How To Travel With Chronic Diseases

Traveling can sometimes be as scary as it is exciting. Traveling with chronic diseases including psoriasis can be even scarier. There have been many articles written by fellow travel bloggers about how traveling helped them to be more confident and overcome their fears. As much as I would love to agree with this sentiment, in my case it was often quite the opposite. While traveling can definitely make a positive impact on your life, especially during the beginning, it’s hard to manage.

When I was 16 I was diagnosed with psoriasis as well as Reynaud’s syndrome.  While these two chronic diseases can be treated and controlled, they cannot be fully cured. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes red and white itchy plaques on your skin, nails, and scalp.

I guess I don’t have to explain why it’s uncomfortable. Reynaud’s syndrome is a circulatory condition that prevents blood circulation in the hands and feet, leaving you with white numb fingers when the temperature drops.

How to Travel with Chronic Diseases

Reynaud’s syndrome didn’t cause any huge problems, apart from skiing where I often can’t hold my sticks. I can’t grab snow with my hands but I’m still able to do other activities that would seem impossible, like snorkeling in ice-cold water in Iceland. In that case, I was wearing gloves so I was fine.

Psoriasis, on the other hand, isn’t as easy to get used to while traveling. There are months when my skin is pretty normal, but I often have outbreaks when I’m on the road. As silly as it sounds because it’s “just” my skin. Those who suffer from the same disease can relate and agree with me. It’s probably the worst thing that can happen before going to the beach.

In the beginning, I would hide by wearing long skirts and not going for a swim, but the more I traveled the more I understood that I just need to cope with it.

Unfortunately, the world around me doesn’t seem to cope with psoriasis…

When my legs look bad I just put stockings that can cover it :)
When my legs look bad I just put stockings that can cover it 🙂

When psoriasis on my scalp gets bad, flakes of skin drop whenever. I shake my head or put it on something and it’s there. I feel like a snowman leaving snowflakes everywhere; dark-colored plane seats are my worst nightmare.

This is also why I stopped staying in hostels and sharing rooms with strangers. No matter how understanding some people can seem, they still stare.

I always wanted to go to the Aquaventure waterpark in Dubai, but a few days before my flight to the Middle East I received laser treatment (that failed after all). So not only did I have red plaques all over my skin, but also dark dots.

My choices were: going and dealing with people, or not going and skipping the adventure I had been waiting to experience. I decided to go and I have to say that as I stepped out of the dressing room, I immediately regretted it. The entire crowd stared at me constantly. However, in the end I survived and I was glad I did it.

Aquaventure in Dubai
Aquaventure in Dubai

My worst psoriasis story was my experience flying with Emirates airlines. When I was trying to board my flight to Singapore, a flight attendant pulled me out of my seat. I suspected that it could have been about my psoriasis, but I didn’t want to make a scene.

The flight attendant asked me what was wrong with my skin in front of the other passengers. As she wasn’t very discreet about it, other people started to look very concerned.

I explained to her that there was nothing to worry about as psoriasis is a genetic disease and not contagious. She seemed like she didn’t believe me and said ‘I don’t know what that means in English, but we have a procedure’. After calling her colleague who also claimed that English wasn’t her first language they claimed that I probably shouldn’t fly. Why?!?!

After 15 minutes I was finally able to stay in my seat, but now I had to answer a whole bunch of questions from the curious passengers sitting around me.  It was horribly uncomfortable. And the worst part of it all? When I complained to Emirates airlines about the situation, they didn’t even apologize.

Travel with Chronic Diseases
Sometimes I just wear a sweater in a funny way 🙂

In spite of experiences like these, I’ve learned that traveling isn’t impossible with chronic diseases. When my psoriasis gets bad I adjust my clothing when I can. For instance by wearing long gloves and covering tights. However, if I want to go to the beach, I don’t let my illness hold me back.

I’ve also learned to tell people about my psoriasis before they have a chance to ask about it. If I see a person I just met staring, I tell them ‘It’s just psoriasis, it’s not contagious or anything’ and it usually makes them feel more comfortable. It doesn’t always make the situation better, but there’s nothing more I can do about it.

On the bright side of things, my psoriasis actually helped me get closer to people a few times. When I was going to Tortuga Bay beach in the Galapagos Islands, a local woman stopped me to ask about my skin. I explained to her that it’s a chronic condition and she shouldn’t worry about me, but she really insisted on me going to her house to try a cream that her daughter uses.

