Why your health should never stop you travelling – 10 Truly Inspirational Travel Health Stories

[su_heading size=”23″ margin=”110″]10 hugely moving stories from truly inspirational people with serious health problems who won’t let it stop them[/su_heading]

Browsing on wordpress, I stumbled across a post which I won’t forget in a hurry. Alexis wrote with such open honesty about her brave battle with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and how it affected her travelling. Things you take for granted like eating in a busy restaurant is a whole different board game with PTSD but she travels despite this, despite how difficult she may find it at times, because she won’t let her health problems hold her back.

As I doctor I come across inspiring people often. Brave people who battle their diagnoses head on and won’t let their health problems defeat them. Every time they amaze me. I remember once a patient telling me their terminal diagnosis only made the sky appear more blue. Words that will stay with me forever.

Aside from travel and writing, my other great passion is dancing. You would naturally assume you need to be able-bodied to dance. Well, let me tell you I have seen dancers, good dancers, with a missing arm, a club foot, even in a wheelchair! (If you want to read more about my dancing, click here)

Writing this article has so far been the most special article I have worked on because if it inspires even one person to reach for the stars and do what they love even when it can seem as though their health holds them back, then it has in fact saved one life. It may not even be travel which floats your boat, it may be something else entirely, but I hope reading these inspirational stories will teach you that you can make a whole lot of amazing things happen if you believe in yourself!

What you can expect from this article…

  • 1 Alexis’s Story – Travel with PTSD
  • 2 Heidi’s Story – Travel after a broken neck
  • 3 Jonathan’s Story – Travel with Bipolar Disorder
  • 4 Brittany’s Story – Travel in a wheelchair 
  • 5 Sarah’s Story – Travel with Lymphangioleiomyomatosis – a life threatening condition
  • 6 Tamason’s Story – Travel with hemiplegic migraines
  • 7 Kate’s Story – Travel after a life-threatening stroke
  • 8 Ali’s Story – Travel with Ulcerative Colitis
  • 9 Chandrima’s Story – Travel with fibromyalgia
  • 10 Leah’s Story – Travel after a transplant

Alexis’s Story – Travel with PTSD

Alexis of www.atribeuntangled.com has PTSD, a disabling mental health condition which is triggered by a traumatic life event. Sufferers frequently experience flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks and anxiety. There are often common triggers such as crowds, certain smells or sounds which they start to avoid which can become very disabling. To find out more about PTSD, follow this link.

Alexis says

“I absolutely love to travel. I can sit and watch the ocean for hours. I love to explore new places and meet new people. When I was struck with PTSD my whole world turned upside down. The things I did without thought suddenly became a big production.

A change in routine and surroundings used to feel adventurous and exciting. Now, it’s anxiety provoking. Certain smells, sounds, the way the wind blows, and many other things may trigger a flashback.

When I’m at home, it’s easier to catch and I employ my distress tolerance tools. When I travel, things are unfamiliar, and I may not realize I’m triggered until panic sets in. My travelling companion’s reassurance that I’m okay and safe is often needed to avoid the spiral of anxiety.

Another symptom of my PTSD is that I become overwhelmed in busy, loud, places — restaurants, for example. It’s easy for me to get flooded with too many menu choices and a voracious appetite can become non-existent. Before, PTSD, I loved trying new food at different restaurants. Now, I choose quiet places with fewer menu choices or ask the server for a few recommendations.

Airports are triggers for me. The noise, the crowds, the upheaval, the lines. The same anxiety that most others feel at airports is more pronounced for me because of my trauma. I have learned to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so I can get used to the surroundings.

My support system is different when I travel. They work together from home to provide text or phone calls with regular check-ins. For me, it’s imperative to have that support.

Knowing your triggers, having calm and confident companions, and a good support system can help make travelling with PTSD not only possible but also enjoyable.”

Click here to read about why travel is good for your mental health.

Heidi’s Story – Travel after a broken neck

Heidi of www.heidisiefkas.com has triumphed after a near-fatal accident which left her needing months of rehabilitation, re-learning to walk again after fracturing her neck. Fractures like this can have devastating results, often leaving people wheelchair bound for life, sometimes even quadraplegic. Rehabilitation after serious injuries like this take many months and are mentally and physically draining. It takes a lot of courage and willpower to bounce back as well as Heidi did.

