Free Chronic Illness & Pain Management Journal to Help You Gain Control of Your Life Again

Travelling with a chronic illness doesn’t need to be overwhelming as long as you come prepared. These are the travel essentials you’ll need no matter where you’re going – and a printable packing list to make it a lot easier.

Table Of Contents 1Why Spoon Theory Was Created2Spoon Theory Charts Are the Best Way to Explain Your Struggle3Spoonies Have Limited Energy4Spoonies are Warriors – Step Aside Soldiers5Spoonies Are Risk Takers (Even if We Get Burnt)6Spoonies Go Through Difficult Times Alone7Guilt Often Overwhelms Spoonies 8Spoonies Are Resourceful9Pain and Exhaustion Make Spoonies Grumpy10Spoonies Need to Know How to Celebrate Small Victories11Spoonies Hate Pity – Don’t Look At Us With Sad Eyes!12Spoonies Are Too Hard on Ourselves13Spoonies Need Your Love and Support14Spoonies Can Laugh at Themselves – Here Are Some Memes

Eleven years ago, I remembered arriving at airport security with a suitcase full of meds, thinking: “Shit! I’m going to be arrested today.” This near-jail experience was the first flight I decided to take since my CRPS II diagnosis in 2010. And although I thought I was prepared ­­– nothing could be further from the truth.

The good news is I was not arrested! (Obviously)However, I did end up delaying the flight by 2 hours trying to get through security without a pat-down (it would hurt my body too much). And I can confidently say that no one on the plane liked me very much.

So, the travel essentials and packing list I’m sharing with you today are a product of experience.

I wish I had someone give me this advice back then because experience is the only thing that qualifies you to put a list like this together.Since that day, I’ve taken more than 150 trips with my wheelchair, crutches, or various other walking aids. I’ve gone on road trips, aeroplanes, boats – you name it! Today, packing is easy for me, and I want to show you how to travel with a chronic illness or chronic pain.

woman at airport departures with a chronic illness

A Medical Folder to Keep Your Information Together 

Your medical folder is your ultimate travel essential. No matter where you go – it will keep you safe.

A medical folder basically can be any folder that’s:

  • Well sizedYou need something big enough to fit all your relevant medical documents. At the same time, it needs to have a compact shape. You want it to fit in your luggage easily.
  • DurableI can’t stress this enough – no paper folders! Stick to something that won’t become paper-mache if you spill some tea on it.
  • Easy to latchYou don’t want to be in a situation where you pull your folder from your bag, and important documents drop everywhere.

items that need to be included in your medical folder when travelling with a chronic illness

I have hand tremors, so losing my papers is not something I want to risk when I’m in a public space, like an airport. Try to use a folder with a button, zip or velcro closure.At the end of this section, I give you some printables to make this part a whole lot easier!

There are also awesome apps to help you manage your medical information digitally, I review the best ones here: Top 13 Apps for People with a Chronic Illness in 2022

A Doctor’s Note That Explains Your Chronic Illness

Think about the small things here. It’s your most unexpected symptoms that make a difference in an airport.For example, if you have:

  • Skin sensitivity means that you can’t have security pat-downs (like me).
  • Medically implanted devices, such as a Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS), means that you need the device’s ID card. You may need to switch it off during take-off and landing too.
  • A prosthetic leg means you may need to ask for privacy and extra assistance when going through security.

Your Latest Medical Script to Validate Your Medication

Every country has its own rules about travelling with meds. But I find it’s always best to protect yourself here.Make sure you keep the script and proof of payment with you.If you just have ibuprofen on you – chill. No one cares. But if you look like a dodgy drug sales rep when you open your hand luggage, the German Shepherd at security is 100% going to single you out.Do some research about where you’re going. You need to ask:

  • Is the medication I take allowed in the country I’m visiting?
  • Am I allowed to bring more than a 30-day prescription? 

A Schedule to Help with Brain Fog

This is especially important if you’re travelling alone and taking more than one flight.Try to keep organized when you travel by writing out your plans. It will also help keep your loved ones calm if your trip is mapped out. At the end of this post, I will give you some printables. But for now, know that your schedule must include:

  • The dates and times you’ll be travelling.
  • Where you are coming from or going to.
  • Your flight details (airline name, flight number, terminal)
  • Names and phone numbers of the key people you’ll be dealing with in each place you visit.

Top tip: transfer all this information to your phone as well, so it’s easy to share with others as you travel.

List of Nearby Hospitals, Doctors & Pharmacies

Do you want to rely on Wi-Fi in a foreign country when you urgently need to find the closest hospital?

No. You really don’t.

