If your health is a factor when it comes to travel, you’re probably determined to manage your condition and carry on seeing the world - but you may have to make some changes.
Following on the success of our article about travelling when you’re pregnant, we decided to look at what travelling with a medical condition can mean for some people, and how best they can carry on gallivanting about the globe with a medical condition in tow.
We’ve spoken to a few charities about lifestyle changes and how medical conditions can alter the way you travel; here’s what they had to say.
Before you read on, please make sure you're aware of our disclaimer. We think that the advice Cancer Council has provided below applies to other medical conditions as well, so please make sure you speak with your doctor before planning a trip.
Travelling with cancer: Advice from Cancer Council
Cancer Council recommends that anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer speaks to their doctor before travelling or heading overseas. Everyone’s personal situation is different, and only a health professional can advise how your individual situation may impact you while on the road, precautions you can consider, and any medication you should take with you.
Travelling after a heart attack: Advice from Heart Foundation
Recovery after a heart attack is different for everyone, and for most people, they can continue with their regular travel activities. Under the guidance of your GP you should soon be able to start planning again for your next travel adventures. It’s fine to travel by tram, train or bus - just try and ensure that you have a seat so you don’t get too tired.
Your doctor may have placed some restrictions on your ability to drive, but it is fine to travel as a passenger in a car straight away. You may find that long trips are tiring and you may get car sick more easily than usual. It’s important to break up your long periods of travel so as to not over exert yourself.
Before travelling by plane, you should seek your GP’s advice on what precautions, if any, you may need to take. For example, some people might need compression stockings or may not even be able to fly.
Getting up and walking around when possible is recommended, as are leg stretches for long flights. You may either need a medical clearance from for your airline or for your insurance company if travelling overseas.
It’s important to speak with your GP before booking a holiday to ensure the suitability of the location, the time you will have to spend travelling to get there and the medications you will need to take are all manageable.
Other handy tips:
- Make sure you pack your medications, and take enough medications with you to last throughout your holiday
- Take a list of all your medication and doses, including the generic and brand name of your medicines. It’s best to also get a letter from your GP outlining your condition, drugs, allergies and any medical devices you may have (for example, a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator)
- Know the warning signs of heart attack and the action you need to take, especially when travelling outside of Australia (know the emergency number)
- Plan your travel time, giving yourself lots of breaks and ensuring you aren’t having to run to make connections
- Stay in accommodation that’s close to amenities, and know where the local health providers are
- Don’t go to destinations that are too hilly or do activities that are too vigorous unless you’re confident that you’re suitably recovered
- If you have a history of heart failure or cardiomyopathy, be mindful of your fluid consumption and sodium (salt) intake
- Always make sure you have the right travel insurance to cover your condition.
Travelling with diabetes: Advice from Diabetes Victoria
Try to estimate what medicine, test strips, insulin and syringes you will need to medicate your diabetes for the entire trip and pack more than you need in case of loss or damage. If possible, pack a spare meter.
If you are using an insulin pump, remember to take extra pump batteries, consumables, your manual and a list of your pump settings. It is wise to contact your pump manufacturer before you go, to find out what resources are available at your travel destination. They may also be able to supply a loan pump as a spare.
Take clearly written details of your next of kin or family member plus a letter from your doctor outlining your medical conditions, the medications you take and the devices you use. Don’t forget your Medicare card and your National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) card.
If you are taking insulin or diabetes tablets, carry some form of quick acting carbohydrate, such as glucose tablets or jelly beans in case of hypoglycaemia (hypo), plus some biscuits, crackers or dried fruit in case of delayed or unsuitable meals.
If travelling by air, be sure to comply with Australian airline security regulations specifically for people with diabetes, as well as regulations which limit the amount of liquids (including aerosols and gels) carried by international travellers in their carry-on baggage.
In some international airports, biscuits and dried fruit cannot be taken through customs so you may need to leave what you don’t use on the aircraft and if necessary buy more at the airport once through customs.
Insulin and blood glucose test strips are stable at room temperature under 25 degrees. They will be damaged by temperature extremes so must not be frozen or left in the sun or heat for any length of time. If you are likely to be in very hot or cold places, take a small insulated bag which you can buy from your State or Territory Diabetes Organisation (phone 1300 136 588).
Take a small approved sharps container (available from your State or Territory Diabetes Organisation or your pharmacy) for your used lancets and syringes. You can then dispose of it when you come across a sharps disposal service, offered by many hotels and most airports.
Accuracy of blood glucose results is also affected by temperature at the time of operation. As temperature ranges vary for conducting a test, consult your meter user manual for your meter’s operational temperature range.
Wear some form of medical identification that says you have diabetes.
The excitement of the trip may affect your blood glucose levels so check your levels more often. If you’re using insulin discuss with your doctor or credentialled diabetes educator how to adjust your dose and always have a hypo pack with you.
When booking your flights, you may choose to tell the airline you have diabetes. This will be passed on to the cabin crew who will then be better able to meet your needs.
Many airlines offer meals suitable for people with diabetes. Remember, there needs to be adequate carbohydrates in the meal you order so it’s a good idea to check what’s available. Carry additional food (particularly carbohydrate foods) with you to ensure you have enough to eat during your flight and to cover any delays you might experience.
Talk to your doctor about your travel plans, if possible at least two months before leaving. It is important to discuss your medication/insulin adjustments, Glucagon, sick day plan and testing for ketones during the trip. This is also a good time to arrange the papers you will need to comply with airline security regulations.