Heidi says

“Taking out the trash changed my life. On a normal Sunday afternoon, a thousand-pound tree limb struck me breaking my neck, leaving me unconscious for days.

After neurosurgery and a painful nine months of not only my physical recovery and rehabilitation but also the added stressors of surviving a messy divorce and job loss, my doctors, friends, and family told me that I was ready to go back to a normal life.

Scared and doubtful, I needed to prove to myself that I was 100% healthy: mentally, physically, and emotionally. That’s when I decided to go on a solo walkabout to Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile. There I tested my physical stamina hiking the W Trail with multiple day-hikes.

Along the hikes, I took time to relish the unique opportunities such as an unforgettable picnic overlooking my very first glacier. As I walked from valley to valley, changing elevations and sometimes experiencing all four seasons in the same hike, I replayed my life prior to the accident, my Life 1.0. Upon reaching the finale summit and its iconic, granite towers, I felt triumphant, atop of the world. My solo adventure to a place thousands of miles away from home proved to me that I was healthy, strong, and on the right path.

At the time, I didn’t know that I was a living example of Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), but I now know that there is always an opportunity for positive growth after trauma and loss. I started my new life, my Life 2.0, on that solo adventure. I encourage all that are at a crossroads or plateau in life to head for an adventure.”

Jonathan’s Story – Travel with Bipolar Disorder

Jonathan of www.theroyaltourblog.com suffers from Bipolar disorder, a mental health condition affecting 2% of the population to varying degrees. The person’s mood will cycle between low, depressed, sometimes even suicidal to excessively elevated or manic where grandiose risk-taking behaviours are common and can if severe, be accompanied by a form of psychosis. Many people manage to keep their mood stable with the help of medication and learning to handle their triggers but they live knowing the next relapse may be just around the corner. Read more about Bipolar here

Jonathan says

“I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder when I was 14. In the twenty-three years since then, I have tried to come to terms with what it means for my life. In the past year as a professional traveller, I have again tried to make adjustments to my life based on my disease, this time as it relates to travel.

One of the biggest challenges when travelling with a mood disorder like bipolar, major depression, or major anxiety, is to replicate the sort of schedule that keeps me stable while on the road. For me, this starts with a good night’s sleep. As a result, I rarely experience the nightlife in a place, and when I do it tends to be accompanied by a long nap prior. Health has to come first, even at the expense of the experience I wish to have on a journey.Another way this affects my travel is that I have to truly understand my triggers, and how to cope when they come up. On a recent trip to Japan, I was visiting the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. It was incredibly crowded, and I felt trapped by the throngs of people. Recognizing this was leading to a panic attack (which for me then leads to a depressive spiral.) I left and returned to my hotel, missing out on the shrine, but avoiding a collapse that would have had repercussions beyond my trip. Again, the point it all comes back to, is that my emotional health has to matter more than the travel experience.”

Brittany’s Story – Travel in a wheelchair 

Brittany of www.borntobealiveblog.com has Dwarfism, a condition of restricted growth, usually due to a genetic anomaly therefore present from birth. Aside from the obvious difficulties of being short in stature (such as needing adapted cars to drive etc,) people with dwarfism may suffer from additional health concerns related to early onset arthritis, spinal abnormalities and lung conditions such as sleep apnoea. 

Brittany says

“My name is Brittany and I travel in a wheelchair. As part of my blog, my motivation in life is to encourage people to follow their dreams and passions despite having a physical difference. 

I am in a wheelchair due to my condition (Dwarfism) but I can walk short distances with a walker. Through writing and sharing my personal experiences on my blog and through social media, I hope to one day make a difference to people’s lives and to remind them that nothing can stop them from doing what they love. I have a huge passion for travel and I try to travel as much as I possibly can. 

Just because it takes a little bit more time to organise and ensure that the destinations I visit and the activities and accommodation places are accessible then it is definitely possible for me to travel to places around the world in my wheelchair. So please don’t let anything stop you from doing what you love! 🙂 

My travel and lifestyle blog is filled with travel guides, tips and tricks, motivational posts and more! 

