I talk with a lot of people who are putting off traveling, even short day trips to go hiking, because of chronic health problems, weight issues, etc. They plan to start hiking when they lose 20 pounds or will be going on vacation after their knees are repaired. The problem with this? If I waited til I was in perfect shape to see the world, I might never travel. Maybe I won’t ever see the top of Mount Everest in my lifetime, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying so much of our beautiful world, even with bad knees and some sort of chronic post Lyme condition.
I thought I was just being wussy about my knees when I opted to enjoy the church of 100 steps from below during my trip to the Azores. When my right knee started really hurting on the flight back home, I decided to see the doctor to confirm I was a wuss and had just pulled something. Instead he said, “Wow. You have the knees of an 80 year old.” Then, he started talking about surgery. I said words back, like Iceland and hiking in the DelMarVa area. We are going with something a little less invasive – a series of injections – for now.
So, with my knees pretty much shot, I went to Fair Hill, Betterton and St. Michaels. And I enjoyed myself immensely. Yes, I walked slower than normal. But I enjoyed every second, from wandering through a bunch of shops to exploring little museums. I paced myself. And, I found myself seeing things with slightly different eyes. When I was in Betterton, I noticed wide sidewalks right up to the beach and how wheelchair accessible it was. When I was in Fairhill, I noticed how you could explore some paths easily with bad knees. At the museum in St. Michaels, I saw that some people with physical limitations might not be able to see all the exhibits, especially inside the lighthouse, but they could still wander through a number of the buildings.
Hiking When You Have Mobility Issues
Of course, I need to balance my love of hiking and traveling with what my knees can handle. Here are a few things I have learned that really helped me keep exploring the world.
- Check park websites before you go to see which trails are friendly to people with mobility issues. If you don’t see the information on the website, call. I found information about paved trails and which unpaved trails are still an easy hike without much effort so I could plan hikes ahead of time.
- Take it slow. Don’t try to keep up with people who don’t have mobility issues. I can walk ten miles at a moderate rate. Or I can try to keep up with someone hiking like they’re trying to beat their personal best marathon time and I will be done in during the first mile.
- Consult your doctor. He or she may recommend knee braces, ice, or even a cane or walking stick.
- Don’t be afraid to turn back or remind anyone you are hiking with that you have to move slower.
- Seize the opportunity that hiking slower gives you – the opportunity to really look at the world around you. When you are only intent on your destination, you truly miss out on the journey. The 3 people who rushed by on their way to the mountain peak didn’t see the mossy log, the snail, the way the sunlight came through the trees.
- Consider the gear you bring and really pack with care. I have these awesome lenses and full frame Canon cameras. It all sits at home and I hike with Olympus micro 4/3 cameras and lenses instead. This lighter weight gear is so much easier to carry and puts less stress on my knees.
- Hydrate. Then hydrate some more. And then remember to hydrate.
Traveling With Chronic Illness
Chronic health conditions complicate travel, too, sometimes more than mobility issues. And there are some conditions that have the CDC recommending that you stay put. Still, even if you are limited in your travel and can’t hop on the next flight overseas, micro travel is usually an option. Have you explored every little town, park and museum within two hours of your home?
Still game to travel overseas? Here are some things that work for me:
- Realize that the stress of catching flights, booking your hotel and finding your way around a new place can sometimes trigger symptoms like fatigue, pain flare ups, etc. even if you’ve been doing well for several months. If possible, build in extra time between connecting flights and leave a little earlier than necessary to arrive in time for any reservations. Reducing stress whenever you can is essential!
- Vacations aren’t the time to throw everything you do to manage a condition out the window. Try to remain as close to your normal diet as possible and make sure you still get in the same amount of exercise. If you change time zones, your sleep patterns will change, but don’t be afraid to take a quick nap each day.
- Make sure you have enough of any medications for your trip and then some. If your flight is delayed for some reason, you don’t want to run out.
- Follow your doctor’s advice. If he or she says you absolutely need to postpone air travel until you stabilize or warns that your health could be compromised by a visit to another country because of autoimmune responses to required immunizations, consider making different travel plans.
- Don’t worry about “wasting” a day relaxing in the hotel. If you aren’t up to packing every second with sightseeing and exploring, focus on what you can handle and let go of the weird guilt you feel about “missing” some must see spot. Let what you can do be enough.
Do you travel with less than perfect health? Bad knees? A wonky back? Please share your story of traveling without waiting for perfect health and fitness!