Print all that information out, please. Get all addresses, phone numbers and other details ready.Not all places have Uber, so make sure you find out what taxis are available before you leave too.

You should include:

  • Nearby hospitals, their addresses and contact details.
  • Nearby pharmacies, their addresses and contact details.
  • Taxi services that you can call in case of emergency.

An Emergency Protocol Sheet in Case You Need Help

One of the most traumatic experiences I had was slipping in a shopping centre. The pain was extreme, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t get up. But worst of all – No one knew how to help me because I couldn’t get a single word out of my mouth.This isn’t something that should happen very often (or ever)! But please don’t take any chances, especially if you’re alone.Just write down your emergency protocol on a sheet of paper. Try to keep it to a bullet format – short and easy to read.

This should also include:

  • Emergency contact details
  • Medical aid or insurance contact details
  • A brief explanation of your medical condition, especially if it’s a rare illness.

Just a quick FYI here – if the place you’re visiting uses a different language, I’d highly recommend writing down your protocol in that language (as well as in English).

Medication and Medical Equipment

The best advice I can give to anyone travelling with medical equipment and medication is to plan.

  • There’s always a chance you’ll run out of meds while you travel, so make sure you have enough for the whole trip – plus an extra three days for safe measure.
  • Don’t try to save space by putting medication in smaller boxes. Keep everything in their original boxes (so it’s labelled properly). These are not vitamins you’re taking – if you mix them up, it’s a big problem.
  • Keep your OTC medication in a Ziplock bag that you can use to grab and go at any time. You’ll often find pharmacies sell travel-friendly versions of your meds, too, like in individual sachets or compact boxes.

I recommend any of the following OTC medications, depending on what you struggle with:

  1. An immune booster (with as much vitamin C as possible)
  2. A natural energy boosting supplement
  3. Throat lozenges
  4. Electrolyte tabs
  5. Cortisone cream
  6. Antibiotic cream
  7. Paracetamol and/or ibuprofen
  8. Joint and muscle spray
  9. Antiseptic cream
  10. Burn shield
  11. Antihistamines
  12. Plasters
  13. Probiotics
  14. Laxatives and diuretics (not a hot topic – but still important) 

Don’t forget your medical equipment either:

  1. A face mask (Not the mud kind – the kind that covers your nose and mouth from breathing in impurities.)
  2. A blood pressure monitor
  3. A blood sugar monitor
  4. Iron count monitor
  5. Nebulizer or inhaler  
  6. Your personalised equipment (I.e. a portable EKG monitor, or oxygen tank, Epi-pens etc.) 

Travelling with Medication and Walking Aids 

Flying

Most airlines will allow you to bring one walking aid on board without hassle.Just remember to double-check the regulations for the specific airline that you’re using.If you need assistance at the airport, call the airline you’re flying with in advance to book a wheelchair.You don’t need to be a hero here – rather be safe than sorry.If you are already using a wheelchair, this also needs to be mentioned.

They will need to know:

  • If you can walk at all.
  • How much assistance you need.
  • Whether or not to organise a special wheelchair to get you onto the airplane. 

If you’re new to your walking stick or cane, this article will help you: Using a Cane When You’re Chronically Ill

The next point I cannot stress enough:

All medication, medical equipment and medical information must stay in your hand luggage.

Clothes and shampoo go in your suitcase. Anything invaluable (like drugs) goes in your hand luggage.

Cruising 

A lot of the rules that apply to flying will apply here too.You need to check:

  • How disability friendly the cruise ship is. (In the US, this would mean checking to see if they are ADA compliant.)
  • How many pieces of medical equipment or walking aids they allow.
  • Their policy on travelling with medication

Road tripping or camping

Rules become a lot more lenient when travelling by car, especially if you’re staying in your own country.If you’re crossing the border into another country, you’ll need to make sure that you are compliant with the border control rules of that country.

A High-Quality Pillow to Ease Chronic Pain

The type of pillow you travel with depends on the type of trip you’re taking. (Don’t worry – I will discuss this in more detail.)

But if you’ve got any form of chronic pain and discomfort ­– this is a travel essential. If you’re trying to figure out which pillow is best, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself: What health factors make you the most uncomfortable while doing your daily activities?Get those down on paper and explain why they make you uncomfortable. You need to focus on those moments because they will only get harder when you’re travelling.

Here’s what I recommend:

If you’re flying

  • A soft neck pillow filled with foam balls or microbeads.
  • An adjustable and inflatable footrest.
  • An inflatable body pillow that helps you stay comfortable in tight economy seats.

If you’re driving or on a cruise

  • A hypoallergenic pillow to sleep on.  
  • A doughnut cushion (to help you sit for long periods).

