Traveling abroad is can be stressful even for the healthiest among us, but traveling abroad with a chronic illness can seem a daunting task at best. However, with some careful planning, taking a trip overseas can be done and the vacation enjoyed to its fullest.
Planning starts at your doctor’s office
- Before you book your trip, check with your doc. Discuss your destination and, once he or she has cleared you for your trip, make an appointment to return once you have your itinerary in hand. Then…
- Ask about your medications, specialty tips for long haul flights, suggestions on handling time zone changes and referrals to local doctors. You’ll also want to fill out your personal medical history form at the office to make sure all the details of your condition, medications and treatments are on paper. (Make sure to carry a couple of copies and, if you can, have it scanned on your phone as well.)
- If you need vaccinations, have your doctor administer them well in advance (think a month) to ensure you have no undue reactions. He or she will know how they interact with your current medications and monitor you closely. Ask him or her about any over-the-counter medication you want to take in your medicine bag, such as anti-diarrheal pills, etc. to check for side effects and interactions.
- Make sure you have enough medication to cover the extent of your trip and beyond—you never know if there will be delays so take at least an extra week’s worth. You might also want to ask your doctor about equivalents in your country of destination. Be aware that some countries don’t allow the entry of certain medications; you can check with our Member Services office to ensure your prescriptions are able to travel with you or check with the foreign embassy of the country you’ll be visiting.
- You’ll need to pack the medication in your carry-on bag—all of it. Lost bags are always a possibility and the last thing you need is to lose a single dose. Keep your medications in their original bottles and carry a doctor’s note summarizing the diagnosis and the related prescriptions to ensure the TSA won’t make an issue of what you’re bringing, especially if you need syringes and such to administer your medication. If your medication is in liquid form and exceeds the regulation three ounces, keep it all in its own resealable bag to show to the TSA agent.
Up In the Air
This is a very important part of your travel equation when you have a chronic illness.
- Plan your itinerary to minimize jet lag. Choose a flight that lets you arrive early in the evening and make yourself stay up until around 10 p.m. local time so you body adjusts better. According to the National Sleep Foundation, if you have to sleep during the day, take a short nap in the afternoon no longer than two hours.
- Check the airline’s website for accessibility and special assistance availability, as well as rules about carrying electronic medical devices and equipment. Diabetes supplies, pacemakers, mobility aids, portable dialysis machines, portable oxygen concentrators, ventilators and respirators are allowed for the most part, but ask your travel agent to double check with the airline regarding approvals and physician’s statements, just in case.
- Do request wheelchair assistance and a seat near the rest rooms if you need them, but know that flight attendants are not allowed to lift, feed or administer medication to passengers.
- Make sure you pack a separate resealable bag with enough medication to cover the flight and put it within easy reach in your carryon so you don’t have to go digging around when you need to take it.
- Read some great tips on how to survive a long-haul flight here. One of the top tips: upgrade as high as you can. If you can’t afford, say, one of Emirate Air’s suites, spring for Premium Economy.
Know Your Rights
Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act that ensures people with disabilities are not discriminated against in air travel. If your condition has left you with limited mobility, you should be allowed to pre-board without a problem, among other things. If need be, arranging for assistance ahead of time will make everything go more smoothly. The TSA even has its own website with telephones and email addresses that can come in handy. It also gives specific information regarding screening for passengers with medical conditions and disabilities.
A Membership Helps You Be Prepared
As we mentioned above, talk to your doctor about getting referrals for local specialists in case any symptoms flare up while you’re abroad. SkyMed ULTIMATE and GETS members can call Member Services in case of an emergency and get referrals worldwide, as well as help with prescriptions and more. A membership will also cover you in case medical evacuation is necessary—not something you want to think about, but it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it! If you’re not a member, make sure to check your travel insurance plan or your credit card to see what types of benefits they offer in case of a medical emergency abroad. Be sure to read the fine print: many times these plans will not cover what you want them to (including emergency medical evacuations back home.)