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Travelling with endometriosis can be extremely tough. For those that don’t already know, endometriosis is a chronic and debilitating condition that can cause a number of symptoms from painful, irregular and heavy periods to fatigue and even infertility. The condition has affected my travels for a long time, but it took nearly 15 years for me to actually be diagnosed. As someone who loves to travel I’ve tried my best not to let my diagnosis hold me back from seeing the world. I wanted to write this article for other women with endometriosis, to encourage them that it is possible to travel in spite of the condition. The article covers my own personal experience of travelling with endometriosis, and the ways in which you can minimise the impact it has on your travels.
Approximately 1 in 10 women have endometriosis. The effects of the condition vary dramatically, with some women experiencing severe symptoms on a daily basis whilst some women have no noticeable symptoms. There is currently no cure for endometriosis, and what treatment works for one woman won’t necessarily work for another.
In my opinion, there is a real lack of information about travelling with endometriosis. Although the symptoms of the condition can be extremely painful, it doesn’t necessarily need to deter you from travelling. I have found some ways to minimise the impact of the condition on my travels, but unfortunately due to the nature of the condition there is no guarantee the same things will work for you. I sincerely hope at the very least this article as a good starting point for you to find a way to deal with endometriosis on your travels.
Over the past 5 years I’ve been lucky enough to be able to explore some of the most beautiful places in the world, from Iceland to Colombia to Tonga and beyond. Unfortunately though, my endometriosis has consistently caused me problems throughout my travels. Although at the time I didn’t know I had the condition, due to the severity of my symptoms I have had to visit hospitals in multiple countries. On top of that, I always end up having to visit the doctor when I’m at home in England so that I can discuss the problems I have and so that I can get more painkillers to help me manage the condition. As a result, I can never really be away from England for too long as I need to see a doctor regularly. It’s quite inconvenient having to come back due to my symptoms, so I use the following ways to deal with my endometriosis while travelling.
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A guide to travelling with endometriosis
One of the best ways I have found to manage the pain is by taking painkillers. I am prescribed high-strength co-codamol, which is somewhat effective for easing my bad stomach pains. Unfortunately, travelling with this medication isn’t as easy as I originally thought it would be. Although co-codamol can be bought over the counter in England, this isn’t the case in other countries. Co-codamol contains codeine, which is illegal in a number of countries around the world. This meant when we travelled South East Asia I couldn’t take my medication with me as possession of it could have resulted in jail time. Before our recent trip to Athens I wanted to check if codeine was legal in Greece only to find out it is illegal and classified in the same category as heroin. It’s crazy to think that’s what it considered safe to be sold over the counter in one country can be completely illegal in many others. If you suffer with endometriosis and plan to travel it’s important to always research the legality of your medication before your trip!
My worst symptom is severe stomach pain. Sometimes I can’t leave the bed for hours as I’m just in too much pain to move. I can’t remember the last time I went a day without feeling pain, which makes travelling and being on the move tough. As I am unable to travel with co-codamol, I’ve had to find alternative ways to reduce pain. The best method I’ve found so far is to use a hot water bottle. I recommend this for anyone who struggles with pain, whether you’re travelling or not. Many of the countries we visit are hot and tropical, so the staff in homestays or hotels often get confused about why I use a hot water bottle. Often there isn’t a kettle available to freely use, but generally people are understanding and incredibly helpful so we always manage to find a way to boil some water.
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Adapting to fatigue
Another symptom of endometriosis is fatigue, which also affects me badly. On the rare days where I don’t feel pain, I am often fatigued and don’t have the energy to do much, if anything at all. Most days of my life I experience both pain and fatigue. Even on days where I don’t feel fatigued, I need to make sure not to stay out all day or do too much at once as I get too exhausted. To combat this I’ve learnt to adapt the way I travel to reduce the impact my condition on me, so that I don’t miss out on things I want to do whilst also preventing my symptoms from flaring up.
Over the course of the last 4-5 years I’ve had to adapt the way I’ve travelled because of my endometriosis. Travelling is a lot easier for me to deal with if I stay for longer in a place rather than travelling long distances every few days. My symptoms often come and go without warning, so I can be fine one minute and then in agony the next. By spending longer in an area I don’t have to miss out on doing things I want to if I end up having a bad day or two. Previously when I travelled on a tight schedule I’ve had to miss out things I was really looking forward to because I was in too much pain to get out of bed on the day. Travelling more slowly has helped me massively, as I can explore a place when I feel up to it, whilst also giving me the chance to spend days in bed if I’m not feeling well enough. Doing so also allows me to get to know cities and countries better as I spend more time there, so that’s an added bonus too as well as not missing out on things!
If you have endometriosis then I fully recommend travelling more slowly. It may mean that you can’t see as much in a short space of time, but it means you’re less likely to miss out on things due to your symptoms.
Unless I’m in too much pain I always try to go for a walk. It normally feels like it won’t help, but it often reduces the pain at least slightly. Sometimes I can only manage going up and down the road, but other times I surprise myself and manage to walk for longer. Even when you’re in pain it’s a good idea to do some exercise as it can help ease your symptoms. Personally, I prefer just to go for a walk as it’s a nice way to explore places when you’re travelling. It’s up to you though, so if you’d rather go running, cycling, swimming or something else, then do that. Regular exercise helps to manage the pain, so it’s important to stay active not only when you’re experiencing symptoms, but also when you aren’t in pain.
