10 Tips to Enjoy Day Trips with Chronic Illness

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 19 June 2023
  • 9 minute read
10 Tips to Enjoy Day Trips with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions

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Who else loves going on day trips?

There are few things I enjoy more than going out for a day. Whether you’re headed to the beach or an amusement park, you want to explore a cool museum or national park, or love to shop until you drop in a new city, it’s just nice to be in new surroundings and have fun.

That is, of course, when your health actually allows you to enjoy it.

Day trips can pose a lot of challenges for people with chronic illness, even if you manage to work around more obvious problems like having to do lots of walking.

Nobody loves standing in line for food, toilets and attractions. But when you have limited mobility, you won’t just feel bored and impatient, but also get a painful back, trembling legs or dizzy head.

Taking your kids to swim in the lake can be impossible if there are no toilets to run to when your irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease plays up. Not to mention the sensory overload many ‘spoonies’ experience from all the people, bright lights, noises and movements around them.

Of course day trips are a luxury you can just skip. But we all want to have a good time with friends, join family outings or do something exciting every now and then. So what can do to make days out a little easier and more comfortable when you have a chronic illness?

A lot of that depends on your specific condition and circumstances, but here are 10 general tips to help you enjoy day trips with chronic illness. 

10 Tips to Enjoy Day Trips with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
Photo by Kindel Media via pexels.com

Before Your Day Trip

1. Plan what you can

Life rarely happens exactly the way you think it does, but planning your day trip can save you a lot of energy and stress on the day itself.

When choosing the activity you or your companions would love to do, play out the day in your mind to see which potential problems you may encounter and what you might need to avoid or deal with that. Consider how you’ll get there, whether you’ll have to stand or move around a lot, and how busy it could be.

Depending on your specific health issues, you could research the accessibility for walking aids or visual impairments, the locations of toilets, the walking distances from the parking area and possible places to eat and rest up. Think out of the box for solutions: if you can’t walk far, maybe you could swap the zoo for a safari park you can drive through?

If possible, pick a suitable date. Take into account things like the weather if you’re sensitive to high or low temperatures, check the crowd calendar of theme parks and museums, and make sure you have enough time to rest up before and after your day trip.

You can also reduce the time spent waiting in line by booking tickets in advance and limit unnecessary movement by looking into the most efficient (walking) routes. Speaking of which…

2. Set priorities

I know,  I know, setting priorities doesn’t sound fun and spontaneous at all. Bu as much as you want it to be different, you probably won’t be able to explore the entire MET, Rijksmuseum or Louvre in one day. You won’t have enough energy to go on all the carnival rides, see all the animals in the zoo or hike all the beautiful trails that the national park has to offer.

So instead of risking running on fumes before getting to the tigers your kids really want to see or before going on a romantic ferris wheel  ride with your date, choose together what you’d love to do most. Think about your available energy and functional capabilities, the resting you’ll have to do and other limitations you could encounter to come up with a realistic plan that works for everyone. In that spirit…

10 Tips to Enjoy Day Trips with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
Photo by Anna Tarazevich via pexels.com

3. Communicate your boundaries clearly

It’s frustrating for everyone when you all have different ideas about how your day trip will go. And it stings even more when others don’t fully understand you want to stay longer and join in on all the fun, but you simply can’t. 

So before heading out, communicate your boundaries clearly to everyone coming along. Set the right expectations: you’ll need breaks, can’t do everything, might have to cancel last-minute, etc. By kindly discussing it openly, you may be able to work out a solution that’s right for everybody, like your friends saving their rollercoaster rides for when you need a break. Also think about how you’ll handle it if you have to leave early, and what the warning signs of your body look like that tell you to stop immediately.

4. Pack your bag

Having everything you need within hand’s reach can be a lifesaver on day trips with chronic illness. Of course you’ll need your standard medications, emergency meds and/or first aid supplies, but things like a reusable water bottle, sunglasses and ear plugs to reduce sensory overload, or small hot or cool packs for pain relief will also come in handy.

It’s also helpful to bring healthy snacks or a lunch package when you suffer from food allergies, follow a medical diet or struggle with blood sugar imbalances. If you have POTS or dysautonomia, you could also carry electrolyte packets and salty snacks to come to the rescue. Ginger drops may offer some relief if you get nauseous easily.

Obviously you don’t want to carry a heavy bag around all day, so be smart about what you pack and if you could use helping hand from friends or family members.

Day trip tip for chronic fatigue: “Make a packing list on the computer to save time and (mental) energy. Edit and print for each family member as needed.” – Wanda Belisle, fatigue coach. 

5. Rest up

We all know that chronic illness can be very unpredictable, and symptoms can flare up at any time. But you still want to give yourself a good chance of feeling reasonable well by taking pre-emptive rest.

So don’t plan on doing too much the day(s) before your day trip, and schedule room for real rest. Sure, you can take it easy by chilling on the couch with your favorite show on. But simple activities like breathing exercises, gentle yoga or taking a warm bath can help relax your muscles, balance your nervous system and calm your mind before your fun trip.

10 Tips to Enjoy Day Trips with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
Photo by Adventurous Blondine via pixabay.com

During Your Day Out

Day trip tip for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): “Dress comfortably. Elastic waistbands/leggings/dresses are best. Don’t wear anything that constricts your belly.” – Natalie Hayden  from Lights Camera Crohn’s.

6. Remember your non-negiotables

On your way to the festival, shopping centre or the beach, remind yourself of your most important ‘rules’.

Maybe you’ll be able to enjoy gentle amusement park attractions, but you definitely won’t go on rides that involves spinning or g forces. Or you’ll listen to your favorite band on the festival, but you’ll skip other performances in the hopes of preventing sensory overload, a migraine attack or over-exhaustion from standing too long.

And if you’re going on a day out with (young) kids, your non-negiotable could be that they’re only allowed to swim when there’s another adult present, if you’re not able to jump in the water when something goes wrong.

Setting these simple heuristics for yourself can reduce the mental load of constant decision making, and will help you stick to your pacing plan.

7. Stay hydrated and well fed

Every cell in your body needs liquids and nourishment to function well, so it’s important to stay hydrated and well fed on a day out. And although there’s nothing better than eating salty fries sitting in the sand or having a sorbet ice cream on a warm Summer’s day, some of us have to be mindful about what we eat and drink to stave off stomach aches, blood sugar spikes or inflammation.

Coffee, soda drinks and sweets will give you a quick pick-me-up, but they’re often followed by a caffeine crash and a dip in blood sugar levels, leaving your feeling tired, unable to focus, irritable or dizzy.

So bring a refillable water bottle, healthier snacks and/or a picnic basket to have something nourishing at hand.

8. Pace yourself

It can be challenging for anyone to keep their energy up on a full day out, let alone when you have a chronic illness to manage.

So make sure you plan breaks, preferably before you get too tired, overwhelmed or symptomatic. See if you can find a relatively quiet place to rest, away from too much stimulation. Sit down whenever you can to save energy. Mindful micro-breaks, like a walking mediation, breathing exercises or a mindful body scan, could also help you recharge throughout the day.

Depending on the day trip you’re taking, it can be useful to alternate between different activities. For example, at the beach, you could rotate between building sand castles with your kids, reading a book and dipping your toes in the water to avoid straining your body with the same position all day (even if it’s a relaxing one).

Day trip tip for chronic illness: When going out alone, utilize “Find My Friends” on your phone, so those close to you can track your travels and see where you are for safety purposes. – Natalie Hayden  from Lights Camera Crohn’s.

10 Tips to Enjoy Day Trips with Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions
Photo by Antoni Shkraba via pexels.com

After Your Day Trip

9. Take it easy on yourself

Chances are, you will be worn out by he time you get home from your day trip and your symptoms will flare up for a few hours or days afterwards. That’s not the right time to cook elaborate meals or have important tasks and appointments the next day.

Instead, take it easy on yourself. Have a healthy freezer meal or nice salad from the supermarket waiting for you in the fridge, or order take-out that’s relatively nourishing. Try to make sure you’ve got your basics covered for your rest day(s), like having clean clothes, a stocked pantry and a coping box for flare-ups. You might even consider asking for help with baby-sitting or dog walking if you know beforehand that you’ll be struggling with care duties while you’re recovering from your day trip.

Day trip tip for chronic illness: Take a look at how you can make the most of rest days when you need to recover from your fun day out. 

10. Don’t fight your need for rest 

It can be so frustrating that you’ll have to “pay the price” the next day(s) for enjoying a simple day trip with your family and friends. And you’re right, it is totally unfair. But getting too caught up in those thoughts and emotions will cast a shadow over the fun you’ve just had.

So acknowledge your feelings, but then try to accept that right now, this is your reality. Don’t let your illness steal even more joy from you and try to focus on all the happy memories you’ve just made.

What is your best tip to enjoy day trips with chronic illness? 

Learn more about how to best manage your limited energy, and how to decide when you should push through the pain or stop to rest. Or if you’re too sick for day trips, take a look at these 55 fun ways to have an amazing summer at home!

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