I tried to politely thank her, but she kept insisting. Finally, I agreed to try out her cream while she served me iced tea and cookies while chatting about the Galapagos for over an hour.

Sometimes I weat long gloves to cover my arms... it actually looks quite nice & vintage ;)
Sometimes I wear long gloves to cover my arms… it actually looks quite nice & vintage 😉

I’m obviously not the only one who travels with chronic conditions. Below are some stories and advice from fellow travel bloggers to encourage those who don’t think they can travel to go and explore the world despite their circumstances.

Gillian – One-Giant-Step

I’ve had psoriasis since I was 15, Crohn’s Disease since I was 21, and high blood pressure for the past 3 years. I like to say that I live with a body that hates me. We (my body and I) have managed to negotiate though; I treat it the best I can and it doesn’t stop me from doing what I want. It’s been a tenable peace treaty and, for the most part, we have each upheld our part of the bargain.

The biggest impact to my travels is the 100’s and 100’s (and 100’s…) of pills I tote around the world with me. I take 2 medications for the Crohn’s and another for high blood pressure. I keep them all in their original containers and have copies of the prescriptions, along with the contact information of both my doctor and my pharmacist. Just in case I am ever questioned.

In more than 3 years of active travel I have only ever been asked about it once and even that time all that was needed was a short conversation. All of it in my absolutely terrible Spanish!

My best advice for traveling with a chronic condition is to listen to your body. Don’t let it stop you from doing what you want but make allowances for it when you need to. Rest. Eat well. Slow down. Do what you can and be grateful to your body for what it lets you do.

Jodi Ettenberg – Legal Nomads

Traveling as a celiac is certainly daunting, and takes extra research and work, but is well worth it in my book! I tend to travel primarily in Southeast Asia and other areas where the disease is less known. As a result, saying I have celiac doesn’t often work.

Instead, I’ll research well in advance about the ingredients I can and cannot eat locally. I search what will work with a translator for a strong translation card to bring with, and will figure out how to say “x and y ingredients will get me sick.” Thus far it has allowed me to eat at many a street stall, far more than I ever thought possible.

Yes, I have occasionally gotten sick, and yes people have sometimes assured me something is GF when it is not. But the rewards. Learning and experiencing through food have brought an infinite amount of joy. I’ve tried to share what I’ve learned through my celiac guides on my website since others with the disease are often keen to travel but scared to get sick.

Caroline Eubanks – Caroline in the City

I was diagnosed with eczema in 2012 after a few years of having flare-ups of rashes on my face and hands. First, I noticed it around my lips in Australia in 2011, and the cold weather in 2012 in Munich made it flare up. I hate that all of my pictures feature a rash on my face. I even went to the pharmacy for a prescription for a medicated lotion, but it only slightly helped.

Since then, I’ve been prescribed countless lotions and creams and even changed my diet. But you never know when a flare-up will strike. It’s made worse by cold or dry weather and stress. When I have a rash on my face, I get really insecure, because I can’t use makeup to cover it up. It will only make it worse and everyone asks about it. But I do my best to keep it under control on the road!

Jenn – Who Needs Maps

I have only recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s; I have been traveling while ‘sick’ for a few years though. Crohn’s, in short, is an auto-immune disease that affects your digestion. My symptoms were stomach pains, persistent mouth sores (about 12 at any given time for a whole year), fatigue, episodes of vomiting, thinning hair, and lots of number 2s.

Traveling with a boyfriend, Crohn’s was probably the most unattractive thing to get. Vomiting, diarrhea, and mouth sores that hurt so much I can’t even kiss him. Hence traveling through Asia with my man did not do me any justice.

I’m such a big foodie and truly believe food is one of the best ways to experience a culture, but I couldn’t try anything! It hurt my mouth too much, it would upset my stomach. I would ultimately leave me in the bathroom for an hour.

Drinking is one of the worst pains too. I have learned to go out and have fun without having a drink. In the end, it just not worth it.

However, once I found out what it was, I’ve started my treatment which has lessened my symptoms. I can travel with ease, but I have adjusted my diet and try to nap to regain some energy.

85 thoughts on “How To Travel With Chronic Diseases”

  1. Thanks for including me, Anna! I had a really bad eczema flare up on my face on a press trip recently and everyone had to comment on it. It was frustrating and embarassing but character building. When I got home, I got a medicated lotion and a cortisone shot and was good as new within a week.

