Moving or Road-Tripping With a Chronic Illness
Last updated: September 2022
Taking a road trip or moving cross-country when you have a chronic illness (or three!) may seem daunting. And granted, it is not easy. But with some pre-planning, you can have a successful experience.
In April, I planned a cross-country move in three weeks. I wouldn’t recommend that short of a timeline to anyone, but I was going through a divorce and had some circumstances I couldn’t get around.
Preparing to move across the country
I had to pack, get rid of, or sell stuff I didn’t want to bring and research safe hotels and Airbnbs. I have mast cell activation syndrome, and one symptom is an intense reaction to chemicals and fragrances, research apartments, buy things I’d need for the trip, stock up on meds, take my cat to the vet, and take my car in for a trip inspection.
I love lists and organizing things visually, so the first thing I did was create a spreadsheet. This helped me keep track of everything I needed to do. I added checkboxes to each sheet to be satisfied with ticking them off when I finished something.
I created tabs: moving expenses, grocery store research, take-out research, moving company research, hotel questions, apartment research, what to pack in the car, what to give away, and a list of the people in my support network.
The task was quite overwhelming, so I enlisted the help of a few friends. Although I felt scared to ask, I knew I could not do it alone.
My friends supported me by making calls to hotels, researching grocery stores and restaurants that had online ordering and outside pickup, taking my stuff to reuse and thrift shops, selling my items at a garage sale, and helping me pack my pod the day before I left town.
When fatigue and grief are in the mix during a move, reaching out to your community can mean a world of difference.
I created a list of questions for myself and people to ask when calling hotels and Airbnbs. My questions mainly centered around fragrance and chemicals.
Still, I also wanted to know about Covid protocols, their pet policy, if the hotel was smoke-free, if the parking was free and easily accessible, and if they’d be willing to forego putting linens on the bed and towels in the bathroom since I brought my own.
It took many calls before I could find places to suit my needs, and even then, I ended up in some rooms that didn’t follow through or weren’t upfront with me about their policies.
Eating while on the road
I have many food allergies and sensitivities, and I also have some finicky meds that must be taken at certain times of the day. One of my biggest concerns, outside of finding safe places to stay for four nights, was what I would eat.
Restaurants are quite hard for me since alliums are one of my main sensitivities (garlic, onions, shallots, and leeks are in nearly everything) and I also eat low FODMAP, so most foods you’d think to eat on a road trip are out.
No pizza, hamburgers, Chinese, Indian, or sushi. It turned out that I didn’t eat out for the entire five-day trip.
I managed this by buying a cooler that kept my food frozen for the trip. The cooler worked as advertised: I found two jars of still-frozen lentils and rice when I arrived at my final destination.
Part of my mast cell illness includes not being able to eat leftovers unless frozen first to avoid histamine buildup. I planned and cooked enough food that would be easy to heat in a microwave. I also ensured each place I stayed had a microwave or access to one, and my dinners were meals I’d made.
I ate carrots, cucumbers, blueberries, sunflower butter on rice cakes, and crackers for lunch. I also packed a ton of snacks, making sure to think about a mixture of fat and calories that would keep me going. Seed flour crackers, nuts, and fruit pouches worked well.
Trying to prevent pain
Another important factor was making sure I had my rehydration drink available. I have dysautonomia, which causes issues with the autonomic nervous system.
For me, it looks like headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Staying hydrated with electrolytes helps me avoid these issues.
Each morning, I made my rehydration recipe of cranberry juice, water, and salt and poured it into a thermos that I drank throughout my eight-to-nine-hour drive.
This made an enormous difference. I had no headaches, no sciatica, and no painful legs! I didn’t spend money on drinks from gas stations, so I could avoid going into stores except for bathroom breaks.
Prepping the car for the ride
I brought a lot of things in my car to help me get through the drive and the interim time when I was looking for an apartment. I also had to carve out space for Harvey, my emotional support cat.
He had his little area where his carrier sat on top of his trash-bag-covered litter box.
I also brought: two air purifiers (which turned out to be lifesavers), a silk sleeping bag liner that I could sleep in to combat night sweats and hot flashes (and smelly hotel sheets), my large fan, my linens and towels, all of my important papers in a fireproof bag, my cat’s water fountain and food, my cleaning supplies, trash bags to put clothes in if they got perfume or other fragrances on them (which I had stuffed to the brim by the end of the trip despite vetting places ahead of time), a glass in which to drink my cromolyn sodium (a mast cell stabilizer) in the car before lunch and dinner, multiple kinds of pillows, and a rolling box I could load items in to bring them into the place I was staying for the night.
Clothes, toiletries, and things I’d need to do my job when I arrived were other items I brought.
Unloading the car at night and repacking it each morning was a huge chore by myself, not to mention getting Harvey back into his carrier and strapped in for the ride. But it turned out that nearly every item I brought was essential during the trip. Having that rolling box saved me from taking multiple trips when unpacking and loading.
I’m glad I brought my body pillow, yoga bolster, and other pillows because they gave me a feeling of home when I landed at my final destination. I mapped out where each item would go in the car on my spreadsheet, which made packing the car much easier the day before I left.
I no longer get my period since I’m in surgical menopause, but if I still bled, I would have added backup menstrual products, pain relievers, and probably a heating pad. I already had a seat cushion and back pad to help keep me comfortable during the long drive.
My final recommendation is compression socks. Check with your doctor to ensure you can wear them before trying them. For me, they made an incredible difference. I struggle with blood pooling and sciatica, but I had no issues during the drive, and my fatigue was much better. I now wear compression socks daily, and my dysautonomia symptoms have greatly improved.
Whether for a long road trip or a cross-country move, I hope these tips can help you prepare and have a peaceful trip. If you have suggestions based on your experience, please feel free to share them in the comments!
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