Traveling While Sick or With Health/ Medical Challenges

October 24, 2012

traveling when sick and bringing medicine with you

Who doesn't love the excitement and exhilarating benefits of travel? A vacation abroad can fill you with euphoria and memories that last a life time. But what if you are sick? If you have a health, mobility or medical problem, travel... especially international travel... can be much more problematic.

As someone who has traveled the world ( 44 countries on 5 continents) with a severe chronic health condition, mobility challenges, recovering from surgery,with a sling for a paralyzed dominant arm, knee brace, frozen shoulder, with vertigo, claustrophobia,( on  bus, train, RV and plane), and  on a small plane with  a bad head cold with plugged ears,  during our 7 years of non-stop world travel, I think I am becoming an expert at traveling when sick or medically challenged.

Last year, we had to cancel our trip to Romania and we had to cancel another flight from California to Asia due to my health just being too bad to travel ( picked that flight up again in few months so kidlet wasn't too too late returning to her Mandarin school). The lead picture is my "medicine drawer" filled with supplements we brought with us...still traveling light with just a carry-on bag each, but one was jammed packed with medicine and we had to leave other things behind because of it all.

What is a nomadic world traveler and travel blogger going to do?

travel while recovering from surgery- I look happy and was, but I was quite fragile , couldn't take the tube or use a tub

Now we have a trip scheduled to China and I still have travel health issues. Recently a friend just returned from China and they and half their group had health problems, but another two friends have been there a year with no problem. Will I be able to make it? I hope so!
I have been sharing my travel health secrets as I walk through my own healing journey as we roam. Ever since  I had a bike crash on the Danube and ended up in a foreign hospital needing surgery and paralyzing my dominant right arm for over a year, I've been dealing with travel health issues.

The massive antibiotics given to me during that surgery, then more by  my Danish dentist in Spain in May 2010, created a severe health problem for me, so not only have I seen the best M.D.'s and alternative healers on three continents, taken endless tests, but have learned tremendous amounts about health and travel. Yes, it is possible to travel when ill, but it's a different kind of travel and life.

My brother didn't even think we should have ever started our world trip as he thought I should stay home and lose weight. Good point, but I don't see why I can't get fit while traveling and I wouldn't have missed all these amazing experinces and time together for all the world. I have been losing weight but science shows that fat people can be as healthy as thin people, so I just keep working on my health and getting all of us even healthier.

doing painful physcial therapy in 5 countries while traveling

I don't talk much about the pain and suffering that I have been going through since that bike accident in 2009, but it's had a profound affect on me, our whole family and our travels. I've pretty much been in constant pain and that takes a toll on all of us, but we do our very best to keep a positive focus and deep gratitude that it's not worse.  I think I am making progress, but it is a slow road with daily ups and downs. I tend to wake up early from the pain, but after taking a few supplements, I am doing fairly good most mornings finally, but the afternoons and evenings tend to be much worse on me. My energy and pain levels are mostly much better than they were when I was in California.

I just turned 60 this year, but this illness often makes me feel and act like I am in my nineties. Science tells us that the digestive tract is energy intense and requires one third of our daily energy supply to function normally. Thus, I deal with lots of fatigue, liver and pancreas problems, inflammation, toxicity etc along with the constant pain and still have trouble eating almost anything so on a VERY restricted diet.

 I was rocked to my core when two of my dear friends and father died suddenly recently and then read that the darling young mother of another traveling family that did a years travel the same year we began, died recently of stomach cancer, leaving her daughter about Mozart's age, three sweet sons and beloved husband. I am not ready to go yet, so I am fighting as hard as I can to get healthy again and will never take my health for granted in the future.

Being this ill for so long and working as hard as we have to get well 24/7 for three years now, gives one a deep focus on what is important and essential in life. It is never easy being this ill for so long and travel just makes it more complicated, so we're even more into slow travel. I can do less, but we make the most of what I CAN do, like this photo shows of Mozart and I in the pool after I just got a healing massage. Penang is a great place to heal because there is lots of organic food, good hospitals and wonderful Chinese Medicine and alternative things at good prices.

Joy of pools for those who travel with health challenges

The hardest thing about traveling when you are sick is because it takes you out of the routine and if one has the kind of food restrictions I live with, just finding what I can eat can be very hard. I made it through Bhutan, Jordan and Spain while still ill, so I am trusting that all will go well in China. Luckily, I have a local friend there who can guide me if I should need it and he is a Tai Chi master so maybe that will be a new therapy that will help me.