Accessories to Help with Temperature Regulation

woman with chronic illness in airplane getting comfortable

Honestly, if I could bring my own blanket, hot water bottle, neck rest, leg rest, down feather duvet, and recliner chair on any given trip – I totally would.But it’s just not practical. The irony of packing everything that may help you on a trip is that it’s a b*tch to carry around with you for the rest of the time.But seriously, comfort does equal compact in this case.

If you’re flying, I recommend:

  • An ultra-light down feather jacketThey are warm, space-effective, and light as a feather.
  • Warm, fluffy socks Compression socks are also great to help with circulation.
  • A heating or cooling pack (or both)
  • A scarf Something long that you wrap around the aeroplane chair to make it softer.

If you’re driving or cruising:

You have more flexibility here than when you fly. So, you could potentially pack more comfort items – especially those that can’t pass through an airport security check.

I would consider packing:

  • Your favourite blanket
  • A thermal spring water spray
  • A travel flask

Athleisure to Keep You Comfortable

Clothes and shoes designed to keep you comfortable while you move are perfect for travelling. I’m the kind of spoonie who travels in athleisure, and I highly recommend it.

Small things like not wearing restrictive pants that press on my abdomen help prevent UTI’s. And breathable sportswear helps me regulate my core body temperature better too.

Here’s the outfit I love travelling in:

  • Yoga pants (full length that come up to your waist)
  • An adjustable sports bra
  • Breathable t-shirt
  • Long-sleeved shirt (for layering)
  • Sweater
  • Lightweight down jacket
  • Comfortable walking shoes 

I also suggest using a belt bag or fanny pack instead of a handbag, especially if you use walking aids.You need to have quick and easy access to your documents, cash and phone.A handbag is heavy, difficult to carry, and you can’t get to your things easily. Not ideal when you’re pressed for time.

Here’s the ultimate read if you need to make your wardrobe more chronic-illness friendly (without losing your sense of style): 16 Fool-Proof Fashion Hacks for Chronic Illness

High-Quality Walking Shoes to Ease Discomfort with Walking

This ties in with the clothes you wear ­– the more comfortable your shoes are, the easier it will be to walk (if you won’t be needing a wheelchair).

I’m very particular about the shoes I wear for a couple of reasons. But mainly, unsupportive and poorly made shoes are bad for your toe, foot, leg, and back health.

Remember to look for shoes that:

  • Give you proper arch support to protect your ligaments and prevent further chronic pain in your legs and feet.
  • Have high-quality soles that minimise the impact of walking on your joints.
  • Give your toes enough room to move so that you prevent things like ingrown toenails, athletes foot and corns.   

Activities to Keep You Distracted

Books are a good way to keep busy when you’re travelling – whether it’s novels, short stories, puzzles, or colouring in – they can keep you busy for hours.Audiobooks and podcasts are also great if you prefer listening to your stories.

But I like to take my travels as an opportunity to get away from technology as much as possible and just stick to good ol’ fashion paper.

And if you’re more creative, you can bring a sketch pad or some knitting to dig into.

The Daily Aids You Need to Cope with Discomfort

Travelling essentials need to include a set of daily aid items that make your life feel a whole lot more manageable.

Some of my other daily comfort aids include:

  • Breathable and comfortable clothesSo, if I start sweating or getting muscle cramps – my clothes don’t work against me when I’m trying to walk.
  • Hair clipsI keep them on my handbag strap so I can quickly put my hair back.
  • A doughnut cushionThese help me sit on public chairs so that my back and legs don’t get too sore too quickly.

You also need to add these items to your packing list:

  • Walking aid (I call mine my pimp stick since it’s gold all over)
  • A wheelchair (if you need one)
  • A hair clip or hair tie
  • A big bottle of water
  • Gentle cleansing wipes
  • Some meditation tracks or chilled podcasts on your phone
  • Glasses and contact lenses

While I can’t tell you what you need to pack for personal preference, I thought I’d share some of my personal items to help you out:

  • Joint MSM spray
  • Hands-free earphones (walking with a crutch means you don’t have an extra hand to reach for your phone when it rings)
  • A clean set of underwear and socks in my handbag
  • UV protection sunglasses

How to take advantage of your space when you travel to maximise comfort:

On an aeroplaneIf there are a few available seats next to one another in the cabin. Then ask to move there, so you can lie down.On a road tripSet yourself up in the back of the car and lie sideways so that you can stretch your legs. And use the pillows you’re bringing to make the back seat more comfortable.On a cruiseAsk if you can book a room that is handicap friendly and close to an elevator, so it’s easy to get around.

