If you checked in after my trip to Gulf Shores, you saw my post about traveling while chronically ill. Like traveling with baby, this is obviously a niche post. However, many (if not most) of my readers are chronically ill, so I’m writing this in case anyone dreams of traveling, but is worried their chronic illness might get in the way.
Your chronic illness will get in the way, of course. But by learning to work with your limitations instead of fighting them, you can still see the world. Probably. (Each chronic illness is different even between patients of the same disease. Your mileage may vary, but I hope you gather at least a few helpful tips from this blog series.)
In in the last post, we discussed things like travel insurance, public transportation, and learning how to say your illnesses in a foreign language. In this post, we’re getting a little more specific with the needs of the chronically ill traveler. Let’s start with
- When traveling, it’s wise to carry your prescriptions in their original container. It’s bulkier, and less convenient than a pill organizer. However, this allows airport agents to easily see that you’re not transporting anything illegal, and that its all prescribed to you. While the TSA doesn’t require medications to be in their original bottles, the laws vary by state and by country, so it’s better safe than sorry in my opinion!
- If you are prescribed controlled substances, you will want to protect them from theft. While at the hotel, lock your controlled substances in the in-room safe, along with your other valuables. Obviously, you want to keep these medications out of sight and out of the mind of anyone who might see this as an opportunity to make a quick buck. I travel with a medication that isn’t controlled, but causes pretty severe negative effects if you take it and don’t need it. Although it would be no big deal to me if it was stolen, I like to keep it hidden in case anyone gets any ideas and causes themselves some major issues.
- If you have medicine that needs to remain cool, packing it in an insulated cooling bag is ideal for planes. They make bags that are specifically for keeping medication cool! In the car, it’s simple to pop it into a waterproof bag and store it in a small cooler. Book hotels with fridges in room, or opt for a suite, condo, or rental home instead.
- Worried about traveling with liquid medication on a plane? Flying with liquid medication is no big deal. Reasonable quantities of prescribed liquid medication are allowed in flight— ideally you would take as much on the flight as needed for its duration, and the rest would be packed in your checked luggage. Don’t forget to tell your officer that you’re flying with a medically necessary liquid medication at the beginning of your screening. It makes things so much easier on both of you.
- Keep your medicine handy while driving or flying. While driving, don’t pop your medication into the trunk and forget about it. While flying, carry your medications in your carry on. This way you’ll be covered if you need access to them.
- If you’re traveling out of the country, you may want to pack over the counter medications that you regularly use. In the Dominican Republic, we had the hardest time finding Tylenol and Pepto Bismol. We normally pack our over the counter medications, but totally blanked on it during that trip. Don’t make our mistake!
- Know your side effects! Justin takes a medication commonly prescribed for seizures, and one of the well-known side effects is sun sensitivity. Justin has to take special precautions when he’s out in the sun. When I was in the DR, I was prescribed Cipro. I didn’t know it was a no-no for myasthenia gravis, so not only was I weak and unable to see, I was dizzy and almost got sun poisoning. Being aware of side effects, such as drowsiness, sun sensitivity, or nausea, can make your trip go much smoother.
- Always check your airline’s policy for traveling with medical equipment, such as wheelchairs. United, for example, has room to stow a folding wheelchair on their flights. If you let them know in advance, you can have your wheelchair folded up in the cabin with you, instead of tucked away with the carry on luggage. Some airlines ask that you arrive early if you use a wheelchair, to give time for the wheelchair to be checked and stowed away.
- Know your wheelchair battery type. Wet cell, dry cell, and lithium ion batteries are treated very differently by airports and airlines. If you use a wheelchair with a battery, you may want to research safe flights with batteries. This will help you advocate for yourself in case you find yourself dealing with an airline employee who doesn’t know their stuff.
- Like any service animal handler, you should always know you rights when it comes to your service animal. Be aware that service animals in training do not receive all of the accommodations that fully trained service animals receive.
- Research airline policy beforehand. Airlines have different regulations regarding service animals. Most require that the service animal handler be able to explain its duties, and that the animal be prepared to sit quietly without blocking the aisle.
- Have proper documentation. No, not one of those scammy service dog certificates you buy online. I’m talking more basic things, like proof of vaccinations. If you are traveling internationally, you may be required to provide extra documentation saying that your animal is healthy (and also not a threat to biodiversity or anything like that.)
This post is getting long, so I’ll cut it off now. I’m planning on writing several more posts on travel with chronic illness in the future. What would you like to see in upcoming posts?