  2. I know how hard it is for you to travel with a chronic disease, babe. I struggle with hypoglycaemia and it’s not a fun either, but we can still make it!

    • I would love to see other people with psoriasis come up instead of hiding as it’s the only way to show peoplel that we’re not contagious or gross, but it’s just a skin condition/

  3. You are really brave! But it is so good you travel cause it shows other people that everything is possible! Good luck! And I wish you more health!

  4. Well I truly admire U and people like U for not giving up because of the chronic diseases. Hope You will reach out many other people with psoriasis or Raynaud’s syndrome (or any other hronic disease) afraid to travel or simply to follow their dreams because of the disease. Btw I thought that such poor level of customer service is possible only in polish institutions (like ZUS :P), not in Emirates o_O

    Anyway thumbs up for U.

  5. You should be proud of yourself. The ability to overcome our own obstacles and enjoy life fully is the way to real happiness. 🙂 I’m sure that speaking openly about our problems helps people who do not have such courage.

  6. The worst is closed in on itself and not leave the house because of fear of the people. The next step may be just depression. Keep it up!

  7. I also struggle with auto-immune disease (crohns and arthritis). This year I had an extra challenge thrown in where every local travel insurer has refused to cover me, both because of the immuno-suppressing medication and hospital admittance’s. I’m interested to know if any of you can get cover from your home country or whether you travel uninsured?

    • I’m currently struggling with a new prescription. My home country (or rather the one that issued by passport) doesn’t qualify for this medicine, in the US they don’t want to cover me and in the UK I’ve been waiting for a visit at dermatologist for over 4 months and a few more to go – nightmare 🙁

  8. Awesome post. It’s nice to see someone write about the challenging and less fun aspects of travelling and how you face them. I have skin problems as well (although not as serious) and it can make you feel sad and embarrassed. Good on you for not letting it stand in the way.

  9. Ja mam Marfan syndrome 😉 i mieszkałam prawie 2 lata w Chinach 😉 także da się, prawda? Powodzenia w dalszych wojażach!

  10. This is a really brave post from you. Do not give up on travelling and let it not limit you from exploring this wonderful world. My advice to anyone would be, packing any medications (You could even put an alarm that would remind you prior to the day of travel) you need, enough for the duration. Carry any private prescription from your doctor to avoid any inconveniences.

  11. I have a chronic disease too. I was diagnosed with arthritis when i was 15, but I started getting worried when 4 years later my doctor told me I had Lupus, which is awful. Even though, I always knew I wanted to travel around the world, and post like this makes me know that our sickness are not an impediment.

  12. I’m so sorry that you have to deal with those diseases, but I’m very impressed by your positive outlook! Thanks for sharing. Hopefully others with chronic diseases who wish to travel will be encouraged by this post!

  13. I also have a couple chronic diseases, but actually some destinations make me so much better, and traveling give me so much back, so it’s totally worth it even those days that really makes me tired.

  14. Great article! Totally inspiring…especially when you think that sometimes people will let just a tiny thing to hold them back. I have several chronic conditions, so I understand the prep time sometimes involved. But the rewards are always worth it. You can’t really control what people will think of you anyway…if it wasn’t the psoriasis, it would probably be something else that would be picked at. Just do you! And pay no mind to the detractors. They’re boo boo anyway. lol

  15. This is so encouraging. I am kicking Lyme disease into remission, although I think some of my food intolerances are permanent. Having the travel bug when you are fighting an illness that is robbing you of your funds and energy is awful, but this gives me so much hope.

  16. thank you thank you thank you for posting/writing this! i have Crohn’s Disease and refuse to let it slow me down

  17. I am saving this article to read later. I have had 10 surgeries on my spine and traveling is my love. A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is for me or the pain I suffer bc I am rather young and fit on the outside, but it causes a lot of issues when it comes to seeing certain attractions. Takes a lot of patience for those who may travel with me. I will never let it keep me at home heart emoticon You are stunning!

  18. Great post girl! I also travel with a disease… Chrons and it doesn’t alter my surface appearance but side affects are stomach pains and diarrhea. Which named things awkward when travelling with your boyfriend haha

  19. A beautifully honest post.

    A couple of years ago I was in Hanoi and split my eyebrow open just an hour before getting on a train to Sapa. My friend and I only had time to run to the pharmacy and put a huge, but effective patch over the area. I looked absolutely ridiculous and everyone was staring at me, but also stopping to ask if I’m ok. That was enough for me- I can’t imagine what it is like when you have to deal with a lot!

