to help
Despite the language barrier local people are usually more than happy to help you out; we all want to be heroes in some form after all. Debilitating illnesses, ‘invisible’ or not can be very isolating and it’s always good to know that wherever you are, someone will usually be there to try to understand.
Beware of potential triggers
Especially for people with digestive problems, tap water in countries like Turkey or Greece could set you off due to the mineral content being so unfamiliar to your body. I have to drink and brush my teeth with bottled water in a lot of countries, as the smallest impurity sets me off. Be mindful that if small triggers like this are also a problem for you, that restaurants will wash their salads and other raw food in the tap water.
Have papers for medication
Whilst carrying prescriptions cross-country, it is always sensible to keep them in a clearly marked box with the associated papers, in order to stop the unlikeliness that they get conﬁ scated. I have travelled with boxes of Fresubin (an energy milkshake ﬁ lled with calories and vitamins) to other continents before, and security have always been happy to clear me through – perhaps because I had a doctor’s note.
Take advantage of the good times
If you suddenly have a day where you’re not weighed down with fatigue or haven’t spent hours in agony in the bathroom, make the most of it! Don’t stay in the hotel room expecting the worst to happen, and drink in every opportunity you can whilst you’re feeling well enough.
Prepare prior to departure
Asking the right questions before booking hotels is so important. Checking the website to see if they offer private rather than communal bathrooms, or kitchen privileges (will they have fridges to store medication – and will it be secure?), or even if there is a way to access a radar key to get you into
toilets, are all measures to help limit the potential problems you could endure during your stay.
The ﬁrst thing you should do regarding insurance is to shop around – what price range are you looking for? Does the policy cover all possible scenarios regarding your illness? This is something that should be done well ahead of departure. Should any problems arise you’ll have plenty of time to make adjustments.
Travel is my passion and I am so glad that I didn’t let a silly thing such as an incurable autoimmune disease stop me. These tips have helped me to an immeasurable degree, and I hope they give you the getgo to, well, get going! I recently started speaking about Crohn’s on my blog at wandering-everywhere.com. The support has been incredible, and it just proves that wherever you go, people will always try their best to help you – especially when you’re paying to eat at their restaurant.