When You Want to Travel the World But Have to Deal with Chronic Pain

An ex-partner once told me that she had serious doubts about our ability to travel together because I’m in chronic pain. Since traveling as much as possible was a priority for both of us, this statement brought up some sincere doubts about it for myself. But does that mean I give up the idea of seeing as much of the world as I possibly can? Not for me. Not when I’ve prioritized it. The month of April was a big travel month for me, and it taught me what I physically can and cannot do when traveling, as well as how to make the most of my experiences while dealing with pain.

FullSizeRenderJust before take-off to Europe.

Let’s take a short journey through my travel experiences of April 2017. From the first to the fourth, my friend and I went to New York City (my first time, her second). I went with a newer friend so we had never spent that much time together at once, nor had we ever traveled together before. The trip overall was a blast, and I modified what I did, leaving some of what she did up to her. For example, I really could only party one night, so the first night we stayed out clubbing until 2:30am. The next night, she wanted to go out again (and did so on her own) but there was no way that super-fatigued me was going to have another late night. I was in bed by midnight, she shuffled back in around 3. We stayed in an airbnb that was a walk up, and the amount of walking we did during the four days was insane. The few times I was in a lot of pain we were able to take a rest, or I’d power through. Then, from April 28 to May 5, I met my parents in Vienna, Austria. It had been nine years since I was last in Europe (France), so this was a trip I was very much looking forward to, and I knew nothing was going to stop me from making the most of it. My parents also live in a different province than me so I hadn’t seen them since December, and I certainly haven’t done a trip like this with them in over ten years. We did two day trips as well – one to Budapest, Hungary and the other to Bratislava, Slovakia. My parents are older so murmurs about arthritis pains and fatigue fit right in (I try not to be sad that my body also thinks it’s old). The trip included as much, if not more, walking than my NYC trip, and was amazing. I love travel, I love Europe, and I love adventures. The nice thing is, because I was with my parents and not a friend or sibling, I didn’t feel pressured to go out late (quite the contrary, they’d rather start early in the day and go to bed early). There were a few times when the chronic pain got to me (the difference between traveling with a friend and a parent is I would tell my friend but not my parents – don’t want to worry them), but I pushed through. How many times would I get to explore a palace in Bratislava, or walk through Mozart’s house in Vienna? I think that’s the point my ex-partner missed, I wasn’t going to give up experiences just because of some stupid pain.

FullSizeRenderJust me having some breakfast at Tiffay’s in NYC.

After the Europe trip, I took a few days to digest before thinking about what to write in this post. What did I learn? What worked for me? (In regards to traveling with chronic pain, that is). The first and most important thing is POSITIVITY. This is a motto and theme in my life. Sometimes positivity is hard, maybe even nearly impossible (though not while traveling, in my opinion), but it can certainly get you through a lot. I want to see and do ALL the things, so I’m going to. I’m going to start each day positively and not succumb to thoughts about pain or “what ifs”. “What ifs” are terrible. They don’t help you in the moment, only cause worry for the future. As someone who struggles with anxiety in relation to chronic pain, I get my fair share of “what ifs” but I’m learning to not let them control me. And if they don’t control me here in Canada, then they definitely are not going to control me when I’m abroad.

IMG_1322After climbing to the top of the tallest tower in Bratislava Castle.

Pace yourself, say no when you need to, and push yourself when you can. I’m not going to run a marathon (at least not at this point in my life, and to be fair, I don’t like running so I probably never will). If I can’t do something or I need to slow down I will. This doesn’t mean I will have to sacrifice seeing or doing things, but they made need to be modified. I know people who make fun of the “Hop On and Off” Busses here in Toronto, that tourists often use. Well guess what? I used them in Austria and Hungary. They were awesome. You get some history, and it got me off my feet long enough to conserve energy and fight through any pain better when we “hopped off” to go see some sights. I mentioned that in New York, I said no to going out with my friend one night. I had to, and it was fair. Luckily she’s a nurse so she really didn’t give me a hard time about it (well maybe just a little but in a purely joking manner). Did I miss anything super exciting? Nope, just a night at the bar. And by saying no I was easily able to get up early and have breakfast in front of Tiffany’s (Yep, I’m a big movie geek and proud of it). Whenever I can push myself, I do, and I did, on both trips. Walk through the pain to see the sights, sit when I can, but see all that I can see and do all that I can do.

IMG_1323Crossbow shooting outside of Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary.

The most important part, whether it’s while traveling or just in life in general, is to have fun! We only get to live once and I don’t want my chronic pain to control how I feel about every situation or stop me from having a good time. So I don’t. A lot of it is a conscious effort and it doesn’t work every day of the week, but I made it work while abroad because how could I not? Travel is fun! I’m already planning my next overseas trip with my parents and younger brother – Egypt and then somewhere in Europe (I’m rooting for Switzerland). If anyone thinks anything is going to stop me from seeing the pyramids or hiking through the Alps, they are gravely mistaken. It’s my life and I’m going to make the most of it. And I truly encourage all of you to do the same.

If anyone reading has any travel advice, feel free to comment or send a message!