Helping the terminally ill check travel off their bucket list

May 8, 2018 by Rob Payne, Edith Cowan University

Researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU) have begun a research project into the challenges and benefits faced by terminally ill persons hoping to travel.

The project looks at practical barriers to travel, such as access and affordable insurance, and is also focussed on investigating experiences and what travel means to the terminally ill.

"We put off a lot of life goals until we're confronted with health problems, but bucket list items involving travel can become difficult and seem impossible for those with ," said Dr. Greg Willson from ECU's School of Business.

"As a society we don't like to talk about death, but we need to find a more compassionate way to support these people and appreciate their needs."

Dr. Willson was motivated to start the project because of a lack of research in the area and his previous work for Make-A-Wish, where he designed wishes for young people.

"I would meet with kids and listen to what they wanted, and almost all involved some sort of travel, such as a trip to the Gold Coast or to the MCG," he said.

"Travel can boost self-confidence, offer a return to normality and create important and positive memories for the individual, their families and carers – it's very much about dignity."

Benefits for all

The project's first publication is a review of research on health and wellness travel, disability travel and outcomes from initiatives such as asthma camps.

This has provided evidence that holiday-taking can create benefits before, during and after a trip for those in poor health.

For example, the anticipation of travel by children with cancer and asthma resulted in improved coping and mental health.

And research has shown individuals report fewer health complaints and less exhaustion during holidays.

There is also growing scholarly focus on spirituality within tourism that shows travel can be deeply meaningful, transcendent and help develop important connections within an individual's life.

It is also important for those at the coalface.

"Caregiving can have negative consequences, including fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety and burnout," Dr. Willson said.

"Most people don't want to sit at home and wait to die, and they want their carers to have a break too."

Challenges to overcome

The research has identified a number of barriers to travel for people with terminal illnesses.

These include: psychological issues (lack of self-confidence, vulnerability and loneliness); environmental barriers (prejudice and intolerance from society); and medical variables (assessing fitness to , healthcare abroad, immunisations and medications).

There are also financial barriers, as well as a hospitality industry that doesn't traditionally cater well for people with disabilities.

"Going forward we need to think about the roles and responsibilities of mainstream tourism organisations and specialised tourism organisations – how can we make a more concerted effort as a society to improve services?"

Dr. Willson points to the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth, UK, as an initiative that works.

The hotel operates solely for those with life-threatening illnesses and their families and carers, offering all the regular hotel amenities, but with 24-hour nursing cover.

"Terminal illness and tourism: A review of current literature and directions for future research' by G. Willson, A.J. McIntosh, A. Morgan and D. Saunders is published in Tourism Recreation Research.

Terminal illness is defined as an advanced stage of disease with an unfavourable prognosis and no known cure; the illness has progressed to a point that recovery or remission is highly improbable, health has declined and death is likely to occur within a specific time frame.

"Some people are terminal but still have years to live – Stephen Hawking lived for more than 50 years after his diagnosis," Dr. Willson said.

"Research has shown that tourists visiting the seaside reported a sense of connection, awesomeness, timelessness and nothingness – all of which helps to put their lives into perspective.

"Leisure activities have been shown to bring a sense of belonging, appreciation, self-worth and accomplishment and help people accept their own death."

The Life-Threatening and Terminal Illness Travel Research Project is ongoing.

Explore further: How to look after someone with a terminal illness

More information: G. Willson et al. Terminal illness and tourism: a review of current literature and directions for future research, Tourism Recreation Research (2018). DOI: 10.1080/02508281.2018.1443053

Related Stories

How to look after someone with a terminal illness

April 30, 2018
Dying is changing. It used to be quick and unexpected for most, due to infection or trauma. Now it comes to us, in general, when we are older – caused by chronic medical conditions such as heart, kidney or lung disease, ...

Study analyses how far people will travel for specialist cancer care

March 8, 2018
People are willing to travel 75 minutes longer for specialist cancer surgery if it reduces their risk of complications by 1%, according to new UCL-led research.

Feel anxious? Have trouble sleeping? You may be traveling for business too often

January 8, 2018
People who travel for business two weeks or more a month report more symptoms of anxiety and depression and are more likely to smoke, be sedentary and report trouble sleeping than those who travel one to six nights a month, ...

Nurse-led intervention helps carers' manage medication and cancer pain

July 7, 2017
A study funded by Marie Curie and Dimbleby Cancer Care published today shows the potential benefits of a new nurse-led intervention in supporting carers to manage pain medication in people with terminal cancer.

Recommended for you

Widespread declines in life expectancy across high income countries coincide with rising young adult, midlife mortality

August 15, 2018
The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States is a key contributor to the most recent declines in life expectancy, suggests a study published by The BMJ today.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Diets high in vegetables and fish may lower risk of multiple sclerosis

August 15, 2018
People who consume a diet high in vegetables and fish may have a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Can sleeping too much lead to an early death?

August 15, 2018
A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association has led to headlines that will make you rethink your Saturday morning sleep in.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol could enhance the negative effects of binge drinking

August 14, 2018
A key ingredient of energy drinks could be exacerbating some of the negative effects of binge drinking according to a new study.

New study finds fake, low-quality medicines prevalent in the developing world

August 10, 2018
A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that substandard and falsified medicines, including medicines to treat malaria, are a serious problem in much of the world. In low- and middle-income ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.