During long hauls, support hose can help to prevent swelling and may reduce the risk of clotting in the veins of the legs. Check first with your diabetes health care team if this is suitable for you.
Make arrangements in advance to be sure you comply with Australian airline security regulations specifically for people with diabetes. If travelling with a non-Australian carrier, check well in advance with your chosen airline for specific security guidelines.
Diabetes supplies including testing equipment, insulin, Glucagon, syringes, pen needles and insulin pump consumables carried on board must be in the hand baggage of the person who has diabetes and whose name appears on the airline ticket. Remember that items in checked-in baggage may be exposed to extreme temperature variations and may become unusable.
All prescription medications, including your insulin and/or Glucagon, are to be carried in the packaging dispensed by the pharmacist with the label displaying your name clearly visible.
Carry several copies of a letter from your doctor (check before you leave that it is readable) which you will need to get through customs. The letter should outline your medical conditions, the medications you take and the devices you use for your insulin and blood glucose testing such as insulin pens, syringes and needles or pump and pump consumables. It should also stress the importance of carrying your medications with you. For those using an insulin pump, the letter must stress the need for the pump to be worn at all times.
People with diabetes are entitled to request access to a private consultation room if discussion about their condition is required at the security checkpoint. If they feel it necessary, they also have the right to ask to speak with the airport manager on duty.
People with diabetes using an insulin pump should not remove their pump at the security checkpoint. This should not be requested by security staff but if there are concerns, the person with diabetes has the right to request privacy which staff are obligated to provide.
Insulin pumps do not affect the aircraft’s electronic systems and must not be switched off during the flight. People wearing continuous electronic devices to monitor blood glucose levels may need to switch them off during take-off and landing. Check with the airline.
It is considered unlikely that insulin would be harmed by exposure to x-rays in security equipment. However, if you are concerned, you may ask airport security staff to physically check you and your baggage rather than you and your baggage going through the x-ray equipment.
You may decide to tell the flight attendant at the start of the trip that you have diabetes so your needs are well catered for. However, this is personal choice.
Keep your diabetes supplies where you can reach them immediately even if the seat belt sign is on, perhaps in the seat pocket in front of you, not under the seat or in the overhead locker.
Always wait until your meal is in front of you before having insulin or oral medications that may cause a ‘hypo’. For added safety, you can take your insulin halfway through or immediately after your meal in case there is a major unforeseen interruption. Be prepared with some extra carbohydrate containing snacks in case the meal is delayed or doesn’t have enough carbohydrate.
Travelling with Parkinson’s: Advice from Parkinson’s Australia
Having Parkinson’s does not have to stop you from having holidays, however, if you are having a holiday away from home, it is best to do some extra planning to make sure the holiday meets your needs. For example, are you an independent traveller or would you prefer to take an organised tour? What type of accommodation would be best? Perhaps you would rather travel by rail than air.
It is a good idea to discuss your holiday plans with your GP or Neurologist, who can provide you with a letter explaining your Parkinson’s and its treatment. This can prove invaluable in the event that you need to seek medical attention while away. Also, ask your neurologist if they can give you the name of a doctor in the area to which you are travelling.
When you book a holiday, explain what you need clearly to your accommodation, travel or booking agent. Be careful not to assume that people will understand what sort of assistance someone with Parkinson’s may need.
- When you are booking accommodation, consider what your needs are. For example, can you manage stairs unaided? If you can’t, request a room on the ground floor or near an elevator
- Ask if they have rooms that are handicapped accessible; these usually include grab bars in the shower and bathroom and have wider spaces between furniture for wheelchair access. And always ask for written confirmation that what you have asked for is available when you book
- Consider small airports if they are an option, and try to take non-stop flights so you do not have to make your way through multiple airports
- Ideally, a person with Parkinson’s should not sit inactive for more than 30 minutes at a time, so move your legs and stretch regularly.
- Always try to travel with a companion
- Carry identification stating that you have Parkinson’s disease. At Parkinson’s QLD we can provide a Parkinson’s identification card for you. Alternatively, if you are traveling overseas, the European Parkinson’s Disease Association has an online tool that allows you to translate the phrase “I have Parkinson’s. Please allow me time. In case of an emergency contact...” into 25 different languages
- Don’t overdo it! Give yourself time to adapt to new surroundings, and schedule time for rest everyday. If you know there are times during the day when you function better and have more symptom control, plan activities around your “on” time
- Use a bum-bag or backpack so that you have both hands free to balance as you walk, especially if walking any distance
- Pack snacks and carry a water bottle to take medications and remember to drink more if you are in the sun or more physically active than usual. Eat frequently. Remember, any stressor like hunger, dehydration or fatigue will make your Parkinson’s symptoms worse
- While your goal should be to engage in the things you enjoy, plan activities that match your physical ability
- See fewer sites - and enjoy them more! With Parkinson’s, rushing may actually make you slower, so try to stay calm, focused and give yourself extra time for everything
- Allow yourself plenty of time to navigate your way through the departure gate. Terminals tend to be crowded, fast paced and stressful, three characteristics that may make Parkinson’s symptoms increase
- Check as many bags as possible, but remember to keep your medications in your carry-on
Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide general information and entertainment around travel-related and other complementary topics to our insurance portfolio. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Columbus Direct. We do not endorse any statements made by third parties and do not take responsibility for third party content included in this blog. None of the information provided in this blog should be understood as advice or be relied upon for any decisions, particularly medical or financial decisions. The topics covered in this blog are not necessarily reflective of our products or cover. Always read the PDS before deciding if a policy is right for you.
Image credit: Shutterstock