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 careful planning, taking a trip overseas can be done, and the vacation can be enjoyed to its fullest.
- 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. 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 ensure 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.)
- If you need vaccinations (some countries require them, ask your travel advisor), 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 destination country. Be aware that some countries don’t allow the entry of certain medications.
- You’ll need to pack the medication in your carry-on bag—all of it. Lost bags are always possible, and losing a single dose is the last thing you need. Keep your medications in their original bottles and carry a doctor’s note summarizing the diagnosis and the related prescriptions to ensure airport security won’t make an issue with what you’re bringing, especially if you need syringes and such to administer your medication. If your remedy is in liquid form and exceeds the regulation of three ounces, keep it all in its own resealable bag to show to the agent.
Up In the Air
This is a vital 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 your 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 mostly, but ask your travel advisor to double-check with the airline regarding approvals and physician’s statements, just in case.
- Request wheelchair assistance and a seat near the restrooms if needed, 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 carry-on so you don’t have to dig 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 members can call Member Services in an emergency and get referrals worldwide, help with prescriptions and more. A membership will also cover you if 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. However, read the fine print, because often, these plans will not cover what you want them to (including emergency medical evacuations back home.)
Curious about SkyMed’s Fine Print? You can download and read our Member Services Agreement at any time—even before you buy a Membership—so you can see for yourself that SkyMed really does TAKE YOU HOME (and to the hospital of YOUR choice!)