Seven ways to simplify travelling with a chronic illness

When you live with a long-term illness, travel can be more challenging but it isn’t impossible! Frequent traveller Jessica Bean shares her tips for enjoying safe and healthy holidays.

Travel has always brought me immense joy. As teens, my best friend and I would procrastinate by planning our adventures, dreaming about cultures, food, and perhaps a holiday romance. 

As an adult, seeing the world has helped build my values and has gifted me perspective, adaptability, and resilience, among other life skills—all of which have served me in living with a long-term medical condition. Ticking travel goals off my bucket list has been an incentive to work as hard as possible on my health—after all, dreams and passion are an essential part of caring for our health!

However, travelling with a medical condition can bring its own challenges and risks. It isn’t impossible, but planning is critical. Over the years, as a result of the good, the bad and the absolutely terrifying, I’ve compiled a list of tips on how to stay as safe and well as possible.

1. Seek professional advice

Even if you are only travelling domestically, consulting your medical team about three months ahead of time (if possible) should always be the first step in your planning process. They will most likely have experience with other people with your condition and might think of things you haven’t considered, including any vaccinations you may need. 

Closer to your departure, they will also need to provide you with:

  • a summary letter, which should include an outline of your condition and recent medical history
  • a medication list, including the name of the medicine’s active ingredient (not brand name) and dose
  • copies of any prescriptions in case you run out while you are away
  • any travel requirements (e.g. medications must be carried as hand luggage)
  • confirmation of relevant medical clearances as well as listing any devices you need for managing your condition (e.g. insulin syringes and needles)
  • your doctor’s contact details
  • advice about when to take your medicines if you’re travelling into a different time zone.

2. Consider the worst 

Planning for a medical emergency could save you a lot of stress. Common concerns to consider include:

  • what you would do if your medications were lost or stolen
  • who to contact in case of a medical equipment breakdown
  • what to do if you became unwell

Taking time before your departure to plan for these things, including who to contact in each situation, will give you peace of mind, allowing you to enjoy your trip. 

While full travel insurance coverage might not always be possible if you live with a pre-existing condition you may want to consider an insurance policy for unrelated health incidents and accidents, losses or cancellations.

3. Plan to stay well

Prevention is always better than cure! Instead of taking risks, save ‘your brave’ and courage for swimming with sharks or skydiving by taking small proactive steps to support your health. 

For example, if you have a weakened immune system, wear a mask on aeroplanes and carry hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes for tray tables or TV remotes. Even better, if you can manage it - a good thorough wash of your hands with soap and running water taking care to dry properly - especially after using the toilet and before eating.

If you get tired easily, forget FOMO—schedule a rest day as an investment in staying well. 

If you have strict dietary requirements, Google cafes at your destination and book your hotel nearby (and always have plenty of snacks on hand!) and don’t forget to let the airline know if you have any dietary requirements when you book your flight.

Woman reading by the pool
4. Don’t assume
Making assumptions has landed many a traveller (including myself) in sticky situations. If there are things you absolutely must have for medical reasons, like a bar fridge or microwave, a hotel room with special access, specific meal options, or refrigeration on the plane (which, surprisingly, generally is not available), or if you need to use your electronic insulin pump on the airplane - confirm these things ahead of time.

5. Speak local
Look up basic terminology about your condition in your destination’s local language —things like the name of your condition, words you might need to make requests (e.g. about dietary requirements) and words to describe a medical emergency. Although translation services are available online, having these words in your phone or on paper for fast access could be a lifesaver! 
6. Get the gear
There’s some weird and wonderful medical technology on the market. If you’re struggling with something, chances are that someone else has been there and come up with a product to address the problem. Things like travel-sized equipment, integrations into smartphones, portable cooling devices, and adapters so medical appliances can be used in the car could free up baggage space to make room for those over-shopping mishaps! Just remember to test them before departure, ensure they’re certified to meet your needs and that you’ll be able to use them on the plane if necessary. 

7. Don’t forget it’s a holiday
Although you might be tempted to book back-to-back tours, doing so might mean you won’t enjoy any of them. Remember to ask yourself what you need to enjoy a healthy holiday. 
Make a priorities list for your destination, and then one for the things you consider ‘bonuses’. 
And make it easy! When there are things that might help you, take them—use escalators, get wheelchair escorts, or enquire at busy tourist spots about fast passes (often available on presentation of your doctor’s letter). Holidays are for enjoying, not a personal toughness test! 
8. (Most importantly!) Enjoy the moment
Fear is the thief of joy. If you decide to go on holidays, make the most of it and don’t spend your time worrying about things that might not happen! As those with a long-term medical condition know too well, time to create memories is precious.

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Bupa Travel Insurance is distributed by Bupa HI Pty Ltd ABN 81 000 057 590 an authorised representative of the issuer, Insurance Australia Limited ABN 11 000 016 722 AFSL 227681. Any advice is general only and does not take into account your personal circumstances. Consider the  Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to see if this product is right for you.

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