Lost the pep in your step? No zip for a trip? You’re yearning to still go places, but aren’t sure how to go about it. Figuring out how to travel with a chronic illness can seem overwhelming. So you just stay put, wistfully watching the Travel Channel.
Please reconsider. With careful planning, and full knowledge of your condition, you might be surprised at the possibilities! Every type of travel (solo, family, adventure, cruise) requires research, budgeting, and decisions. Travel with a chronic illness isn’t any different. So, let’s get started…
Okay! I’m pumped! What do I do first?
I’m not going to lie or sugar-coat it: planning is essential. E-s-s-e-n-t-i-a-l. While every trip has some unexpected, um…surprises, when you travel with a chronic illness, you need a belt-and-suspenders approach to handle whatever comes your way. You’re probably already doing some of this, as part of your everyday life. Let’s make a list, shall we?
- Check with your physician. Seems obvious, but ALWAYS start there. They probably can tell you if that itinerary to the Amazon Jungle seems like a good idea. If they do, then they can direct you to a travel clinic for the Yellow Fever inoculation and Malaria medication. If they think your health could be compromised, heed the advice. After all, it’s a big world, with lots of other exciting destinations.
- Get a hard copy of your medical history. Everything: contact information for your providers, current diagnoses and treatments, medications, immunizations, past history and surgeries, allergies, and name/type of any durable medical equipment you use. Even in this age of Electronic Medical Records (EMR), systems don’t “talk” to each other. Bring it with you…and scan a copy to send to yourself as an email and to store on the cloud.
- Buy travel insurance to cover emergency treatment and medical evacuation. Get the trip interruption and cancellation policy, too. No matter where you go, be sure you can obtain care without worry. The best coverage has 24/7 support, as well as benefits like translation services.
- Check that health care is available at each stop of your trip. You’ll find excellent providers all over the world, but it’s reassuring to know that if you need attention, there’s a hospital or clinic at the places you’re planning to go. Bonus points for tracking down the names of specialists who treat your condition.
- Wear a Medical ID bracelet. They come in lots of styles and colors–as long as it’s sturdy, choose one you like. Engrave it with pertinent information that first responders and medical professionals need to know if you are alone or unable to speak. Emergency contact numbers are good, too.
Done! Anything else I need to do?
Almost there, preparation-wise. You’ve already done a lot of groundwork. Although I’m writing with an international slant, all this holds true for domestic travel, too. Just a few more tasks:
- Find comfortable shoes NOW! Don’t wait until it’s time to pack to decide you need really, really good walking shoes. And don’t skimp when you shop for them. Choose sturdy shoes with soles that can handle uneven pavements and help prevent slips or stumbles. Start to wear them so you get used to the feel on different surfaces, using stairs, etc.
- Get written copies of prescriptions for all medications, as well as a list of medications and why you take them. Keep a copy with your medications, and another with your medical history.
- Bring enough medication for the entire trip, PLUS enough for a few extra days, in case of delays. Keep medications in their original prescription containers. If you use a daily/weekly pill organizer, wait until you’re at your destination to sort out medications. AND make sure there are several days of your prescriptions at home, so you can settle back into your routine without stress. (If your insurance company won’t cover additional doses, ask your doctor or provider to assist.)
- One last thing regarding medications: If you’re going to an international destination, check that they are permitted. For reasons not well-understood, some countries don’t allow certain medications, even if they’re prescriptions. For example, Japan prohibits Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and Adderall. Not even a Vick’s inhaler. The U.S. Department of State keeps track of this kind of stuff: Here’s the webpage for the Japanese Embassy, to give you an idea.
Even the government wants you to get up and go!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers sensible advice for travelers who have chronic illnesses. Not the most exciting or upbeat read–remember, this the government–but in the end, the CDC says, “With a little planning and preparation, people with chronic illnesses can have safe and enjoyable trips.”
This seems like a lot, I know. After you’ve done it a time or two, it becomes second nature, just like packing light. We’ll talk more about what comes next when you travel with chronic illness…for now, take a deep breath and start to plan!
More travel health and safety tips: