Thursday, 27 August 2015

Travel interview with Hannah (including long haul)

copyright: Hannah Wallace

Today's post is a spoonie travel interview with my darling friend Hannah, who was a very lucky lady recently and travelled to Mauritius. How divine?! As this was a long haul trip, (as well as drawing from some of her other long haul trips) I added in some more specific questions relating to how best to cope with travelling long haul as a chronically ill person. A few people have also asked for this and fingers crossed this is something I hope to do in future. The thought of it does fill me with apprehension, so I personally will be taking notes.
Illness/ disability:
Ehlers danlos syndrome, POTs, Fibromyalgia, Bursitis in my hips due to EDS, ME and a number of allergies
Who did you travel with?
What airline did you use?
Air Mauritius
First of all, how was your holiday?
It was amazing, beautiful and relaxing
What was your biggest worry before travelling? And how did you overcome it?
Obviously getting more ill on holiday is always a concern. For me things like dislocations, pain, stomach issues and fainting are a constant worry but I try to think I have good medical insurance and I'm with someone that will really look after me. Plus all these things could happen at home too. I've been unwell a long number of years but I remind myself that I'm lucky I'm able to do this with these illnesses. I try and look for the positives. I think being organised is the key, having plenty of help and plan, plan, plan. I think it's natural to worry about things but if I choose to embrace this worry I'm in control. Also I'm very aware how stress affects the body so I try and be mindful about that.
Did you notice any changes in your health whilst you were away? Good or bad? Any new symptoms?
I had body temperature issues and struggled regulating it. This always happens when I travel as POTs can be iffy in the heat but I'm very mindful of this, so I work with it daily. My joints flare up if it's too hot as it can make me more stretchy, due to the defective collagen in EDS sufferers. Over all my health was all about the same as it is at home, besides bite reactions, a whole mouthful of ulcers (which is very normal for me) and a few nasty headaches. I tried to generally plan well so if I did more activity I made sure recovery was planned after. I realise it sounds not great but it was ok as it was not much more than what I experience at home.
How was Mauritius as a destination in relation to your illness/ disability? ( Accessability, flat, close to restaurants etc, quiet)
The resort was great. We stayed at the Westin Turtle Bay hotel and I was very impressed overall by the Westin group, especially concerning dietary requirements they were really good. The food and restaurants were over all really good.  It was very accessible as the hotel had been rebuilt due to a recent fire. I would recommend the place. The hotel was quiet too and plenty of space. One day they told us there was going to be some building work near our room and so they moved us to a quieter area.
How did you find attitudes/ perceptions towards you by other travellers and from the locals?
Other travellers were really nice. Obviously people wonder what's wrong, especially as sometimes they see you walking small amounts etc and others you are in a wheelchair. I think at the end of the day it's natural curiosity. I guess it's how conscious you feel about that. For me personally I'm not too worried. I'm just so appreciative I'm having these experiences that I think screw it. Obviously it's not always been easy to have this attitude, I've lived with this 15 years and learned you have to choose to adjust or it'll torment you. There's always going to be a few twats in life and I have adopted a no twat policy in my life. And to be honest if someone was rude I'd say something back. You do get nosey people but it's the same at home. The locals there were very nice and kind.
Do you think that despite all the extra 'hassles' of travelling as a chronically ill/ disabled person it is still worth it?
