Road Tripping When Ill? Your Ultimate Packing List

Summers were made for road trips. And while they say the journey is supposed to be half the fun, anyone living with a chronic illness knows that traveling can be taxing on your body and disruptive to your carefully managed diet, medication and sleep routine.

The Ultimate Road Trip Packing List

Whether you’re heading to a music festival, the beach or just a few towns away, road trips — however spontaneous — require planning. Here are 15 items to make space for in your car, for the journey and the destination:

1. A Good, Organized List

Never underestimate the power of a thorough packing list. For Phyllisa Deroze, author of the blog Diagnosed Not Defeated, that’s an app called Wunderlist. A cool feature: You can share your lists with a travel buddy or caretaker through the app to help you make sure you’ve included everything you’ll need. “It’s actually not marketed towards people with chronic illness, but it makes keeping track of everything so much easier,” she says.

2. Enough Meds, and Then Some

No spoonie needs to be reminded about the importance of bringing their meds along on a trip. But don’t forget to bring at least a couple days’ worth of extras. That goes for meds and supplies, like glucose strips and tablets. One of the joys and drawbacks of travel is unpredictability. You may find yourself on the road for a few extra days, and will be glad you came prepared.

3. Really Dark Sunglasses

Whether you’re the pilot or the navigator, dark sunglasses can help deflect the sun and bright glares bouncing off of other cars, which can be triggers for migraines.

4. Extra Written Prescriptions

Even if you plan ahead, your meds might get misplaced or ruined. Having a prescription already written out that you can hand to a pharmacist at the closest drugstore will save you the time and stress of trying to reach your doctor after hours and connecting him or her with a possibly very remote pharmacy.

5. A Hydration Backpack

Hydration packs offer hands-free hydration! Especially helpful if your road trip is taking you to a music festival or other lengthy outdoor event that could potentially tap your energy supply, it can also be used to sneak in a snack in case the food sold there will aggravate your symptoms. “Sometimes that’s easier than trying to tell the security guard that you have a disease and you have to bring in your tuna-to-go so you can survive later,” says Angie Abramite, a Chicago-area drama teacher diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

6. A Travel-Specific Mobility Aid

Travel-size applies to more than just mini shampoos and lotions. Think about investing in a more travel-friendly version of a device that helps you, but is a little bulky. The internet is your friend when it comes to finding canes that fold up or ultra-light wheelchairs that come with a carrying bag.

7. Your Own Travel Linens

Sheets might seem like a bulky item to pack in the car, but if your skin reacts easily to detergents or scented products that could be found on hotel beds, you’ll be glad you did. The same goes for towels. Luckily, several outdoor recreation companies make towels that are thin, light and quick drying.

8. A Sturdy, Reusable Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is key for some in fighting fatigue. But when it’s not filled with liquid, consider your reusable water bottle a strong storage spot for essential items, like medications or supplies that you can’t risk accidentally crushing.

9. Translations of Dietary Restrictions and Emergency Instructions

In case your road trip takes you across national borders to a place where your native language isn’t the main one spoken, bring along small cards with translations of any dietary restrictions and emergency instructions. Can’t read the menu? Just hand the card to a restaurant employee to make sure you don’t accidentally eat something you’ll be sorry for later.

10. Bathroom Apps

Traveling can throw off your routine… in more ways than one. If being able to plan bathroom trips is a key component to managing your condition, consider downloading an app like Flush, Toilocator or Sit or Squat.

11. A Mini Cooler

Even if your car’s AC is downright arctic, that probably won’t help keep medications that need to be refrigerated cold enough. Bring a mini-cooler with ice that you can refill along the way. For those traveling with insulin, a specific insulin-cooling carrier may be an even better bet.

12. A Versatile Wheelie Bag

When pain is a part of your daily life, traveling can be exhausting and, well, painful. Having a bag that has wheels that roll in every direction (i.e. not just forward and backward) can mean the difference between dragging something and walking alongside it. As Abramite also mentions, bags like these tend to put less strain on the abdominal area than a backpack.

13. A Page-Turner Read or Binge-Worthy Watch

In case you need to take a couple of hours, a day or even a couple of days off and reenergize and recuperate from the journey while others participate in activities, it’ll help knowing you have that book you’ve been wanting to get lost in, or a tablet loaded up with a season of one of your favorite shows.

14. Earplugs and an Eye Mask

With the extra energy needed to travel, getting quality sleep is even more important than usual. Ear plugs and an eye mask will help block outside stimuli, like the noisy folks in the room next to you, or, if you’re tenting-it, those lovely (but loud) chirping birds whose day starts at dawn.

15. A Journal

Let’s face it: Travel is challenging. Some would say that’s kind of the point. But for spoonies, the challenges are unique. As one author puts it, vacations while sick are “happy-sad” experiences. The happy comes from the memories you’re creating and the experiences you’re having, but the sad creeps in when your travel activities make you feel, well, crappy. You’ll want a place to process some of these thoughts at the end of the day.

What items did we miss on our packing list? Tell us what travel companions you can’t live without in the comments below.

Article originally published July 8, 2016.