Sarah’s Story – Travel with Lymphangioleiomyomatosis – a life threatening condition

Sarah of www.travelbreatherepeat.com was diagnosed, 8 years ago, with lymphangioleiomyomatosis, a rare genetic lung condition which causes a gradual loss of lung function and progressive shortness of breath. Life expectancy is reduced but can vary from person to person so it is very difficult to give a prognosis. Many will go on to need oxygen therapy and some will opt for a lung transplant. This is not a cure but can slow disease progression. Sarah travels and writes full-time, raising awareness for LAM and making every day count. She is truly inspirational. You can read more about her story here

Sarah says

“Traveling with a medical condition can be challenging, but is unbelievably rewarding. Personally, travel has helped me cope with having a chronic, fatal disease. 

At age 30, I was diagnosed with a rare lung disease called lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). My prognosis was unknown, but Google said median life expectancy was 8 years. I was angry and sad and terrified.

My husband, Justin, and I happened to have a trip to Spain planned just a few months after my diagnosis. We were nervous but, with the encouragement and support of my doctor, decided to go. We got through the first flight using supplemental oxygen without a hitch, laughed when one of the hotels we booked was up a gazillion flights of stairs (so what if it took me 20 minutes to get up them?), and had more fun than we thought possible given the circumstances.

We were able to focus on seeing and eating and learning new things instead of our own pain and fear. After that, travel became our top priority. For the next 5 years, we started saving as much money as possible and used all our precious vacation time for our travels. 

In 2016, we took it one (huge) step further and quit our jobs to travel full-time. We lived out of suitcases for 13 months travelling in Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. We also used the opportunity to raise awareness of LAM and to meet patients and doctors across the globe. We wrote about our meetings and experiences on our blog in the hopes of further connecting and inspiring the LAM community.

It’s almost been 8 years since my diagnosis. There is still no cure for LAM and I still don’t know exactly what the future holds. But who does? I’ve travelled to 48 countries since my diagnosis and hope to see many more. I’m as healthy and happy as I’ve ever been.”

Tamason’s Story – Travel with hemiplegic migraines

Tamason of www.travellingbookjunkie.com suffers from hemiplegic migraines. Whilst migraines are common, hemiplegic migraines are rare and can be very frightening. Alongside the typical features of a migraine such as a headache, dislike of bright lights and nausea, people with hemiplegic migraines can actually lose control of one side of their body! They experience varying degrees of temporary weakness on one side along with potential speech and visual problems and confusion. Sometimes the symptoms are so severe that they can mimic a stroke!

Tamason says

“At one time I honestly thought that suffering from hemiplegic migraines would mean that I would no longer be able to travel.  I know that sounds dramatic because after all, it’s a headache right!  Well no, not exactly.

When the diagnosis first came through I had just spent time in a hospital with symptoms suggesting that I had had a stroke.  I had lost the sight in one eye and couldn’t feel anything on my right side.  Seriously my husband could pinch my face and I didn’t feel a thing.  I was unable to work for close to a year and eventually took the decision to change careers.

Thanks to my neurologist and a serious of injections I can now work from anywhere in the world and have taken this as an opportunity to do so – a change of lifestyle as it were.

I still have to be mindful when travelling – never stepping on a plane without a large bottle of water and I have to wear those awful flight socks just in case. But I now take medication to stop the onset of a headache starting during this time.

It does also mean that we have to be mindful not to travel for too long at any one time, we have to arrange activities so I can relax for a while in between and on occasion it does mean that I have to spend a day or two in bed because the pain has just got too much to handle – imagine a migraine, which on its own is debilitating for some, times its strength by say five and you too will be suffering from a hemiplegic attack.

Whilst travelling we now always make sure we know the location of the local hospital or doctors and are mindful of rules around our travel insurance policies and healthcare support.

The biggest problem I face is that many local GP’s have no idea about the condition.  Up until I was diagnosed my own doctor had no idea what hemiplegic migraines really were or how they affect people so trying to explain this in a foreign language to someone is often hard.  Simple painkillers don’t help either so I find myself now travelling with my own medication kit just in case.

If however the pain really does get too bad, and it normally comes at night when I am trying to sleep, I have started to meditate, relaxing my mind and body in the hope that this will alleviate some of the issues.

Ultimately, I am not prepared to stop travelling, so as long as I am sensible and take care of myself – eating the right foods, sleeping enough and not consuming too much alcohol – the attacks are now few and far between.

