Tips for Traveling With a Chronic Condition

Old Travel Plans

Are you one of the 133 million Americans who has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, including 80% of older Americans? Perhaps you thought your traveling days were over once you received the diagnosis — but that’s simply not true! Sure, planning for travel with a chronic illness can be stressful, but it can be done and done well if you know where to start.

If you or someone you love lives with a chronic illness, there are some special considerations you must make when you plan to travel. Here are some top traveling tips.

Plan Ahead

The reality is that, even though you may be going someplace totally exciting, you can’t do and see everything or see everyone you want. So put that out of your head!

If you’re traveling to see friends or family, prioritize who you want to see. If you’re traveling to someplace new, prioritize the places you want to go. The more you can accomplish at the same time, such as meeting a friend someplace you want to go, the less running around you have to do and the better you’ll feel.

If your illness makes it difficult for you to get around or you get fatigued easily, then travel smart. Utilize public transportation or ride sharing when you can. If you need to rent a wheelchair or scooter, many tourist destinations offer rentals that are affordable. You can even arrange for companies to deliver your device to you at your resort or hotel. Seek out activities that don’t require you to walk far. Do what you can to reduce the physical demands of travel so you can really enjoy your trip.

Also, try not to make plans on arrival day. Instead, spend the day recovering from travel and resting so you can have the energy to spend time doing the things you want later.

Be Prepared

When traveling with a chronic illness, you must always be prepared! Have a letter detailing your health issues and medications so they can be provided should the need arise. Don’t assume that where you’re traveling to will have access to your medical history; bring as much as you can with you.

If you’re traveling abroad, consider having your medical information translated into the local language with some very basic information about the state of your health and your health needs.

When traveling abroad, it’s also a good idea to check with your insurance company beforehand about what your medical insurance covers in another country, if anything at all. This can help to inform your decision about whether or not to get extra medical coverage for travel. You should also:

  • Make a note of the U.S. consulates in the countries you plan to travel since they can provide you with a list of local healthcare providers or medical facilities
  • Research hospitals in the area you’re visiting

Some countries have hospitals run by the government as well as private hospitals. Private hospitals tend to have more resources for equipment and facilities, plus you’re more likely to find medical staff in a private hospital that speaks English.

If you’re worried about the language barrier, then check with the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. They can provide names and contact information for English-speaking healthcare providers in the area.

Pack Smart

You may want to pack light, but it’s important to pack smart. Be prepared for the weather where you’re headed and don’t forget to pack all your medications.

If you’re flying, get familiar with the TSA rules for carry-ons so you don’t run into issues at security. It won’t hurt to have a note from your doctor if you are traveling with medications that don’t meet TSA’s requirements. This is especially true if you are flying out of the country; you will need to check with medication laws in the country you intend to visit, as there may be restrictions on certain medications — prescription and over-the-counter. Do remember to bring everything (including medications, walking equipment, and so on) you need with you on the plane just in case your luggage gets lost along the way.

Don’t sweat it too much if you happen to leave a medication you need behind (or it gets lost or stolen). The pharmacy you usually use can easily transfer prescriptions and refills to another pharmacy in most cases.

Consider Travel Insurance Options

Not every travel situation calls for additional insurance, but it’s certainly something you should consider when traveling with a chronic disease. This kind of insurance can be for medical concerns, as well as vehicle, personal possessions, and more. Especially if you’re traveling abroad, some insurance and even credit card companies offer medical insurance to their customers for a fee. After all, you don’t want to find yourself in a country where your insurance (such as Medicare) is not accepted if you suffer from complications due to your illness.

Many countries have universal healthcare systems, meaning that the government provides healthcare to its citizens supported by taxes. If you plan to travel to one of these countries, don’t make assumptions that you’ll be covered too.

If you travel to Canada, a country that provides universal healthcare for its citizens, and need medical attention, treatments can be very expensive for the uninsured traveler. On the other hand, a visit to a public hospital in Europe can cost you nothing. It’s all about doing your research to understand what may be covered for non-citizens.

You can learn about healthcare systems in countries you plan to visit through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Stick To Your Diet

Vacations aren’t exactly synonymous with healthy eating, but if you have a chronic disorder and eat a special diet, then you have to stick to it! Pack snacks that you know are safe for you to eat, especially those with anti-inflammatory properties, and feel free to embrace local cuisine as long as you keep your focus on any restrictions you normally observe. Whole foods like fruits and veggies are available almost everywhere, so take advantage!

Do Your Research

When traveling to another part of the world, do your homework. You can check with the Transportation Security Administration for tips and info on airport security and the U.S. Department of State for up-to-date travel advisories for foreign countries, such the Middle East, parts of Europe, some parts of Mexico, as well as many other areas that may not be currently safe, whether for political or weather/natural disaster reasons.

If your chronic illness impacts the functioning of your immune system, then it’s also important to check with the National Center for Infectious Diseases Traveler’s Health site. They can provide you with alerts of infectious disease for specific places around the world and provide health information for travelers with special needs.

Traveling is one of the most exciting and enjoyable things in life. Don’t let your chronic condition stop you from new experiences. Simply learn to adapt and prepare – the rest will fall into place!

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Brooke Faulkner is a writer, professional ponderer, and proud momma of two from the Pacific Northwest. When she's not at her desk, she's likely to be found zipping around on her old ATV. You can follow her on LinkedIn.

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