A Guide to Travelling with Endometriosis
Travelling with endometriosis can be difficult and painful at times. Planning for your endometriosis while travelling can definitely help. Endometriosis can be unpredictable, painful and tiring. So can travelling. Put the two together and…well you get the idea! While endo has a habit of showing up at the worst times, you can take some steps to ensure it doesn’t ruin your trip.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where endometrial-like tissue (the tissue that lines the womb) occurs outside the womb. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 women worldwide suffer from endometriosis. It’s more common in women than asthma, yet it’s still under-researched and diagnosis takes an average of ten years for a woman to be diagnosed.
According to the Endometriosis Association of Ireland:
Endometriosis triggers a chronic inflammatory reaction resulting in pain and adhesions. Adhesions develop when scar tissue attaches separate structures or organs together. The activity and the complaints due to endometriosis may vary during the woman’s menstrual cycle as hormone levels fluctuate. Consequently, symptoms may be worse at certain times in the cycle, particularly just prior to and during the woman’s menstrual period. While some women with endometriosis experience severe pelvic pain, others have no symptoms at all or regard their symptoms as simply being ‘ordinary menstrual pain’.
If you suspect you have endometriosis, consult your doctor. A diagnosis can seem like a scary thing, but treatment can significantly improve your quality of life.
Travelling with Endometriosis
Travelling with any chronic disease is difficult. The symptoms of endometriosis make it a particular pain in the ass (literally) to travel with. Symptoms can vary widely but often include pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea (because your Delhi Belly wasn’t fun enough on its own!) and my personal enemy- fatigue.
Given that 1 in 10 of us are suffering, the chances are you’ve shared a dorm with more than one endo sister on your travels. If you don’t suffer, please be mindful of your travel partners who do. Take their word for it when they say they’re in pain (we’re very good at hiding it!) Offer to heat up their heat pack. Ask what you can do to help and they will love you forever.
When travelling, I want to hike the mountain, try the local food and stay out all-night at a beach party. When travelling with endometriosis, I want to curl up in bed, dose myself up on ibuprofen and spend a night in with my heat pad. There will be days I’ll do the latter. But there’s no way I’ll miss out on the former because of it.
There are a few steps I take to ensure endo doesn’t mess up my travel plans. They don’t work all the time (the joys of an unpredictable illness!) but they help.
Pack a few “comfort items.”
For me this is a heat pack and a blanket. Most hotels and hostels will heat up a heat pack for you. Those hot/cold packs are perfect as they can double up as an ice pack for any swelling or injuries. The blanket is an unbelievable comfort when trying to contort into the fetal position on a stuffy bus. You’ll thank me later!
Get enough rest.
My new year’s resolution is to travel slower. This is as much for health reasons as environmental reasons. By giving yourself more time at a destination, you won’t feel the same pressure to get up early and be on the go non-stop. Travelling with endometriosis is tiring enough without running around trying to see the top ten sites in 24 hours!
Doing nothing can be as interesting as doing something.
My lasting memory of Mossel Bay, South Africa is not of our coastal hike. It’s of turning back and going for a manicure instead. I woke up that morning feeling like my insides were burning. Our whale watching tour was cancelled- a blessing in disguise. Instead of looking for another tour, we went for a leisurely stroll with some people from the hostel, ate ice cream, walked halfway to the lighthouse and got massages and manicures instead.
On a side note, massage can be a great way to relieve pain. After a particularly bad flare up, my insides feel like they are wound up in a ball. A massage can relieve tension and is a great way to spend a day for your own self-care.
Watch what you eat.
For me, food has a huge impact on my endometriosis. When I eat well, I feel well. Food is one of my favourite things about travelling. I find it hard to deprive myself of unusual, delicious food but have come to the conclusion that it can literally be the deciding factor for whether my day will be pain-filled or pain-free.
Foods that are fried, sugary or high in saturated fat or soy (which acts as a phytoestrogen, worsening symptoms of endo) are best avoided. Fibrous foods such a rice, beans and vegetables along with vegetables and fruit (just watch the sugar intake) are a great way of rebalancing the digestive system. I try to balance eating out and cooking in the hostel depending on how my body feels. It takes a bit of planning but I have grown to love checking out the local supermarket!
Travelling with endometriosis can be painful, awkward and downright embarrassing at times. It can be frustrating when your friends tell you to pop a paracetamol and come with them or when you feel they are downplaying your illness. Remember, it can also be frustrating for them to see a friend in pain who they can’t help. I’ve made the mistake of referring to endo pain as “cramps.” We all know it is so much more than this but often go for the easier, less embarrassing description of our pain.
You don’t need to go into detail, but simply letting your travel companions know how your feeling-be it tired, bloated or in pain- can go a long way in settling tensions. Instead of telling them what you can’t do, tell them what you need from them. This might be space, some time to lie down, some painkillers from your bag or just someone to chat in the background while you try to come through a particularly painful spell. And you never know, speaking about your problem might open up whole new opportunities for your friends, or even strangers, to display their understanding and solidarity (like the time a lovely gynecologist from Kazakhstan offered to examine me in a dorm room in South Africa…needless to say, I declined her offer!)
Travelling with endometriosis can be frustrating, isolating and debilitating. None of these tips will “fix” your endo. They are simply what work for me and I’m constantly adding to the list. The most beneficial thing you can do is be kind to yourself, listen to your body and remember- it’s your physical illness, it’s not in your head and it’s not you.
If you suspect you might have endometriosis, please consult your local health professional. For more information visit www.endometriosis.ie.
Thanks to GLT member Clíodhna R. for shedding light on an important travel experience! If you’d like to follow more of her journey, check out her blog, Your Next Big Trip or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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