I think it's a personal thing to decide. Obviously a big factor is how unwell you are how well your illness is managed. Like any risk assessment you have to weigh it up. For me it's worth it. But it's been trial and error over the years. It's about being realistic with it all and prepared. Life is full of cause and effect, it's finding the balance within this. Most important is choosing to go with people you trust and knowing you'll be well supported and looked after. If you don't have this it wouldn't be a good idea.
From your experience(s) what pieces of advice would you pass on to other spoonie/ disabled travellers/ would be travellers?
Good planing all the way is the key. As well as maintaining your routine while away is a good idea. It sounds very controlled but then this allows for flexibility with things. Be organised take the important things from home that keep you comfortable. Be researched on where you're staying even down to the small details, especially with diet stuff. Try and keep any dietary requirements as you do at home. Tummies abroad are definitely more prone to things so by not upsetting this to much you help yourself. Compression socks are essential for flying even if it's only an hour. Make sure they are put on at least an hour or two before the flight and leave them on for an hour after landing. Keep hydrated. Don't wait till your gasping for a drink and have it in a routine as our bodies respond to rhythms. Re-hydration pills are a very good thing to use regulary on holiday especially because in the heat our bodies can react and are extra sensitive to heat. If you can't tolerate booze don't do it I know it's boring but it's not worth it. If you can do it cause I bloody would :))). Keep up your salt levels too, to help muscle cramping and restore anything lost through needing extra hydration or sweating. This all sounds boring but have fun in the ways you can because these moments are so precious. Best advice ever is don't worry what others think end of full stop. ( not the easiest one ) but it will empower you and free you once you embrace this.
What items would you not travel without?
Aside from medication I wouldn't travel without my supplements I've found things which help and I keep this up while away. Salt is a must for me as I have low blood volume, so I need to put it on my food and take it off my hand regularly to help stop me fainting. I use Redmonds Real Salt, the sea salt. Re-hydration pills. Noise reducing headphones. A super soft neck pillow. My own blanket for the plane. And super warm socks. My silk pillow case and silk dressing gown because these make me feel good. My yantra mat. My iPod and kindle. Pen and notebook. Ghds. Lipstick. A good face cream. A Mala, which I wear. A few crystals, cause I'm crazy. And Miffy of course ;)
What are your favourite holiday beauty products?
My fave beauty products are not the most luxury but are necessary. I suffer with prickly heat so the Rona Ross prickly heat wash and lotion and skin repair lotion work great, they aren't super expensive and I never travel without them. Other essentials are: Aloe Vera gel. Hydrocortisone (you never know). D pantenol which is great for bites and burns. Marula oil, I love this stuff and use a few drops under my moisturiser. A good cleanser is essential for getting the day off, I tend to take Liz Earle on holiday as I find it the best staple it removes every thing properly. I use Liz Earle face mask that's hydrating too great for after being in the sun or I love aromatherapy associates rose one they work !! Lip balm. Carmex. Good hair protection, this time I used Aveda spray.
If you were to go on holiday again what would you do differently?
I don't think I'd do anything differently as I'm fairly well practised. I think I just need to keep being mindful of my limits and be cool with it.
How are you after your holiday?
Well I didn't expect to feel great after the flight but that was as expected. I did get a minor ear infection which has been a pain but I've made sure I've really rested up after.
Did you have to make any special arrangements for transfer from the airport to your hotel because you were in a wheelchair? Or did you/ have you ever encountered any problems about this?
I always get a private transfer from the airport but I know people who don't and they have found it ok and people mostly helpful.