Snacks That Aid Digestion and Blood Sugar Levels

I don’t travel without snacks.

Scratch that. I don’t leave the house without snacks.

Since I already feel weak from pain and exhaustion, I don’t want hunger to be on the list, too, when I’m trying to get something done.

variety of snacks to include in your chronic illness packing list

And given I struggle with very low blood pressure and blood sugar levels – it’s worth my while to plan my meals.

I highly recommend healthy snacks. But that’s because I feel a huge benefit to my overall well-being when I eat properly.

We need to have as much energy as possible and keep on top of our plans when travelling. So, eating the stuff that correctly fuels your body and brain goes a long way.

Now I’m not saying to go all in. Leave your containers of soup or rotisserie chickens in the freezer at home, please. Keep it clean, simple and easy to eat.

Tips for travelling with snacks

  • Make sure your food fits in a zip-lock bagIf you’ve ever lost an open packet of trail mix at the bottom of your purse – you’ll understand why.
  • Avoid liquids and saucesAnything liquid is seriously risky. Even if it doesn’t spill in your bag, it can spill on your clothes as you eat it.
  • Prepare food before you travel.I once saw a woman at the airport whip out an entire mango and begin to peel it in her hands. Of course, it slipped. It was a mission to clean and a sheer waste of time for the poor lady. Best to cut your fruit at home and bring a fork to make things easy.

If you’re flying, food gets a little tricky to pack.

Each country has its regulations about travelling with perishables – so you should check out the rules in the country you’re visiting.Snacks I like to have with me include:

  • Nuts (especially almonds)
  • Raisins
  • Natural liquorice
  • Fruit gums or leather
  • Dark chocolate

All these items are dry. And easy to buy in sealable packets.And if you’re travelling through a country that doesn’t allow certain perishables. Then look for landmarks, like duty-free, where you can pick something up.

If you’re driving, food gets a whole lot easier to pack. Just remember you want food that is:

  • Already prepared;
  • Easy to eat without cutlery – think bananas, muffins and wraps etc.; and
  • Won’t leave a strong smell or mess.

If you’re staying somewhere overnight or going on a camping trip, try to do some meal prep in advance.

I’m not Martha Stewart, but the good news is that you don’t have to be for this to work! The key is consistency and simplicity.

If you need some help in the kitchen, you need to read this: 14 Energy-Saving Cooking Tips When You’re Chronically Ill 

Dietary requirements

Another important thing to remember about snacks is that they save you when you are served foods you potentially cannot eat.

I would always recommend calling your airline or cruise ship to confirm your dietary requirements.

But having snacks on you is just good sense! You don’t want to be hungry, tired and weak while travelling.

A High-Quality Backpack to Keep Your Essentials

A proper backpack or bag is a chronic-illness must-have – it doesn’t matter if you’re travelling abroad or just to the shops.

It’s difficult to be kind to your body when you’re travelling with a chronic illness ­– but the right bag can make a huge difference in how much discomfort or pain you feel.

Everything we’ve mentioned in this article needs to fit into your bag – so it better be something you can carry around.

I find that the best bag for someone with a chronic illness to travel with is a backpack with extra support. This is because:

  • It is lightweight.
  • It disperses the weight evenly between your shoulders, relieving pressure.
  • It helps you stay organized.
  • Your hands are free if you use crutches or a walking aid.
  • You can carry it for long periods.

Remember to look for:

  • Comfortable shoulder straps
  • Strong lumbar support
  • A waist belt
  • A chest strap
  • Something lightweight
  • An ergonomic design

Alternatively, if you can walk quite comfortably, I recommend using a standard hand luggage bag with 360° turning wheels. This is also easy to use, and I love using one for weekend getaways. 

Printed List of Chronic Illness Packing Essentials 

Now for the juicy stuff – I’ve put all the templates you may need to complete this leg of your chronic illness packing list.(Honestly, I love this part so much that I can’t help but wonder if these printables are more for me than for you.)

You can download your free chronic illness packing list printables here:

  1. Medical folder (Printable 1) 
  2. My Itinerary (Printable 2) 
  3. Comfort Items and Daily Aids  (Printable 3) 
  4. My Snacking Checklist (Printable 4)

I’m sure these will help you as much as they’ve helped me.

When you get back from your trip – I look forward to hearing about how it went.

Until then – happy travels!

About the author, Marina

Marina Wildt is an experienced health and wellness writer, chronic illness warrior and founder of The Discerning You. In the last 12 years, she has gone from being paralysed in a wheelchair to living a full life alongside her conditions and now she wants to share all the practical advice that she has learnt with you.

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