How travel has helped me cope with chronic illness

Sarah from the back looking out on the Yorkshire Dales

Last Updated on 9th May 2021 by Sarah and Justin

I was diagnosed with lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM) almost nine years ago. In that time, Justin and I have visited more than 50 countries together and spent over a year traveling full-time. Through our own experiences and through connecting with others in similar situations we’ve learned that travel is more than just a lot of fun. As we state on our homepage:

“We believe in the transformative and therapeutic effects of travel.”

Travel is the number one thing that has helped me cope with having a chronic illness. I want to share how travel has helped me, and us, and how we think it can help others.

Traveling helped me stop thinking about my disease

Sarah and Justin smiling on their Ljubljana to Lake Bled day trip

This is the simplest and most straightforward way traveling has helped me cope with having LAM. When I was first diagnosed, it was really hard for me to think about anything other than the fact that I had a fatal disease. I started reading incessantly and would never leave home without a book because if I had any downtime, my brain would go back to LAM. And anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger would follow.

The act of traveling involves so many things to do and think about and see and experience. And busying myself with those things helped me stop thinking about LAM. And it’s not just being away that took my mind off things. I could keep myself occupied for weeks with all the pre-trip planning and post-trip reminiscing.

But that’s the act of literally not thinking about something. Travel helped me in a more meaningful way too.

Traveling helped me think about things other than myself

After being diagnosed with a chronic, fatal disease, one can become a bit self-absorbed. As I mentioned above, it was really hard for me think about anything else than LAM and how it effected me and Justin: my disease, our plight. This is probably understandable. But it doesn’t help anyone.

Travel was the first thing that really helped me think and see outside my own situation. Traveling just lets you see and learn new things about people and places you may not have known about before. It teaches you to appreciate the beauty of the world and exposes you to new foods and animals and customs and alphabets.

Simply put, traveling expands your worldview. And when I was diagnosed with LAM my worldview became ridiculously small and was definitely in need of some expanding.

Traveling challenges me

Sarah standing in front of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Through travel I always feel like I’m learning, not just about the places I visit, but also about myself and my abilities. Traveling can be difficult, with or without a chronic disease. There are languages to learn and maps to navigate and weird foods to try. There are also bags to carry and hills to climb and exhausting travel days.

But over the past nine years, I still enjoy and welcome those challenges because I know they have made me a smarter, more confident, more open-minded, and all around happier person.

Travel keeps me healthy

I have had LAM going on nine years and I have been lucky to consider my disease stable pretty much throughout that time. Sure there have been blips and dips here and there, but nothing I haven’t bounced back from.

In the past three years since we quit our jobs to see (some of) the world, I’ve become as healthy as I’ve ever been. When we’re visiting new destinations, we walk for hours. When we’re home, I maintain a regular gym routine. Being active as much as I can is not just good for my lungs, but my overall well-being both physically and psychologically. And over these years during which traveling has been a huge part of my life, I’ve gotten stronger and my endurance has improved as well.

Traveling has connected me with other women with LAM

Through my travels and this blog, I’ve connected with women with LAM all over the world. The relationships and friendships I’ve formed help me cope with having this disease in incredibly meaningful ways. I rely on them to answer questions or help me through difficult times and am immensely grateful that I can do the same for them in return.

Having a chronic disease can be isolating. Having a rare disease can be intensely lonely. Travel literally brought me out into the world. And meeting so many other women with LAM made that world feel even larger.

Worldwide LAM Awareness Month

Worldwide LAM Awareness Month 2019 logo

This post was written to kick-off 2019 Worldwide LAM Awareness Month (WWLAM). You can read more about WWLAM and the LAM Foundation here.

I was diagnosed with LAM in 2009. LAM is an extremely rare progressive lung disease that can be fatal and has no known cure.



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5 thoughts on “How travel has helped me cope with chronic illness

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I can’t even tell you how much I relate! My sons and I have a rare disease called mast cell activation syndrome and travel keeps me sane too. It also makes me sick much of the time- but I live for traveling! Sending hugs and spoons!!!!

  2. Maria Alma Teniente says:

    I travel (shorter distances) to train Early Childhood teachers…but for the same reason. The trip, itselfs is always a welcome, just to get away! Meeting new EC teachers (with so much energy!) helps me train/share/perform in front of groups of 15-30 participants. This helps me forget I am ill… I love what I do!

  3. Alice says:

    I love that you find travel beneficial. I find it always helps me too, even though I find it really painful. It really does help you think about other things and the challenge element has a really big impact on wellbeing too.

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