I have been very open about living with endometriosis. Since my diagnosis, I have continued to travel the world, and even checked off dreams like the Mount Everest Base Camp trek, attending a friend’s wedding in India, riding the trains through Sri Lanka, and so much more. But through it all I try to be transparent that I travel with endometriosis – a chronic, incurable condition that affects my daily life. And of course, it affects how I travel.
Today I want to tell you a bit more about my endometriosis story, as well as my top tips for managing travel with endometriosis. This is all in the spirit of Endometriosis Awareness Month, which rolls around each March (although for us who have the disease – every month is a month we advocate in).
For this article, I am working with Natracare, a vegan, non-toxic menstrual product company that is the first Endometriosis Friendly Employer of any period product company.
*This article is sponsored by Natracare. All opinions are completely my own!
My endometriosis story
I struggled with my health for years, searching for an answer to my huge array of symptoms – from digestive to fatigue to chronic pain and more. I saw gastroenterologists and neurologists and hematologists, but I never imagined the answer could be a condition I thought of only as ‘painful periods,’ and that I’d been familiar with my whole life as my mom (and likely grandma) had it. But at my wit’s end, after exhausting every other diagnostic procedure, my doctor decided to do a laparoscopic surgery. The result: endometriosis.
What I’ve learned since then is that endometriosis is a complex, multi-system condition that does not present as ‘just painful periods.’ It is a whole body disease that, even though it affects 1 in 10 womxn, is dramatically under-researched. The medical community needs to step up, commit to more bias-free non-pharmaceutical sponsored research, and a shorter diagnosis timeframe (it takes on average 7-10 years to receive diagnosis). We need less invasive diagnostic procedures, we need more insurance coverage for excision surgery (the gold standard of care), and we need a cure. We need awareness, and that is what March is all about.
How to travel with endometriosis
But that all could take years. What are we, those living with endometriosis, supposed to do in the meantime? It isn’t fair to put our lives on hold – although this is the case for many, many endo warriors. I made the conscious decision to try to follow my passion of traveling despite having endometriosis. Here are the top tips I’ve learned.
1. Use spoon theory
I’m putting spoon theory first on this list of tips on how to travel with endometriosis, and for good reason. Learning spoon theory will change your mindset, and inform every decision in your daily life. If used wisely, it can truly transform your quality of life.
Spoon theory is a way to conceptualize your mental and physical energy. The idea is that each person has a certain number of “spoons,” which each represent energy needed to perform daily activities. For instance, taking a shower might take two spoons. Getting through airport security might take five spoons.
Spoon theory is useful for those of us with endometriosis as it is a chronic illness that causes fatigue. This is especially relevant to travel. You need to ration your spoons throughout the day – for example if you’re going on a walking tour in the morning, you might choose a “lower spoon” activity like watching a movie or going to a café in the evening. Remember – it’s okay to rest!
2. Bring non toxic menstrual products
Endometriosis might be a whole body disease but it is most widely known for its menstrual symptoms and hallmark painful periods. Endometriosis is also associated with hormone imbalance, and specifically estrogen dominance. The endometriosis lesions actually produce their own estrogen, creating a vicious cycle and awful symptoms. That’s why it’s really important for those of us with endometriosis to opt for non toxic menstrual products, when possible, so we can reduce our hormone overload!
One example of non toxic menstrual products is Natracare! Natracare has been around a long time – since 1989, and before the recent trend of non toxic products. Their menstrual products are all vegan, and contain no perfumes, chlorine, pesticides, or dyes. All products are biodegradable. No plastics are used, and the tampons with applicators are compostable. They also use 100% organic cotton!
Where can you find Natracare non toxic menstrual products?
You can browse Natracare’s tampons, pads, and other menstrual products here.
You can also buy Natracare products on Amazon or in Whole Foods stores.
3. Practice slow travel
Slow travel goes hand in hand with spoon theory. Travel can be very stressful – between the trains, planes, security, long hours on your feet, searching for your accommodation, and more. And I know personally, stress is my biggest endometriosis symptom trigger.
Over the years I’ve learned how beneficial it is to practice slow travel. I tend to spend longer in places that other people rush through. For instance, I spent a week in Marrakech, which most people consider a “stopover city.” The benefit is twofold, though. Not only is slow travel easier on your body, but you get to connect with places on a deeper level, too!
