Hi Frugalistas! Regular readers may recall that I was diagnosed with a chronic illness last year. Some readers will also know that in my non-blogging life I am a medical practitioner. While I am now well, and my situation is very manageable it has changed the way I need to think about travel. As well as regular medication, I now need to take extra care with things I do while I travel. I also need to plan ahead more with what I pack.
So combining my healthcare and travel expertise, here are my tips for travelling with a chronic illness. A note of caution, though: my thoughts are general in nature, and are not designed to be, nor should you consider them to be specific medical advice. At all times you should consult with, and take advice from, your own healthcare provider, as they know you, your disease, and your treatment best.
Preparing your medications
If you need to take multiple medications, make a packing list just like you would for your clothes. Include your regular medications, plus any medications you may need to manage exacerbations of your disease, and/or any medications you need to manage the side effects of other medications.
Make sure you keep your medications in their original packaging. Not only will it be easier for you should emergency strike and you need to seek medical attention, you will be less likely to draw unwanted attention at border crossings. I have one particular medication that comes in a huge box. I do pack that particular drug out of its box, but leave it in its (also huge) blister packs. I keep the bundle of blister packs together with a hair elastic.
Calculate how many doses you need to pack, then add a couple more days in case you are delayed or you become separated from your luggage.
I like a plastic ziplock bag for storage of my medication. Not only is it easy to see what is in my bag if I am checked by Customs, it takes up little space. If you check your luggage make sure you pack everything you may need in transit in your hand luggage, and allow for extra doses in case your luggage is lost.
If you use a dose box packed by your pharmacist or carer, ask your pharmacist about Webster or other pre-packing systems that may cut down on your packing. If you need some form of pre-packaging, get a letter from your pharmacist to that effect. If you are using some form of dose packaging DO NOT stop that – you may not be safe. Stick to your normal routine and don’t worry about the extra packing you need. It’s not worth the safety risk.
Information to pack
If you require medication that has a very specific or complicated regime (steroids such as prednisone is a good example here), take a copy of your dosing regime. Not only will it help you manage your disease more effectively, it will be safer if you have even familiar instructions written down. Similarly, if you do need to see a doctor while you are away, it is handy to have your regime with you, as dosing regimes can vary from doctor to doctor (and even medical culture to medical culture). If you become very unwell, having to remember complex treatments may be more difficult, so having it documented is one way to avoid that problem.
Have a letter from your doctor outlining your diagnosis and medications – both your regular medications and any other drugs you may need from time to time. This can be handy at border crossings, or if you become unwell while you are away. If you are travelling overseas, ask your doctor to make sure all drugs are written as generic names rather than brand names. Brand names vary from country to country, generic names don’t (allowing for linguistic differences).
A word about narcotic, anti-anxiety and other drugs of addiction
If you need to take opioids, benzodiazepines or any other drug of addiction you need to take extra care. Laws vary from country to country as to what you can and can’t import, or have in your possession. Some drugs you are used to taking may be illegal in the country you are visiting. If you are unsure check with authorities before you leave home.
It is particularly important that you have a letter from your own doctor about these drugs, particularly if you are carrying them in large quantities. Make sure you get a letter that explains exactly what medication you have, what your diagnosis is and what your dose is. It is also important that you get an up to date letter for these drugs each time you travel. Having worked as a family doctor in the past, I was always suspicious of patients from out of state or overseas with old, tattered letters detailing their need for narcotic analgesia or large doses of benzodiazepines.
Travelling with injectables
If you have an injectable medication you need to think differently again. You have needles and syringes to carry and dispose of. You may need to keep your medication refrigerated. If your medication requires refrigeration, check with your pharmacist about how to store your medication safely for your journey. Check with your airline and hotel to ensure they can accommodate your needs. This is one time not to worry about sticking to just one tiny bag – if you need separate, specific baggage you must follow that advice.
Make sure you have sufficient needles and syringes for your trip, or do your research about accessing them while you are away – some countries do not allow over the counter purchase. If your condition has a support organisation they may have advice on that. Have a letter from your doctor or pharmacist outlining your need for needles and syringes.
Taking care of yourself
We all love to eat differently and get involved in different activities when we travel. If you are travelling, you want to get involved rather than stand back on the sidelines. If you have a chronic illness you can still eat and do what you want, but make sure you understand what you can and can’t do, and what precautions you need to take. If you need to follow a specific diet, follow it. If you need to take precautions against the sun due to photosensitivity caused by your medication, slather on the SPF50, and cover up – but enjoy the beach!
Know your body and your disease. If you know it’s time to rest, make sure you do. If you know you just can’t eat or do certain things, then don’t. If you feel yourself getting sick or your health deteriorating, take action early rather than waiting till you are really sick. That’s no fun for anyone. If you are travelling with back pain, make sure you keep up your exercise regime and rest when you need to.
Make sure you have travel insurance and that your insurance covers your condition. Even if your premium is more expensive, don’t omit information from your insurance application. It’s false economy. Carry your insurance details with you. If you are unable to obtain insurance due to your chronic illness, it is worth researching medical evacuation and medical air services in case you become particularly unwell while you are away.
Many chronic diseases will have a support group. Use their resources and online forums to ask questions and get advice from people who’ve been there and done that. Check whether there is a support group in the country or countries you are visiting – they can be a tremendous resource to give you a feel for what resources may be available to you to access while you are travelling.
Learn the name of your condition in the country you are visiting if English is not widely spoken. If your condition means you need to have ready access to particular facilities (such as a toilet), learn the word for that too.
Travelling with a chronic illness does not mean you should not travel easily and safely. Like most things connected with travelling, plan well, be organised and consult with the experts before you go, and you will have a brilliant and safe trip!
If you have a chronic illness or travel with someone who does, what are your best tips for safe and healthy travel?