Sarah travels the world with both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Crohn’s disease, and gives us a bit of a different take on traveling with illnesses; while her conditions are under control with the right medications, she still has to plan quite a bit to make sure she has access to her meds. Read on for her inspiring story of how her conditions don’t hold her back one bit!
First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Sarah, I’m 28 and grew up in The Netherlands. After graduating art school I put most of my belongings in a storage unit, and have been working abroad and traveling ever since. In winter I teach snowboarding in the Alps and the rest of the year I travel as much as I can. Exploring Europe, South-East Asia, and Central-America together with my amazing Czech boyfriend has been a wonderful adventure and we have many more crazy plans for the future.
What medical conditions do you battle, and in what ways do they make travel more difficult?
I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Crohn’s disease, in my case meaning pain and infections in my joints (especially knees but sometimes the knuckles of my hand and feet) and intestines. It started when I was in my early teens and has gotten a lot better over the years since finding out the proper medication and treatment. Since they are both immune-system related, the medication prescribed is actually the same so that makes it easier. I have been lucky with travel so far, and haven’t had any major infections in years, so the most complicated part is making sure I have enough medication with me for normal use and emergencies, plus keeping all of it at the right temperature. Because there are not a lot of people who travel long-term and low-budget with the medication that I use, it was a battle to find the right methods of transport (like bags that are cooled by water), paperwork for crossing borders, and for instance what travel-vaccines are safe to use.
Were you afraid before your first trip that these conditions would make travel more difficult? How did you overcome this?
Especially when I changed to injections that needed to be kept cold and I wanted to go backpacking in Asia it was a bit tricky. Up until then I had been on pills or gone on road trips and brought a small cooler. The hardest part was finding out all the details, because in the end the bag I found was perfect, works very well and has taken away all my difficulties of traveling with medication. Of course there is always the chance that I will get a major infection and need to visit a hospital or go home, and that can be quite scary. Luckily I have some emergency countermeasures and good contact with my doctors so that I can take care of things long enough to figure out a solution, even if I’m in the middle of nowhere when the worst-case scenario happens.
In what ways do you have to adapt your travel style due to your illnesses?
Actually I don’t think it changes my travel style at all. It makes all the preparations more complicated and time-consuming, but once everything is taken care of, the actual trip can take place as if nothing is wrong. It would all be a lot easier and stress-free if I would go on more luxury holidays to places with fridges and good access to healthcare, but that is not what I enjoy the most, so I’ve adapted and it’s all worked out very well so far.
Were there any countries that have been harder to travel due to your illnesses? How so?
Except for the fact that some tropical diseases are a bit complicated to prevent because I can’t have standard vaccinations, and even that my awesome doctors have found a way around, I’ve been to every destination I wanted so far.
How about the flip side – were any countries easier to travel with your conditions?
It’s not that it’s easier with these conditions but it definitely has been easier on my body. My Arthritis is a lot worse when it’s cold so I do fairly well in hot climates, and that makes me feel a lot better on a daily basis.
Do you think that you experience aspects of travel differently from someone who doesn’t battle these illnesses?
Probably not, except maybe for the fact that I’ve learned to appreciate life in general better because I know what it feels like when you can’t go to do what you want to. There are a lot of people out there with similar illnesses who are way worse off or living in a country without such amazing healthcare as The Netherlands, so I really count myself lucky for being able to go on all of these adventures.
Do you find that people react to you differently along your travels – whether in a good way or a bad way?
Normally I don’t tell random people I meet anything about my conditions, and since you don’t see anything strange about me I don’t get a lot of questions. I take my medication in the privacy of a bathroom so the only odd thing might be a big operation scar on my stomach that I occasionally get questions about. Apart from that it is a part of my life that I don’t necessarily share with the rest of the world. Not that I am ashamed or anything, and if I do get questions I’m happy to answer them, there are just a lot more fun conversations to be had with new friends.
What would you say to anyone else with similar illnesses who wants to travel, but is afraid their medical conditions will hold them back?
GO! Talk to your doctors, if they are holding you back ask for a second opinion. I’m not saying it won’t be a challenge, but a lot can be planned and arranged, and there are plenty of amazing countries that you can visit who will take excellent care of you if something does go wrong. Make sure you have outstanding (travel) insurance and get a good credit card so you can advance any payments if necessary.
Any final thoughts?
Like I said, this is not a subject that I spend a lot of time talking or writing about, because there are so many nicer subjects in the world and I would hate it if someone would feel sorry for me since that is really not needed. I do think it’s important to have stories out there for people to read if they have some illness and are worried that it’s impossible to leave the safety of their homes. A lot of people in the world don’t have the funds or freedom to travel so if you’re one of the blessed ones that do, don’t let a medical frustration keep you away from seeing more of this amazing planet!
If you’d like to be my next interviewee, contact me for more details!
And be sure to check out more interviews with people who don’t let anything hold them back – click here!