My top tip for anyone travelling who suffers from headaches (severe or not): Invest in good quality sunglasses; a pair with proper filters rather than just seeing it as another fashion accessory.  Mine comes with me everywhere, even when there is no sun (just in case).”

Kate’s Story – Travel after a life-threatening stroke

Kate of www.rollingalongwithkids.com, suffered a rare type of stroke which can affect young people – a vertebral artery dissection. This means that she had a spontaneous tear in an artery which supplies the brain. This caused a blood clot to form and be dislodged presenting as a serious stroke. This condition can be disabling and life-threatening. People who survive this will often be on lifelong medication to prevent it happening again.

Kate says

“After suffering a major stroke at the age of 34 years that very nearly killed me, travel has been something that I desperately wanted to do again. My stroke was so rare and not due to any health problems but rather an unlucky spontaneous vertebral artery dissection.

Even though I am back to my pre-stroke self physically, I have to take the drug Plavix daily, for the rest of my life, which helps to keep my blood thin so no more clots can form.

Also, my right vertebral artery is still dissected so to prevent any issues from this my Neurologist has me on a few restrictions that stop me travelling to the fullest. Things like no scuba diving, no bungee jumping, no skydiving, no roller coasters, no extreme water sports etc. Travel insurance now also costs more for me to be covered for stroke and for our last Bali trip I had to switch from Travel Insurance Direct to Covermore for coverage.

But perhaps the hardest thing to reconcile and the thing I fought with on our first overseas holiday post stoke to Bali in November, was the fact that if I had been overseas at the time of my stroke I may not be alive or more than likely disabled.

This weighs heavily on my mind, especially with 2 young kids. But the thought of never being able to travel overseas ever again fills me with more pain and distress than the small risk of travelling. So I am determined to keep travelling and I always make sure I pack extra Plavix just in case. Life is for living and with my second chance at life, I am determined to make every moment count.”

Ali’s Story – Travel with Ulcerative Colitis

Ali of www.aliadventure.com, suffers from ulcerative colitis, a long-term health problem causing recurrent episodes of severe inflammation of the bowel wall. Symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss and fatigue are common features. It runs a variable course so someone might experience both mild and serious flare-ups. A mild flare-up might be managed with a course of steroid medication at home but severe ulcerative colitis can have lots of complications leading to hospital admissions and sometimes requiring surgery. To read more about Ali’s experience with Ulcerative colitis, click here.

Ali’s says

“I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when I was 18, but it’s just in the past 5 years that it’s become a bigger problem for me. I’ve been on medication for many years, but now I have several foods (gluten, dairy, eggs, beans) that don’t agree with me.

In order to stay as healthy as possible, I’ve come up with a few routines that help. I’ve learned the hard way that being spontaneous about food just isn’t something that works well for me anymore.

Depending on the trip, I might stay in an apartment, like an Airbnb, so I can make my own breakfast and a few other meals. I research restaurants ahead of time so I can find ones that serve meat, vegetables, and rice or potatoes. If I want to take a food tour, I contact them before booking to see if and how they can adjust things for my dietary restrictions.

Another thing that’s helpful is travelling with some of my own food, like granola bars, beef jerky, and trail mix. I recently started taking probiotics, and that seems to be helping me a lot. I also have lactase pills with me at all times in case I want to splurge on something with lactose in it.

Traveling with ulcerative colitis is certainly frustrating at times. I’ve even had to cancel a few trips because of getting really sick and ending up in the hospital right before leaving. But I refuse to let the disease keep me from pursuing my biggest passion.”

Chandrima’s Story – Travel with fibromyalgia

Chandrima of www.travelstoriesuntold.com, suffers from Fibromyalgia, a condition which is not as yet fully understood. Fibromyalgia sufferers experience chronic pain in various places in their body associated with fatigue and often chronic depression. The reason for their pain is often not obvious and so this can be incredibly frustrating for sufferers. It can be significantly disabling and varies from mild to severe.

Chandrima says

“Imagine waking up every day to a dull, throbbing pain in some or the other part of your body. Pain that makes you flinch upon touch. Or sometimes a blinding headache that makes everyday life an ordeal. Welcome to my world. That’s what living with fibromyalgia is like.

