Things to do Before Traveling with a Chronic Illness – 6 Lists with the Ultimate Tips to Have Your Best Trip Ever

The flight is booked. The hotel reserved. You may even have your itinerary hammered out. It’s time to go on vacation! Planning a trip is fun and exciting….there’s so much possibility! Traveling with a chronic illness means there are some things to consider and prepare for that will make your next vacation even better.

Pin this bad boy, because I will update it regularly with hard-earned tips I learn through my mistakes on the road.

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Medication

assorted medications

First up, we should talk meds. You may have an auto-injection that needs to stay cold or prescription pain relievers. You can take everything with you, and you won’t have any problems as long as you do a few things.

  • Have the prescription label on anything you’re taking: the bottle, box, or carton your medicine is in.
  • To keep anything cold, get an insulated bag and freezer blocks. When I was on Humira, I contacted them and they sent me everything I needed for free. Check with your medicine’s manufacturer, and they will probably hook you up!
    • In the US, it’s the law for hotels to provide refrigerators in rooms for medication. Most rooms have them by default these days, but a call ahead is always a good idea when traveling with a chronic illness.
    • On a long road trip, each night at my hotels I asked the front desk if they’d put my freezer blocks in a freezer when I checked in. Everyone did that for me no problem. I’d ask for the freezer blocks at check out, and get back on the road with my Humira perfectly cared for.
  • Security screening can be stressful. Take a deep breath, give yourself plenty of time, and everything will be fine. When I flew with Humira, I arrived at the airport 30 minutes earlier than usual. I knew security would take longer for me, because they’d want to take a look at the medicine. Once they saw the sharp object on the x-ray was prescription medication, they sent me on my way.
  • There are sharps containers in airport bathrooms, so I never flew back with my used Humira pen. I always disposed of it before going through security so I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. They are usually in mall bathrooms and sometimes grocery stores as well if you want to get rid of any sharps along your way.
  • Some people recommend a letter from your doctor, but I’ve never needed one. TSA has never wanted any more documentation than the prescription label with my name on it. If it’d help calm your nerves or reduce some stress, then give your doc a ring and ask for one. Having it certainly won’t hurt!
  • If you need special medical equipment, then a letter would be a good idea. Medical equipment flies free, so give the airline a call ahead of time and have the documentation needed to make check in a breeze.

Medicine to Consider Taking a Little Bit Of

I don’t take the whole bottle when I pack these. Just a few pills in a clearly marked plastic bag or this awesome little container on Amazon. It’s also great for any supplements you want to take with you! Making sure your symptoms will be taken care of wherever you are is key to traveling with a chronic illness.

  • Benadryl pills and/or cream
  • Stool softener. Constipation during travel is, unfortunately, normal.
  • Preferred pain killer. I can’t take NSAIDs, so I know it’s important to always have Tylenol with me.
  • Mucinex or other decongestant

Of course there are pharmacies everywhere you go, but these are the time-sensitive things that would be annoying to buy an entire box of for a week-long vacation. When I lived in the US, I bought all of my over-the-counter stuff at Costco, so the thought of getting it at Walgreens for a much higher price always made me cringe.

You know what over-the-counter medicines you use regularly or every once in a while. Throw a few in your bag and you’ll be covered.

Sun Management

Woman in a hat in sunshine

If you are headed to a sunny location, sun management is important because sun exposure can have negative effects on chronic illness. Check out my post on reef safe sunscreen to learn about how the sun affects the chronically ill differently. (Psssttt….this includes the mountains and cities!)

I recommend a few things if you will be in the sun:

  • Long sleeved sun top. I love mine from Athleta. It keeps my skin protected without making me super hot
  • Wide brimmed hat. I love Prana’s! Search “hat” and you’re bound to find something cute. I always get compliments on mine.
  • Sun screen stick for scars
  • Reef safe sunscreen

Flight Comfort

Interior of a plane, rows of seats

Flying for anything more than a few hours can get uncomfortable. While I don’t think you need to bring your full sized pillow with you, there are a few creature comforts to help make a longer flight more bearable.

3 – 5 hours

  • Compression socks. I’ve never used them but I also ALWAYS get kankles. I’ve heard other travelers rave about them, so I plan to get some for my next long flight. 
  • Get up and move around every hour or so. Do ankle circles throughout to keep blood moving. I used to feel badly about “bothering” the person on the aisle so I could get up. Do not worry about that – take care of yourself! Or, get the aisle seat and move about to your heart’s content

6 – 13 hours

There are a few more things for those long-haul flights that take you to far-flung destinations.

  • There is always a bathroom rush after any meal or beverage service, so plan ahead.
  • Drink only water!! Carbonation, sugar, and alcohol will make you bloat, dehydrate, and worsen jet lag. 
  • I don’t think airplane food is all that bad but if you’re worried about it, take some fav snacks. 
  • If you eat a special diet, make sure to note it on your reservation. Call the airline two days before your flight to confirm it. Special meals must be requested 24 hours in advance.
  • Take a reusable water bottle. The flight attendants will fill it if you go to the galley and ask. Once we board, Keenan gets us settled while I go get us water before takeoff. The flight attendants are always rad and willing to help you out, especially when you tell them you are traveling with a chronic illness.
  • Usually, they have snacks available in the galley when they turn the lights out after dinner. Great excuse to get up and move! 😀
  • Close your window shade after dinner. No one likes the person who keeps theirs up. Makes it impossible to rest/sleep, and there’s nothing to see anyway.
  • An eye mask and noise cancelling headphones are good investments for these longer flights. I use Sony’s noise cancelling headphones daily, and I love them.

Jet Lag

If you’ve gone more than a few time zones away, jet lag can threaten to ruin your good time.

  • For arrivals during the day, get into the sunshine as soon as you check in and get settled. Spend as much time being active outside as possible. This resets your body’s clock.
  • Don’t go to sleep until 9:00pm or later if you can.
  • When you go to bed, keep the curtains open if you can so the sunrise will wake you naturally.
  • Avoid caffeine. You want to sleep when it’s finally time and caffeine will get your body all messed up.
  • NO NAPS. I mean it! Man, you’re gonna wanna!! But not until you’ve been there a few days and are waking up at a normal time. 

Misc

A few tips that apply for anyone…not just those of us traveling with a chronic illness. 🙂

 soul" with a coffee cup, passport, camera, sunglasses, and leaf print
  • Grab a business card for the hotel at the check in counter so you can show it to taxi drivers; it makes things a lot easier. This tip is a little old-fashioned since we all have our smartphones now, but it’s a great backup if your phone dies or you have to be on airplane mode.
  • Lonely Planet app has great city guides you can download and use offline in airplane mode. 
  • Download your destination on Google Maps. There are a ton of tutorials online. Star things you’re interested in and use it in airplane mode when you’re there.
  • For Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, take your I Can’t Wait card with you. If you don’t have Crohn’s or UC, think about any accommodations that would make travel more comfortable and contact the national foundation for your condition. They’ll help you get what you need according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Notify any banks or credit card companies for the cards you plan to use. Make sure you know the PIN for all of your cards.
  • Chat up strangers when you are out and about. We have had some incredible conversations with people from all over the world. We also like to chat up the staff helping us out at the hotel and ask their names. Many people are pretty rude to hotel staff, so the staff are usually really nice to us and sometimes hook us up.
  • If you are headed out of country, grab a travel adaptor.

Do you have any travel tips to make it a little easier or more comfortable for people with chronic illness? Share in the comments, pin this post, and share with someone you know planning a trip. They just might learn something to save them a lot of time and stress!

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