Perhaps the biggest key for traveling while medically challenged is to prepare ahead and do less. I can see one of the benefits of this illness for me is it teaches me, ...actually forces me do less. I tend to be a type A who wants to do too much. Now I just can't and that can be a benefit really. Listening to your body and finding a gentler way to do things and letting everything but the essential go.

I am like that kid who sees the manure and looks for the pony. I always like to keep my focus on seeing the blessing that is unfolding. As someone who has always been healthy as a horse, this has been a BIG challenge for me, perhaps the biggest in my life, ( and I have had many biggies) because it has gone on so long, despite my endless work on finding a cure. Still, I know it is here for a reason, so I try to make the most of it. Certainly, I do get frustrated at times and feel bad at how it impacts my husband and child, but I am very tenacious by nature and I am determined to take everything to my advantage...including this.  Good news, it makes us work even better as a team and count our blessings.

"The first wealth is health." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Floating bliss

Have you ever traveled when you were sick, mobility challenged or medically challenged? What were the keys that worked best for you? How did you deal with the fear that comes up about being in a foreign place if things get bad? How do you handle food restrictions?

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Helen Lear

I'm so glad someone has written an insight into travelling with illnesses, especially without being all misery guts about it. I am 26 years old and have Lupus, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Bipolar Disorder and a few other bits and bobs. It definitely changes the way I travel...i try to keep things as spontaneous as possible because I love that feeling, but sometimes careful planning is needed. Also, as my partner and I are working to fund our travels as we go this can definitely cause problems along the way when I'm too ill to work. I think it's just a case of putting health first (and all associated costs then doing what you can with whats left! Much rather this than sat on the sofa at home.


I'm so glad you have a friend/guide/mentor in China who can help you if you need it! I FINALLY recovered from my China belly - 2 weeks after arriving home. Like you, I have friends who have spent time in China and did not get sick at all. I hope that is your experience on this trip. Our travel pace was very intense (NOT my preferred style) and I think this hindered my recovery while we were there. Your pace will be much better, I'm certain.


Luckily, I never had to travel while sick, apart from an occasional cold, but I am such a whining baby when I get flu symptoms that I cannot even imagine going through what you are going and ... keeping on traveling. Hope I never have to use this part of your story as inspiration, but I appreciate you sharing your challenges for the simple reason to remind me not to take my health for granted and only count on the present moment. All my best wishes for a healthy and vibrant you.

jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks so much Helen for the kid words. So sorry to hear about your health struggles...especially for someone so young. Good for you for finding ways around it all!

I think it is hard for others to understand if they have not done this, but I so agree with your point of better this than sitting on the couch at home.

Sending healing and happy travel vibes your way!!

jeanne @soultravelers3

I am so happy to hear you are better now Melissa! I am so sorry you had that traveling sick experience in China and I must admit such stories do frighten me a bit because I am going in, not in great health, so more vulnerable.

Having a friend in China and being able to go very slow and at my pace, does give me more confidence. TCM has helped as much as anything with my mysterious condition, so his many contacts with top TCM docs also gives me some reassurance.

Still it is a risk and I have no idea what I will eat while there. I will also be bringing lots of natural remedies that seem to help me or in case we run into health issues.

I've got my fingers crossed and keeping a positive focus that all will go well.

jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Violeta for your kindness!

I think we are all babies when it comes to being sick and feeling's a difficult way to experience life and makes everything harder and IS more scary in a foreign place.

The good news of being home in the USA recently with the most severe health issues, is I got to see that it really is miserable no matter where I am. It is no fun to be sick at home or abroad...but at least it is cheaper often abroad. ;) That time there certainly burst my bubble of the illusion that I could quickly heal at home with my access to the best healers, doctors and food...I was at my worst there and none of it helped.

Even loved ones who care deeply can not take away the pain or make you better and I am sure it wears on them day after day of having a wounded bird attached to the family that takes up extraordinary time and effort.

To be this sick for this long at my age has been pretty scary and discouraging at times...but we must all handle life as it is given to us.

Probably most frustrating about this is no one knows exactly what the problem is, so I am kind of on my own trying to cure it. I've been amazed at how many others have dealt with similar hard to treat or diagnose severe illnesses and how epidemic digestive disorders are because of the food today.

I feel bad that I am not as vibrant and healthy as I'd like to be for my daughter and husband, but I am also grateful that it is me that is going through this and not them.

I am determined to get on the other side of this and be able to help others with all that I learn in the process!

Nancy D. Brown

Jeanne, I am so sorry to read of your consistent health issues.

With regard to my impending hip replacement surgery, I have had two staph infections in that leg, so I know I will need antibiotics pre and post surgery. Unfortunately, I am prone to infections.

I like your quote about the kid seeing the manure and looking for the pony.