  20. It’s inspiring to see someone who isn’t going to let anything get in the way of their traveling. I’ve definitely been guilty of making excuses whichprevent me from doing what I love. It’s cool to see someone carrying out their dream no matter what.

  21. This is so neat! I have always been afraid to travel due to my major health and dietary issues. I have asthma, epilepsy, pain induced seizures, Chrons, celiac, minor egg allergy, minor dairy allergy and severe (anaphylaxis) nut allergies. But after reading these posts I have gained a little bit of confidence. With the right about of research and help with communication I may one day be able to visit other countries without having to worry where the nearest hospital is at all times! Thank you so much!! 🙂

  22. Thanks for this article, Anna! It made me feel better about my own struggle with psoriasis ( mine is the one where your nail start detaching from your fingers and eventually fall off). I had multiple problems explaining to SPA/gym staff that it is not contagious, it is only stress and bad genes to blame and that they were just making the situation worse for me.
    Please continue your journeys, adventures and welcome to Romania (as I’ve seen it’s next).

  23. Hey!

    Great blog post, I really admire you for writing so openly about your chronic diseases. I can relate a little bit to it, though often times when I read stories like these I consider my ‘problems’ to be nothing. I myself have irritable bowels, though maybe not a severe form where one has to stay at home at all costs, but especially in countries of south east asia where food can be spicy and different than I’m used to, I always get sick and uncomfortable, making long travel journeys without a toilet accessible within a short period of time, really uncomfortable. I know I’m often making it a bigger problem than it is and mostly it’s my mind that creates the problem. However, it is something that is constantly on my mind, where ever I am, always the thought of ‘what if’… What if I’m on a long bus journey in south east asia and I feel the urge to go and I cannot because we are in the middle of nowhere and I’m travelling in a local bus… Always the what ifs, though real life is always easier to handle than what my mind creates. It’s frustrating, though it is a problem that I can easily ‘cover’ to the outside world, whereas Psoriasis obviously isn’t! Much more difficult to deal with I reckon!

    Thanks for sharing your story, really love it when people openly talk about it, as I am so ashamed of doing it! But here I have done it, at least in the comments 😉

    All the best to you

    • Filip, I have Crohn’s so I feel your pain! it is difficult and daunting, but I’m determined not to let it stop me, no matter how uncomfortable those bus journeys may be! I’m planning South East Asia next year, wish me luck! ha.
      I’m going to start writing blog posts about travelling with Crohn’s and how I manage it. They may be of interest to you. 🙂

  24. Hi Anna. Just read this article and it resonates for me as I also suffer from psoriasis and love to travel. There is a skin/hair care range in Australia called MooGoo that has completely cleared all of my psoriasis (after years of expensive prescription drugs and treatments). It’s definitely worth a try!

    PS I’m not affiliated with them and don’t receive anything for recommending them – I just really love their products 🙂

  25. I also suffer from psoriasis but I realise after reading this that my case is very mild. I never get flare ups and have only 1 red spot on my body. My worst area is my head.
    I remember once I was in a nightclub in the UK and my scalp was particularly bad at the time. Fluoro lighting came on and my head lit up like a beacon. Whilst I was devastated at the time, I can now see the funny side of things!!

  26. Being sick shouldn´t stop us from traveling, on the contrary! Never know when the health condition will be so bad that it keeps you back. I have eczema since I was a child and past year in Bogota did me no good – it got really bad because of the pollution and the water here only got it worse, but nevertheless, at least I managed to get rid of my addiction to various creams, just because they were of no use anymore. I totally recommend pure cocoa butter (it´s very easy to get in Colombia) for all skin irritations.
    Anyway, I never thought of eczema as something that should stop me from traveling. The way I look on the photos is one thing, but I still have legs and hands and all that, while I´ve met people who have no arms or have just one hand, see only with one eye, but get around perfectly. Actually, lately I met a guy who had just one hand with three fingers but the way he played music was amazing! He even plays piano. Meeting these people shows me how lucky I actually am.
    Good luck and don´t let the stares let you down!

