Travel the world after breast cancer

These tips and tricks from breast cancer survivor Karen will take you anywhere

A decade ago, the ‘bucket list’ – the list of things you simply have to do in your lifetime – wasn’t even a thing. Somewhere along the way, it became an imperative and we all had to get one – most likely with ‘Travel’ written in bold letters across the top. Travel after breast cancer might be daunting for some women, but e veryone deserves a getaway, and if not now – then when? I decided to indulge my travel dream and went abroad for an extended adventure. Here’s how I travelled with breast cancer and had the time of my life.


Health first: travel prep and planning

After my breast cancer diagnosis and 18 months’ treatment including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Herceptin IV, I decided to take early retirement and travel the world. It’s a dream I had always wanted to fulfil, but because of my career the timing was never quite right. After my cancer, though, my children were in their twenties and self-sufficient, so the opportunity to travel opened up.


My travel commenced about a year after treatment. Aware that I was travelling soon after breast cancer, I was nervous about becoming unwell while away, so I decided to visit countries with established health-care systems. My adventures led me to travel extensively in Australia, New Zealand and the west coast of America.


I ensured that I had full medical insurance in place. Although costly, particularly when you’re travelling after a breast cancer diagnosis, the peace of mind outweighed the cost. I could travel with the assurance that I could seek medical assistance if I needed it.


Packing for adventure

No matter how long you’re travelling for, my recommendation is always to travel light. Really, whatever you need can be bought en route, in the airports or the cities you visit. I suggest a capsule wardrobe; that is, a compact collection made up of 8-12 staple pieces in co-ordinating colours. You can then mix and match items of varying weight for different weather conditions. On my world tour I experienced the full range of weather conditions, from intense heat to freezing cold, and from balmy sun to torrential rain. I needed to be prepared for anything and everything.


That tip about rolling up your clothes really does work; it saves a lot of space in your luggage and reduces creasing too. Roll them up tight.


In-flight fancy: lymphoedema prevention

Always dress for comfort when flying, especially long flights – legs, feet and arms always swell and if you’re at risk of lymphoedema wear your compression sleeve. I made sure to drink plenty of water – both in preceding days and during the flight – to avoid dehydration. I would also wear my flight socks, and on longer flights my arm stocking, to prevent any problems. I told myself I’d rather be cautious and act pre-emptively than create a medical problem by not looking after myself.


Where to stay

My accommodation for the trip was varied and multi-functional; the venues I chose were appropriate for the countries I stayed in. Australia included a mix of staying with relatives, friends, Airbnb, and camping in Australia’s red centre, a magical experience sleeping in a swag (hammock) under the stars!


In New Zealand, I treated myself to two days of hotel luxury after the plane journey — because breast cancer taught me that being kind to myself is okay. Refreshed, I picked up a camper van and spent five weeks touring. I stopped in freedom camps and established camp sites… there’s a travel tip: always try to find established campsites. This ensures you’ll see a good balance of surroundings. While in NZ I did lots of walking, kayaking and sightseeing. The highlight of that trip? Flying over the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers.


In America, I had signed up on a tour of the west coast starting in Los Angeles and finishing in San Francisco, via Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Death Valley and Yosemite. It’s a lot of sights to see. Again, different accommodation styles were available: motels, hotels and inns. I made sure to factor in time for rest too – that’s vital when you’re recovering from breast cancer treatment.


Travel’s best-kept secret

During my epic travels, I met some lovely people from all over the world who remain friends now. My advice is not to be shy: connect with fellow travellers on the road. While in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, I met someone from Sydney who then gave me a ‘VIP’ introduction to the city when I got there. In New Zealand on a rainy day, I exchanged stories with fellow travellers from Canada, the UK, Australia, NZ and even South Korea. What an enriching experience! I learned a lot in our discussions on all sorts of topics.


If you’ve been writing your bucket list, and planning to travel after breast cancer treatment, there really is no time like the present.