Lulu travel column

Three years ago my big dream of spending a gap year travelling the world looked in jeopardy. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is similar to irritable bowel syndrome and means I am susceptible to ulcers throughout my digestive system.


Crohn’s disease is borderline unbearable when untreated but with drugs I am fortunate enough to sometimes forget I suffer from this chronic illness but it could easily become an issue when I am in the middle of a global trip.


Luckily the treatment requiring me to go into hospital, infliximab, is an infusion necessary every eight weeks. The big challenge was to arrange these sessions to avoid needing to visit a hospital in America. Other than this, the medication I am on is taken daily and should be easily available in Australia, my first port of call after Thailand.


I ordered my prescription for three months just before I left. I’m fortunate because the father of the family with whom I am staying with in Oz, is an airline pilot who makes relatively frequent stops in London, so he may be able to bring the drugs from the UK if the need arises. My mum is planning a short trip over to Australia in the new year, which will also provide her with an opportunity to drop off medication.


Besides ensuring a supply of my daily medication, there is also my need to be registered with a GP in Australia. This is important so that I can be referred to a gastroenterologist consultant if I suffer a relapse. In addition I have to be registered with the Australian health care system. Cathie, my mum’s cousin and the pilot’s wife, has helped me every step of the way from visiting her GP to responding to each and every email I’ve sent.


Now, I am obviously aware that not every gappie, or indeed traveller, will be staying with family or friends who are able to do so much of the legwork for them beforehand. However, even without them helping me, there are steps I would have taken so that I would be able to travel myself without constantly worrying about my disease.


•Start by making a list of places and a timetable for your trip. This way you can plot where you’ll be, should a need for treatment/medication arise.


•Research where medical centres and doctors will be available to you in the places you’ll be staying, in addition to the healthcare systems. For me this was already arranged as I am signed up with the family’s GP in Avalon.


•Once you’ve got this sorted, contact the GP to make them aware of your impending visit and get yourself set up. You need to have your past medical history available to send over or be able to hand it over once you’ve arrived.



•You need to be able to receive your drugs at your destination or you can ask around to see if there is anyone you know who will be travelling out from home and can bring medicine with them.


•Most importantly, you need insurance. In my case this was a big issue. I initially booked all my flights through Kensington-based STA Travel and along with this the suggested insurance from Allianz. Here is where you should prick up your ears and learn from my mistake; do not call up after the 14 day cooling off period to declare your pre-existing condition. A month after everything had been booked I got around to calling Allianz up, as I had gone past the 14 day cooling off period, they would cover me only if I accepted a higher price to cover an extra condition. For me the even bigger issue was the fact that once I had given details of my condition, Allianz responded with a flat out ‘we cannot insure you’. Thankfully, I managed to get my money back.



The overall point to take from this is that even if you have a long term chronic illness, do not let that stop you from travelling and doing things that you want to. You just need to be proactive and organised as nothing is going to be sorted out for you.

Love from Lulu - Column two

Teenage traveler Lulu Gibbons is on her way round the world before she starts a 3-year Uni course at Exeter.

After a very emotional goodbye at the airport I boarded my flight for Doha. In Qatar I literally ran off one plane and straight on to another. No-one told me international travel could be so stressful. I am a 19-year-old Gap Year student with only a long line in family holidays behind me.


Once I was on board I checked what to do when I landed. That was when it dawned on me that my flight arrived in Thailand at 5.40pm and the welcome meeting was at 6pm in central Phuket. I hate being late, so it was safe to say that panic set in. I had no idea where the hotel was or how long it would take to get there. Kingston-upon-Thames suddenly looked a lot more appealing than it had last week. I always have to remember to stay calm because too much stress can be a big factor in Crohn’s disease, the condition I was diagnosed with three years ago.


A drastic measure was needed: I turned on my data roaming. I tried calling the hotel to find out the meeting was already happening. My stress levels rose as I was simultaneously trying to navigate my way around an unknown airport and locate my bag. Eventually I got into a taxi. At this point it was already 6.15pm so I was well and truly snookered since the journey would take at least an hour in rush hour traffic.


The next sixty minutes left me feeling like I would be lucky to join the group at all. My over-friendly taxi driver suggested we detour down an inviting little street where there were no cars and no street lights. Funny that. He then followed up with a request to add me on Facebook. Really? By now I was tracking the car on my phone’s maps. Were we even going in the right direction? Was I stuck on the set of Mission Impossible? I made sure that the family were up to date on the situation via the group on messenger; not the stuff of international espionage but it worked. If my vision of being abducted by my taxi driver did occur, at least there would be a last known location for contact! I managed to arrive in time to hear the last 5 minutes of the meeting; sweaty, out of breath, but safe.


The final minutes of the welcome speech made it clear that alcohol would be a large part of this tour. This worried me since am not a big drinker; in fact, my Crohn’s condition makes it difficult. The ulcers that occur with this chronic disease are made much worse by alcohol so I have largely given it up. In any event I don’t like the chaos of being drunk. To top it all, only my roomie was the same age as me, so I felt a little overwhelmed.


In the end I enjoyed the tour! The schedule meant that one day I was on a power boat speeding between the islands of Phuket and the next day climbing up the 1,237 steps of the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi. I looked out over the stunning island of Koh Phi Phi during sunset, whilst in the same week I stood by the Big Buddha in torrential rain. My memories are unique and I wouldn’t swap them for a second. My room-mate was from New Zealand, next door down were two Texans and down the hall were Canadians and Tasmanians.


Now as I sit on the beach in Australia it seems distant history. I’ve registered with the local GP so that I can keep an eye on my condition. I’ve started two jobs, one at a restaurant on the beach in Avalon and the other at a café on Whale Beach. I’m making friends here and I’m not sitting about twiddling my thumbs. I’ve already seen some stunning sights; when walking from Warriewood beach to North Narabeen we witnessed the most beautiful sunset throwing pink and orange light over the ocean. It was the perfect balance of hot sun on your skin, cooled by the strong onshore breeze. I don’t think I could have chosen a better place for this next 5 months.

Lulu Gibbon embarked on her Gap Year at the end of 2016 following three years of treatment for Crohn’s Disease, a lifelong chronic illness. Her last appointment at University College Hospital was on the day before she left for Thailand.

Despite a mad cap taxi driver and a bout of sickness Lulu arrived on a high in the land of Down Under.

Love from Lulu - Column three

So now I’m drawing to the end of my time in Australia. I can’t believe it has gone so fast! I almost feel more at home here than I do in the UK and I know that at some point residing in Oz in the future is on the cards.

Job-wise I ended up working from 7am to 4pm at Whale Beach Café on the outskirts of Sydney, with a short breather before doing 5.30pm to midnight at the restaurant for 3 days in a row over the weekend. I had to stop to remind myself that I was on my gap year and meant to be enjoying myself!

Needless to say I’m only at Whale Beach now! The cafe has been great for me as I’ve loved getting to know the regulars as well as those passing through the northern beaches for the day or long weekend from the city. I even met two sisters who themselves came from our neck of the woods and went to the same primary school as me in Richmond!

I seem to have taken more of an unconventional approach than most gap year travellers because I am based with my family in Avalon rather than travelling up the east coast. My travelling, has instead, seen me venture off for a week or so, then returning back to Avalon and my job at the cafe.

I spent New Year in Noosa, an idyllic holiday destination just 2 hours north of Brisbane. We then drove down from Brisbane past Surfers’ Paradise and Byron Bay, with a short overnight stop at another of my mum’s cousins home in Armidale before completing the mammoth drive back to Sydney.

Another of my trips has taken me to Melbourne. Here, I stayed with friends of my parents and was shown around as a local. One day started at 4.45am, with a drive for an hour to Mount Martha, to the Pillars as those in the know call them, to watch the sunrise. After I enjoyed a delicious brunch of corn fritters, a dish on almost every Australian brunch menu.

I can also say I’ve been out into the ‘bush’ to Gunnedah, which is 450km inland from Sydney. This small coal mining town is where my great uncle spends most of his days. I received the full tour of the 450 acre his farm, in a 30-year-old truck that seemed as though it was about to give in at any moment! I had quite a shock during this visit as the temperature at this time was around 40 degrees centigrade and the air conditioning in the homestead was broken. We resorted to sitting around a fan that could have been one of the first ones to ever go into production. That was a long 3 days . . .

Christmas on this side of the world does not match ours in the UK. We had a glorious day but eating salad, sitting outside for Christmas lunch, didn’t sit well with me. I missed my roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings! Christmas just isn’t quite the same without a glass of mulled wine and a tacky polyester Christmas jumper!

So onwards and upwards. Next up on the around the world tour is 2 months across the States.

Should be interesting!


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©RiverTribe Magazine 2017