  27. I am happy to see that you aren’t letting psoriasis stop you! You look great in the Aventure picture, can hardly see the dark spots. They were most likely staring because you are in a bathing suit and showing so much skin is being very insensitive to their culture 🙂

  28. Hello Anna!

    Emirates FA did that to you? That was too much!
    As a Flight Stewardess, she must be more empathetic and making you as comfortable a possible. Well, I’m not surprised Emirates didn’t even apologise because I’ve read blogs about “Ugly Truth about Emirates” many times 🙁
    I was planning to apply Emirates Open Day for FA job. If I ever get to become Emirates FA, I would make sure I make people with Chronic Condition feel so good that they want to travel confidently 🙂

  29. Awesome post, its so good you can talk openly about it. I have Crohns like Gillian so I appreciate the troubles this sometimes causes. Even though Crohns can be cripplng sometimes there is nothing external for people to see. People can be so mean when they do not understand. awesome blog and good luck with your travels! 🙂

  30. Thank you so much for sharing about your chronic illnesses.

    I have celiac, as well as a sensitive digestive system that prevents me from eating dairy, sugar, most fruits, yeast, and of course, all glutenious things. I have managed shorter term travels as long as I have access to my own kitchen but I have been very nervous about stepping beyond what I know. So excited to have some resources from fellow women. THANK YOU.

    • Thank you for your comment Paula. I think nowadays with many AirBnBs available traveling with celiac is getting easier 🙂 Safe travels~

  31. My 10 year old daughter saw me reading your post and said “she’s beautiful” and you are:) Glad you are not letting it hold you back. I am traveling with my kids and I plus the 13 and 26 year old have a genetic disease — CMT — which is a type of neuromuscular problem. Luckily we only have it mildly. The 13 year old and i are prone to tripping from the toe drop and our gait is off a little but we can still pull on backpacks and trundle around cities and new countries. He’s the trooper as he also just had scoliosis surgery (full back ripped open and rods put in) but he doesn’t let it stop him. Just have to keep on going and celebrate all the good things we have:)

    • Awww this is so sweet of you to say! I’m glad chronic conditions don’t stop you and your kids from traveling! All the best to you and them!

  32. It makes me so sad to hear how you´ve been and are beeing treated around the world. One would hope we would have gotten further than that… Really good that you write about it though. Hopefully more people get a wider understanding but I am stunned – really sorry!

  33. I understand what you go through with the psoriasis as a close relative has a severe case of it. However, I also understand why it puts people off. I have recently spent a holiday with said relative in a small hotel room. My relative scratched skin off the entire time, often to the point of bleeding, and I’d point out they should try to leave it alone before it actually bled. But I must say I was pretty disgusted with the sheer volume of skin sprinkled liberally all over the dark carpet, in particular in front of the sofa, which was my bed during our stay. The relative also lounged all over the sofa for hours on end, scratching on the pillows and blanket I had to use for sleeping. I know it’s not contagious; I know the scratching is something that has to be mindfully resisted and we’re not usually that mindful 24/7. But I would have appreciated an attempt at personal hygiene, particularly when lounging on my bedding. We had a great time on our holiday overall, but the skin thing was still extremely unpleasant for me as an onlooker. (I didn’t say anything, other than to warn the relative not to scratch to bleeding point a few times.)

    • I probably sounded mean and unfeeling in my original post. That wasn’t how I meant to come across. I know my relative is really suffering and am glad it doesn’t stop them from getting out and about, traveling and enjoying life. I was just trying to convey how it can come across to an onlooker. My squeamishness is my own problem, which is why I don’t raise it with them.

  34. HI Anna.

    I just moved to Playa del Carmen a week ago and am traveling with severe psoriasis. I just spoke with another digital nomad and they mentioned we should connect. I tend to work in Ah Cacao on 5th and 38th from 11 am till 2pm everyday and sometimes in the evening. Let me know if you want to get together.

  35. This really hit close to home, as someone who has had eczema all her life I’ve always been hesitant to pursue my dream to becoming a digital nomad… your post has really inspired me to not let my temperamental skin stop me.

    Thank you so much Anna!

  36. Hi Anna,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I have recently decided to not let my health issues hold me back when I want to travel, and I will be blogging about it once I find a domain name that isn’t already in use. 🙂 I look forward to reading more of your experiences. While my issues aren’t physically seen, for the most part, I do have to make sure those around me know how to use epi pens should the situation require it. It’s not fun nor does it make me popular with those I’m traveling with, especially if they are strangers, but in the end it ensures I will make it out alive.
    Thank you again,

  37. I’m thankful my skin conditions aren’t as bad as they used to be. But I remember hating the feeling of uneasiness, that people are staring at me whenever I felt the urge to scratch. Thank you for sharing your inspirational story.


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