Reviewed by Phillip Waite, Ph.D.
I like a good trip as much as the next person. I like getting away, taking a break from the regular routines and demands of daily life. It doesn't matter if it's a vacation or business travel. There is something about a change of environment that helps me feel more alive. The problem is that the changes in routine and environment can sometimes spell disaster for those of us with chronic illness.
I recently returned from a trip to Boston, Massachusetts. I had been looking forward to it for a long time, since I lived in Boston during the 1990's. When I arrived it felt familiar, a little like I was returning home. I had missed the cool ocean breezes, the bustling sounds of the city, and the lush, green Northeast foliage. Not to mention the history! I stop and read each and every little historical marker, learning about those that have walked the same ground before me. The day before I flew home, I had a free afternoon and took a walk along the famous Freedom Trail - from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall to the North End.
Looking back on the trip, I realize there are a few things I could have done differently to avoid the negative consequences of travel on my health.
This particular trip involved crossing 2 time zones. When I arrived I was more than a little jet lagged and it took most of the week for my body to adjust. Before leaving on the trip, I had tried to get to bed a bit earlier so the adjustment would not be as difficult, but it was still hard. When I don't sleep well, I don't feel well. Napping was not an option since it was a business trip. Even if I could nap, sleeping in a bed other than my own is not easy for me.
I am pretty obsessive when it comes to my prescriptions and supplements. I always bring them as a carry-on on the plane to avoid losing them with luggage. Nothing separates me from my meds! They are what keep me in remission. However, the change in routine means I have to focus more on taking them on schedule. If I do forget to take them, my body has a way of reminding me eventually. This trip I did okay, but I could have done better. Maybe next time set a timer on my iPhone to remind myself.
When I'm at home, I stick to pretty much the same foods each week and that consistency helps me stay well. But when I'm travelling, my diet is anything but consistent. On this particular trip, I ate more fast food than I usually do and way too many rich foods (Gotta love that North End Italian cuisine!). Fast food is a common trigger for many people with Crohn's Disease and I'm no exception, but often it was the only option available. If I had planned better, I'm sure I could have made better food choices.
I'll admit, I'm not a fan, even when I'm at home I find it hard to exercise. I've tried the last year to walk regularly, but it has only happened in stops and starts. Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, and Sjogren's Syndrome doesn't make it any easier, but I know that moving can help ease that pain if I'm consistent. On this trip I did a lot of walking. Probably too much. On the flight home, I realized I was quite exhausted. I should have paced myself better. Or better yet, try to get in better shape before I travel.
After my 5 hour flight home, I launched into a full schedule of activities. My family obviously missed me and wanted to spend time with me. I had church responsibilities the next day and a full day back at work the next. My body was not getting the rest it needed. Eventually I got sick. To avoid a full blown crash, I cleared my schedule and tried as best I could to just rest and recover. Note to self: Next time plan time-off to recover after a cross-country trip (and follow my own suggestions above!).