4. Pack a heating pad
I know I’m not alone in that my heating pad is a lifeline during that time of the month, or literally any endo flare. A heating pad is actually a thermal modality of pain relief that can penetrate a few centimeters deep. It works by increasing tissue mobility and increasing blood flow to the area, which can help with inflammation. (Just keep in mind that if you’ve had recent surgery like a diagnostic laparoscopy, you should opt for cold/cryotherapy instead).
I know a heating pad takes up room in your suitcase but it’s a worthy addition for travel with endometriosis. Try a re-heatable heating pad, or an infrared heating pad that uses body heat to warm up. A tens unit is another portable modality that can lower pain levels.
5. Bring loose, flowy clothes
If you have endometriosis, you’re probably familiar with “endo belly.” Endo belly occurs during an endometriosis flare, and it looks a lot like bloating in that our abdomen distends. However, this is so much more than bloating. For me, an endo belly is painful, hard to the touch, and can occur after anything from eating dairy to simply drinking water or breathing! Endo belly is not just a reaction to food, but actually occurs when our endometriosis lesions are inflamed or bleeding.
Therefore, loose, flowy clothes are definitely the answer when it comes to travel with endometriosis. Say goodbye to tight waistbands, high waisted jeans, or bandage dresses (at least, when you’re in a flare!). I feel so much better when I know I have a few “endo friendly” outfits in my carry on.
6. Bring pain killers
This is a no brainer for those of us with endometriosis, which causes chronic and often excruciating pain. For me, pain levels are the number one reason that endometriosis has impacted my work, travel, and daily life. That’s why it’s really important to bring your pain tools on the road with you. For many of us, that means prescription or OTC pain medication or muscle relaxants.
Before you travel, make sure you have your prescriptions filled. Depending on your insurance plan, you can often get a 90 day supply of medication and in my experience it’s always better to plan ahead when travel is involved!
7. Reduce caffeine intake
Speaking of pain, I have something to tell you that might hurt. If you’re traveling with endometriosis, it might be a good time to say goodbye (for now) to coffee. Caffeine is shown to increase pain levels and aggravate other symptoms associated with endometriosis. Your body is already on high alert during travel, so it’s best to give it a break when it comes to the caffeine trigger.
Saying that, I have to be completely honest. I definitely still drink coffee when I travel – I love coffee and it is a cultural experience to try the local coffee in the various regions I travel to. However, I definitely cut down on my intake and try to limit my coffee to special occasions. And if I notice my pain levels increasing, coffee is the first thing to go.
8. Keep up with your exercise routine
It’s easy to let your exercise routine go when you travel. Trust me, I know. However, I’ve found that exercise has a significant positive effect on my symptoms and pain levels.
Personally, low impact exercise helps me the most. Think walking, stretching, and yoga. I used to run half marathons and do HIIT training, and while I still love this on occasion, unfortunately I’ve found that this exacerbates my endometriosis symptoms. There is some low-level research that shows all exercise, regardless of intensity, can help your endometriosis symptoms by reducing inflammation and estrogen, and producing endorphins. Anecdotal evidence from pelvic physical therapists, however, encourages starting with low impact exercise that won’t stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, which can be a symptomatic culprit for many of us with endometriosis.
In any case, it’s important to keep up your exercise routine when you travel, if you feel up to it! I try to do a lot of walking around cities, hiking in the countryside, and even check out some local yoga studios. Packing resistance bands is another great and portable way to keep active on the go.
9. Communicate your needs
Finally, one of the most important tips I can offer regarding travel with endometriosis is to communicate your needs to your travel partners. Or, if you’re traveling solo, you might need to communicate them to new friends you meet on the road.
You can avoid a lot of confrontations, miscommunications, and clashing expectations simply by expressing your needs. Let your travel partners know about endometriosis, and what this means for you regarding things like where and what you can eat, how long you can stay out, what to do during a pain flare, if you need to take a break, etc. Chances are, they will want to help you and support you, and this will make the experience that much better!
I took a trip back in January with one of my best friends who also has endometriosis. It was wild how much we were on the same wavelength when it came to things like resting or conserving our energy. If you have a friend with endometriosis, why not plan a trip together?!
I don’t think of endometriosis as something to overcome, because it is an incurable chronic illness. I can’t necessarily control it. But what I can control is my reaction to having endometriosis. It’s taken a long time to come to terms with the rollercoaster that is chronic illness, but I’m doing my best to hold on tight and enjoy the ride in its up moments, and graciously cope with it in its low moments.
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*This article is sponsored by Natracare. All opinions are completely my own!
*This article includes affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may make a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting Endless Distances!