Stress and depression are the underlying causes, I’ve been told, but that’s inconclusive really. Yes, I’ve been dealing with them for a long time. And living off antidepressants and painkillers. However, in spite of taking my meds regularly, I still struggle with frequent flare-ups. And because there isn’t a cure for fibromyalgia yet, I’ll be struggling with this all my life.

No, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I still have a full-time job (which I’ve considered quitting often, but didn’t), and I still feed my passion for travelling. Travel is what I work for. What I live for. A disease certainly isn’t going to stop me.

So what’s it like to travel with fibromyalgia? Some days are just fine. Some filled with agony. I never leave the house without my painkillers. But I never let the pain get in the way of my travel plans. And guess what makes it all worth it? The sheer joy of travelling. And the fulfilment it brings.”

Leah’s Story – Travel after a transplant

Leah from kidbucketlist.com, tells us about her husband, T, who had renal failure and needed a kidney transplant. Renal transplants are the most common transplants mainly because often a relative can donate a kidney. However, they are not an ‘easy solution.’ There will be lifelong ramifications. The transplant receiver will be on medication for life to prevent their immune system from rejecting the kidney. This means they are susceptible to infections. As they will only have one functioning kidney, they are also at higher risk of renal failure with certain infections, dehydration, kidney stones etc. You can read more about the ramifications for Leah’s family here.

Leah says

It’s incredible how a brush with death can change your perspective on life, reconfiguring your priorities and forcing you to rethink your pathway leading forward.  

After a period of dialysis and a stint in a coma, my partner finally received a donor kidney from a family member. Finally, we were able to wave goodbye to the zombie-like existence one has whilst on dialysis. It was a gift we were going to embrace.

Although we both worked full time, we decided to make travel a priority in our life. We started small, exploring Australia. It did lead us to become acquainted with a few different hospitals too. A short stay at Royal Perth hospital when we were in Western Australia, and then Gold Coast University Hospital emergency on a trip to explore the theme parks. Even with carefully executed travel plans, things can change quite rapidly when travelling with a transplant!

When the kids arrived we knew we wanted to show the kids the world, so we sat down and spoke with T’s specialist about travel. We wanted to know which countries he was confident would be okay for us to explore, which to avoid, which vaccines we could take, which we couldn’t.

When travelling with a transplant there are a few things to take in into consideration. The first is travel insurance. We won’t travel without it but it can be hard to source. Many insurance companies automatically exclude transplantees from their policies so read the PDS carefully. The Australian Kidney Foundation was a great resource for us when sourcing our first policy, and although we always pay almost double the amount of a regular plan, we have peace of mind that if things go wrong, we’ll be okay.

There are also a number of countries that are far too risky for us to travel to at the moment. The risk of some tropical disease or even high flu rates is a huge deterrent for us. Any travel is risky when it involves sharing an aeroplane cabin with lots of people, but we reduce the risk by choosing our locations and time for travel carefully.

Another consideration that comes into play is medications. Some countries have very strict importation laws around the pharmaceuticals that they will allow across their borders. We always make certain to get a letter from our specialist explaining the medication we are taking; original packaging for all medications which include the pharmacist labels;  and backup scripts. We also have a list of all medications that T can’t take on a small card in his wallet.

My only other suggestion is to research your hospitals too. Thanks to a new pharmaceutical regime our health is quite stable (touch wood) and we have only had one further visit to the hospital after a trip to Hong Kong. But we know where to go if we need to!

Travel is always incredibly exciting for our family. We have travelled to Asia, Europe,  the pacific islands and North America with the kids in tow. We make calculated health risks, and research where we are staying. Although travel is a little more expensive for us compared to other families, ever memory is priceless. Life is good!

[su_note note_color=”#e00d53″ text_color=”#f7fffe” radius=”2″] To TRAVEL is to LIVE[/su_note]

I think you will agree, these stories are truly inspirational. I was emotional just reading them. I hope these stories help to inspire you as much as they did me. Remember; life is a gift,  please make the most of it!

If travel health interests you, you may enjoy my article about altitude sickness – my personal experience or my post about my experience volunteering in a hospital in Ghana. Or if you want to read more stories, here are some funny travel stories.

Have you experienced your own health problems whilst travelling? Do they put you off travel in general now? What dreams would you like to achieve that you feel you are holding back from? I would love to hear from you! Do you have your own travel achievements you would like to share with us?

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