Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. I have been doing it since I was a little kid visiting family in Egypt. I only get to see them once every few years, so every trip feels like I’m having the best time. Up until a few years ago, I only went to Egypt with maybe one domestic trip with friends. I always wanted to see the world, but my Crohn’s disease made me put my dreams on hold. Having inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) means taking time to plan for extra clothes and toiletries, getting a doctor’s note for medications, and preparing for the possibility of getting sick. I didn’t want to burden anyone who wanted to have fun on vacation.
Then I had the opportunity to go to Dublin to join a half marathon for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I jumped at the chance since Ireland was one of countries I wanted to see, and I loved every minute of it. It was the first time I spent with other people living with IBD who had similar needs and struggles. I never had to pretend that I was fine or feel guilty if I needed to skip an outing. We only spent a few days together, but it was a life-changing experience because I realized I wasn’t alone in battling Crohn’s. I stayed a few days after everyone left to explore on my own. I felt free exploring the country, checking out several museums and historical landmarks, and experiencing everyday things like sitting on top of a double-decker bus. I realized how much I loved exploring and learning about culture and history. I was determined to travel somewhere new every chance I got.
Unfortunately, I got very sick and was hospitalized a few months after that trip. I lost my job and couldn’t afford to travel anywhere. Neither did I have the energy to do so. Part of the appeal of traveling is that while I still must be mindful of Crohn’s, all my responsibilities, stressors, and the need to be dependent are nonexistent. It’s an escape for me. I can be a different, more independent person for a short period. To have that taken away from me was crushing. It wasn’t until a year and a half later until I traveled again. This time, I went to an out-of-state retreat for women with IBD. I was still sick and extremely depressed, but like Ireland, the women understood my situation. It somehow made me feel the best I had in a long time. I pushed myself to do several activities like rock climbing, ziplining, embracing nature, and participating in support groups that discussed all our experiences with IBD. Most importantly, I made some of the most meaningful lifelong friendships that weekend.
I’ve traveled several times since that retreat. My last one was to Paris in 2019. Such a fabulous city with lively vibes, incredible art, and great entertainment! By then, I became a pro at traveling with IBD. As I mentioned earlier, it is important to be overly prepared, especially when it comes to avoiding trigger foods. I prepare meals that can last for several days and I stay at a vacation rental near a grocery store, so I don’t eat out often. I also bought a portable, mini slow cooker on the off chance that a microwave or stove aren’t available. I also find restaurants where they serve safe foods and contact the places in advance to make sure they can accommodate me. Preparing for that frees up my time to explore the world’s magnificent beauty. I haven’t traveled for fun since Paris due to the pandemic, but I’m aching to hop on a plane! I don’t know where I’ll go next, but I’ll be sure to cherish every minute of it.