This is the tenth post in my blog series about recharging and resetting your life, what I call retreating.
Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. The information provided here comes from my own interactions with fellow travel-retreaters with disabilities or medical conditions that required special attention. If this is you, seek your doctor’s advice, understand what medical coverage you have while away from home, and talk with your family before planning your retreat.
Throughout my many years of going on retreat, travel-retreating, and volunteering for a cause, I’ve met dozens of people in various states of health and with various physical make-ups. Some were veteran traveler-retreaters who didn’t let their situation stop them from attending retreats or traveling. Travel-retreating helped them feel “normal” (their words), which enhanced their joy of life. Others were first-timers who had to do considerable soul-searching to brave their journey away from home by themselves. I’ve also met retreaters with caretakers, from family members to paid professionals who remained in the background while their charges participated in events.
Having a terminal illness, chronic physical condition, or other health issue will affect where and how you retreat. So will being perfectly healthy but requiring adaptive equipment and accommodations in your daily life. Regardless, don’t let a health condition or physical limitation prevent you from retreating if it doesn’t have to. You might have extra layers of planning for your needs, but it’s not impossible. And, retreating may enhance your well-being in ways you never dreamed of.
Be honest about your situation
If you plan to go to a designated retreat, tell the organizer about any needs you may require to ensure they can accommodate you. If you have an illness that may affect how you participate, let the organizer know so that should something happen to you during the retreat, someone will have some baseline knowledge. For example, if you pass out, have a seizure, or otherwise suffer from an acute medical emergency, knowing information about your condition will help first responders know what to do.
Within the bounds of your privacy, share only what is necessary or what you feel comfortable sharing with the organizer. Your safety and the safety of fellow retreaters should be paramount. If the retreat won’t or can’t accommodate you, they may have a perfectly valid reason. However, know you rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure you aren’t being unjustly discriminated against. Note also that the ADA does not apply outside the United States, and few countries have similar laws. Worse, many countries are woefully behind the times in accommodating persons with disabilities, and access can be a huge problem.
If a retreat tries to discourage you from attending based on your condition, check the ADA. It is your decision whether to let it go and find another place that will happily and easily accommodate you or whether to insist they allow your participation. Your hosts may be happier if you can assure them you are able to participate, that you will be responsible for yourself when you can’t participate, and that they need not worry. You may have to negotiate, for example, bring a caregiver, depending on the depth of your needs. In all cases, be firm but polite and clearly state your needs and your situation while also safeguarding your privacy rights under the ADA. Give the retreat every confidence, if you honestly can, that you will be fine.
Consider your needs carefully
Discuss the following with your health care professional:
Are there potential health risks in your destination (this can apply to domestic as well as foreign travel), and what precautions should you take? What medical care can you expect if there’s an emergency? How close will you be to the nearest facility that can help you with your specific needs? What medications will you need? (Important: See the section below about foreign travel with medications.) Should you travel with a nurse or caregiver?
What adaptive mobility aids or medical equipment will you need? Can you rent them at your destination, of the same or better quality, if bringing them is cumbersome? Again, many countries lack adaptive infrastructure (e.g., stairs everywhere, no elevators, no lifts on public transportation, narrow doorways, and uneven travel surfaces, to name a few), so be prepared.
Discuss the following with your health insurance provider:
What, specifically, is and isn’t covered while traveling? What are your options and costs for medical evacuation home or to the nearest suitable facility in case of emergency? Are you covered for medical care received outside your home territory? What can you expect for potential out-of-pocket expenses in the worst-case scenario? Can you buy additional coverage for your time away?
Discuss the following with your family:
Whether they do or don’t come with you, your loved ones will worry, especially if this is your first rodeo. If a family member is with you, that person may fuss and stress more than usual because sometimes that’s what people do when they’re out of their normal environment. If they’re not with you, they’ll be sleepless at home, texting or calling or emailing every day for a check in on your well-being. Assure them that you are okay and let them know honestly if you’re not.
Although it’s probably not up to your family to consent, after all you are an adult, they may not support your decision to go away on retreat. (I’ll discuss this in a future post.) If this is your situation, you may already have a strategy for dealing with it. You may also consider appointing a trusted, supportive friend as an advocate in case you need something sent to you, a person to coordinate affairs (e.g., medical evacuation), or other unexpected needs. Make sure this person is permitted to coordinate on your behalf should you be unable to give consent in the moment. Ask a legal professional for advice or check with your insurance provider.
Bringing medications abroad
If you are traveling abroad with medications, know before you go which medications you can legally bring into your destination. Medications you can buy over the counter in one country may require a doctor’s prescription—or even be banned!—in another country. You could be detained, or worse, for bringing banned medications into a country. Ignorance of the law is no defense. Check with the CDC for more information. Likewise, if you buy over-the-counter meds in another country, make sure you can legally bring them back to your home country, or else properly dispose of them before you travel back home.
Of course, there are situations when travel-retreating isn’t the right thing to do health-wise. Discussing your situation with your medical professional, loved ones, and care-givers is a good place to start. If you are cleared for take-off, plan your journey accordingly. Know how much and what type of physical activity you can do without harming yourself or jeopardizing fellow retreaters. Be clear about your needs and assure they can be accommodated. Then relax and enjoy!
To find specialty retreats, type “retreats for people with disabilities” or “retreats for people with illnesses” into your browser.
For links to retreats and other resources, visit my Resources page. In the coming weeks I will have more links specifically for this topic.