Travel insurance is essential for anyone taking a trip, and it’s especially important for women with endometriosis. I briefly mentioned earlier about having to visit hospitals abroad due to my condition, and without travel insurance this would have been extremely expensive for me. The best example of this was when we visited Buenos Aires in 2017, around 5 months into a 7-month trip around South America. I hadn’t had any major problems up until this point, but for 5 nights in a row I woke up in agony, screaming in pain. Each morning the pain had subsided but after the fifth night we decided that it was best for me to visit a hospital in the morning even if the pain had gone.
The hospital did a few different tests on me, including an MRI scan, to try and locate the problem. Fortunately I had good travel insurance, as the total bill came to the equivalent of around £1,500 (approximately $1,900 USD). Having travel insurance meant I was fully covered and so I was reimbursed for these medical expenses. You never know when something is going to go wrong, whether it’s endometriosis related or not, so it’s best to have insurance just to be safe. If I didn’t have insurance then I would have had to pay the medical bills myself and we wouldn’t have had the money to finish our trip.
A last note on travel insurance is to make sure you always declare your endometriosis. When you are buying travel insurance, whether it’s online or over the phone, you are asked to declare any pre-existing conditions. If you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis you need to declare this to your insurance company before purchasing a policy. It’s possible for your insurance to be invalidated if you fail to declare a pre-existing condition, which means you would have to pay for any medical treatment yourself. Before reimbursing you for any treatment travel insurance companies will look at your medical history, and if they find any condition that was not declared you will most likely not be covered for any treatment required as a result of the condition.
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Finding your triggers
Each woman has different triggers that can cause their pain and symptoms to worsen. If you’re able to figure out what these triggers are for you then it can make travelling a lot easier. Some women experience worse symptoms after eating certain foods, such as those containing sugar, wheat or gluten. Changing diet to avoid certain foods can really help some women to reduce their symptoms.
Unfortunately, following a specific diet isn’t always easy when travelling. It’s often the case that gluten free food, for example, isn’t widely available in restaurants and supermarkets. This is especially the case in less Westernised countries. If sticking to a specific diet helps your symptoms you may find there is a very limited choice of what you can eat. I often have to eat the same meal at least a few times a week when travelling due to a lack of suitable ingredients or meals in restaurants. There isn’t too much you can do about this if you need to stick to a certain diet, but I recommend doing a bit of research on food in a country before you visit.
Changing your diet isn’t the only way to manage your symptoms. Some women find that yoga can help reduce their pain and fatigue, so it’s worth trying a number of different things and seeing what is easiest to incorporate into your lifestyle. If you’re able to find out what works for you then it makes travelling a lot easier, as that way you know what to do and what you should avoid. This can involve quite a bit of experimenting, but trust me it’s worth it if you end up experiencing less pain as a result.
Pack suitable clothing
If you suffer from endometriosis I recommend packing some baggy clothes for your travels. With unpredictable bloating you never know when you might need them, and baggier clothes mean there is less pressure on your stomach when you’re in pain. If you’re having a bad day and are in a lot of pain then the best things to wear are jogging bottoms and a baggy top. Depending on where I am when I travel I take a mix of shorts, dresses and jumpsuits so that I have plenty of baggy things to choose from when deciding what to wear. Often I get random pains when I’m out exploring and wearing loose clothing really helps with that. Even when I go out for meals abroad I always wear loose clothes as flare ups can happen at any time.
Pack plenty of sanitary products
Endometriosis can cause long and irregular periods, so it’s important to be prepared for this when you travel. Make sure to pack plenty of tampons and pads for your trip, as you never know when you’re going to need them. Tampons and pads can be hard to find in supermarkets and pharmacies in some countries, and even in countries where they are available they can be quite expensive. They are especially hard to find in less Westernised countries. For me personally it was a real struggle to find any in the Philippines. It’s best to pack what you need so that you don’t run the risk of not having access to the necessary sanitary products. Alternatively, you can do some research online to check if the products are widely available and a reasonable price in the country or countries you plan to visit. It’s also a good idea to always pack some tampons and/or pads in a day bag when you’re on you trip, that way if you suddenly need them they’re easily accessible.
Take time for yourself
Travelling with endometriosis can be disheartening and mentally draining. It can easily be overwhelming dealing with the condition instead of just being able to enjoy the place you’re visiting. Make sure to take time out for yourself to do things that make you happy, but that don’t aggravate your symptoms. Doing this is particularly important if you have endometriosis and plan to travel long term. Always make sure to take the time to just relax and give yourself a break, whether it’s watching a movie, reading a book, or just listening to music. Doing so gives you the time to just have a bit of normality and not have to worry about how symptoms like pain and fatigue influence your travels.
Having endometriosis definitely makes travelling harder, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you find what works for you and follow some of the advice above, then it’s possible to travel in spite of the condition. Hopefully this information is useful and encourages women with endometriosis not to be put off travelling because of the condition. Depending on the severity of your endometriosis then it may be best to start off just taking short trips at first. If you want to travel longer term make sure you feel comfortable doing so and take care to manage your symptoms as best as you can. I’ve been travelling for around 4 years on and off, and I still haven’t found the right things that work for me. I’m constantly experimenting to try and reduce my symptoms, whether it’s cutting out certain food groups or trying the coil. It takes a lot of time and patience to find out what works for you and what doesn’t, but in the end it’s worth it if it means you can travel as much as you want. For a lot of women with endometriosis travel is possible, and for those that are unable to travel right now because of their condition, I hope one day you will be able to.
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