Copyright: Hannah Wallace
What do you pack in your hand luggage to help you survive a long haul flight?
Salt (as explained above). I get coconut water at the airport from Pret or Boots one to have at beginning of the flight and one for just before landing as it's isotonic so it's great for re-hydrating. And I buy loads of water after security so I have enough for the journey. Dark chocolate. Some form of gluten free energy bar and some crackers of sorts. A warm blanket I fold it up and sit on till I need it. Thin gloves. Neck pillow. Warm socks. Lip balm Hydration face spray. Moisturiser. Small hair brush Kindle. iPod. Noise reducing headphones. Mala beads of course ever the yogi. My own Silk eye mask. A bottle of aromatherapy associate breathe oil to sniff and some lavender oil. This time I took small post cards to colour in. I layer clothes so usually take an extra cardi or jumper and pashmina. My own water bottle. Wipes for hands or face. Tissues. Sunglasses for reducing light and headaches. Walking stick. And finally spare pants!
What is one thing you should know about flying long haul that is a great tip but a lot of people might not think about before hand?
Wear flight socks to help your legs. Also find out if the plane is full. If it's not you may be able to get a few seats to lie across which really helps when flying economy. Don't drink totally cold water, drink it at room temperature or warm it shocks the stomach less If you drink herbal tea take a few bags they'll happily give you hot water.
How do you cope for such a long time on a plane?
If you haven't flown long haul before becoming ill it's probably not the best time to try it unless you need to for some reason or feel you can cope with this. I cope by making a schedule of sorts. You know food is served fairly soon when you take off and another meal towards the end. Also lights will be dimmed during night hours at some after the meal service for sleep. So I try to make a plan such as meal service, movie, drink, nap, drink, meditation, drink, nap, listen to music, sleep relaxation app. Sometimes I watch two movies but I try to sleep. I find with pain etc it's often harder to sleep and it's frustrating when I see others snoozing away. So if you're lucky sleep as much as you can. But if I'm struggling I try and do it in blocks of 40 mins or an hour and half as these are sleep cycles and you tend to not interrupt sleep cycles. It's never going to be a bed of roses but I highly recommend trying to plan it. Also be aware in sleep times they tend to heat the plane up more so you may suddenly feel warmer, that's why layering your clothes is great. Keep hydrated, it's essential even if you need the bathroom more often. If people around you are asleep you can call a steward to help and take you. And you will always be seated near a toilet and if you're not ask. Making sure you relax properly will also help, which is why all these new relaxation apps they have are great. Noise reducing headphones are definitely a help too. Making a plan really does help because it helps break up the journey too. Move your ankles and feet too, this helps blood flow. If you're ill and travelling alcohol is not a good idea. Wear comfortable clothes you can still look good and comfy but it really makes all the difference. I used to worry saying exactly what I needed from the airline etc but I've learnt being clear with them is good. Chat to the special assistance team of your airline before you fly to arrange what you need and discuss what is available.
How do you cope with layovers for connecting flights?
Find a quiet spot to relax and get some rest. Having access to an aiport lounge can be a big help. If you don't have access to a lounge then head phones that reduce noise and an eye mask can help you get some quiet. Find a floor or row of chairs where you can stretch out. This can be helpful, not the best but if needs must. Assuming you have people with you to help watch you and your bags. If you're travelling alone it could be worth putting it out there and asking if they could put you in a lounge as special assistance at the airport will help you from the plane and later on, onto the next plane. Again keep hydrated.
How do you help manage jet lag?
I think depending how well the flight goes for you it definitely affects jet lag. But I use extra melatonin to help me. Magnesium oil is great if I can't get a bath. Rest more after your flight and go with the flow, listening to your body. Also when I arrive somewhere I lie on the floor with my legs against a wall well supported and padded this helps blood flow. I do this daily anyway but it's a helpful inversion. Make sure you get up slowly! If I arrive somewhere and they have a bath I will have one before bed. Once I'm back home I will always have a magnesium bath with flakes. Trying to keep to your normal times definitely helps too, although not always easy.
What do you find are the biggest challenges flying long haul as a chronically ill person?
I think the biggest challenge is coping with pain if it flares up, that's never easy. Being sat for that long with your legs low is a bummer too. That's why even if I'm shattered or painy I like toilet breaks as I know it's moving blood flow. It's the unknown that can be our biggest worry but like my mum always this is the risk you take. I think the time factor is never easy as it's a long time, we tend to do much shorter things so it's demanding, which is why you need to take extra care.
In your opinion is it worth paying extra for an upgrade to better seats?
It's definitely worth paying for the upgrade if you are able to. Having your legs elevated and more space is a very good thing, you do notice it makes a difference. And if you're not able to my tip is checking if the plane is full or not and asking if you could move to an empty row, so you could stretch along a few seats. I think making sure you meet your personal needs is most important.
A big thank you to Hannah for taking the time to do this interview and sharing with us a bit more about how she coped on holiday. It's much appreciated Han! Also a big thank you on the insights into how to cope on a long haul flight. I'm hoping they might come in handy in the future. Hopefully soon I'll have a tips post on more things to consider if you're planning a long haul trip. If you have any specific concerns about travelling long haul that you would like to see mentioned then please leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer them in the tips blogspost. Thanks again Han!

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