Keep optimistic!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Nancy and I am sorry to hear about your health challenges. Travel as a baby boomer is sometimes different than traveling younger,eh?

Yes, sometimes one has no choice but take antibiotics and I don't think they ever do any surgery without using them.

Do be aware of how the pain meds and antibiotics can affect your gut health as unfortunately they never mention it.

I almost bled to death by taking a small amount of Advil ( ibrupropin like Motril) for joint pain on my knee while traveling

I may some day have to get a knee replacement myself, but I am doing all I can with diet to keep my bones and joints healthy and avoid such if at all possible.

Whether you get the operation or not, I'd definitely do research on diet and how you can aid your healing with that and add bone broths and fermented foods to your diet. ( see links above to posts I've written about them and benefits).

This is an interesting article about how an athlete prevented hip surgery by diet:

Good luck!


Hello Jeanne! I'm sending you love and light from my little corner of Brittany. I know about long term illnesses as my husband has been surfering from ulcero hemorragic rectocolitis for 10 years now. It certainly impacts the dynamics of our family, but it's also a learning curve...
I hope things will continue to improve for you. I am really enjoying your post about your time in China ! What an extraordinary school you've found. It makes me think differently about China... Thanks for that and, as usual for all the time and effort you put in this space. Mozart is just lovely ;-)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Gabrielle! So sorry to hear about your husband's health challenge.

This trip certainly has made us think differently about China as well.

You should see the French area of Shanghai that we visited this would think one was in France. This is quite an amazing country and so diverse!


What an amazing woman you are, Jeanne! I'm catching up on your blog after being away for a while.

Matt over at is always talking about the importance of cleansing the colon. It's not just about the solid waste but, more importantly he says from his experience and research, it is more important to clear the gases from the gut.

I've read lately about doing fecal implants. It's been very successful in treating people with chlostridum difficile (sp?). I listen to Dr. Richard Massey on the Patrick Timpone Show (available free through iTunes and, and he talks about doing enemas himself using all sorts of things in the solution. Who knew?

Given all of the drugs and surgery you've had, perhaps it can help you. Not everything that goes into our mouths comes out the other end.

When I lived in India with my guru, I learned about the importance of colon cleansing; it's part of Ayurveda. I learned to self-administer enemas to do every Thursday (Guruwar - guru's day), every full moon, every new moon, and the 11th day before both. That was a lot of coffee enemas a month.

My weight did stabilize because I also fasted those days. And I rarely got sick. It wasn't until much later that I learned the specific health benefits of these practices.

I'm glad you stopped being veg as I had suggested that a while ago.

Maybe in future posts you cover the benefits of water kefir and sprouting/soaking grains, beans, and nuts. All Weston A. Price practices.

Do you get regular sunshine (not to the point of burning or tanning)? It's amazing the healing power of the sun when taken in optimal amounts (Dr. Mercola talks about this a lot).

Thank you for sharing your experiences. You are an inspiration!!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Happy to hear from you Gopika and thanks for the many tips! I am doing much better these days, but still not 100% yet. I did some interesting TCM in China ( and here before going) and at the moment NAC, raw goats milk, Mentharil, GAPS/WAPF diet, natto, mastic gum, Ginseng plus Chinese herbs and Terramin seems to be doing the most for me.

My energy is soooo much better which helps so much. I do often get some strange pains late in the day, but cold showers and lying down with my magnet and meditation helps a lot.

I have thought about fecal implants and other more extreme things like LDN, BHT etc, but holding off for now as I seem to be going in the right direction.

I also tried coffee enemas and would do it more but I can not find an enema kit here ( only have fleet enemas here which don't really work well for that).

I've done some Ayurveda and might do more as that is easy to come by here ( like the Chinese medicine) thanks to the huge Indian community here.

I haven't done water kefir yet ( I eat no sugar..only small amounts of raw honey as needed), but am loving the raw goats milk kefir and my beloveds drink coconut kefir too ( I make with milk grains).

I will be writing more health posts, but trying to catch up with the China stuff mostly first.

Vt D is a HUGE component to health and mine was severely low. I am using the equator sun here : as well as supplements and food ( to get it all synergistically).

I was only at 18, so will test here as I am sure it is rising and I'd like it in the 60 to 100 range.

I am ordering some fermented codliver oil as we speak as I am also on a campaign to cure kidlet and hubs cavities naturally and will be writing about that.

Interestingly, the cure for cavities is almost the same as cure for gut and osteoporosis, so I've learned a lot about all 3 ( my 85 year old mom has osteoporosis so I've been advising here as well).

Happy to know you are interested!

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