Dealing with an Illness and Traveling? Plan Ahead for Smooth Sailing

front of airplane nose: Dealing with an Illness and TravelingTravel plans in your future?  When you, or a loved one, are dealing with an illness and traveling here are important things to consider before you travel.  The same goes for those dealing with a serious injury. Whether you are driving to family or flying to an exotic location, do your homework and be prepared.

Are your Travel Plans Wise?

Ideally, it’s great if you can speak to your medical team about your proposed trip before you make definitive plans. Specifically discuss:

  • Length of trip.
  • Proposed itinerary – particularly if you are going to a foreign country or a remote site that is not close to a major medical center
  • Method of travel (the patient’s condition may not be suited for airplane travel).
  • Expected physical activities and any possible restrictions.
  • Food and water concerns for foreign travel, including any concerns regarding using local water for teeth brushing and face washing.
  • Altitude considerations if you are going somewhere with a markedly different altitude.
  • Recommended shots for foreign travel and other regional concerns.

Before You Go

Before you leave, ask your doctor about the following issues:

  • Hospital options near your hotel, in case of an emergency.
  • What to do if the patient develops symptoms while away.  Whom should you call?  It what situation should you go to a local emergency room?  What would necessitate returning home early or an emergency evacuation?

Health Insurance Coverage

Ask your health insurer what coverage you will have should you need a doctor or hospital while away.  Some large insurers have national provider networks and many have a smartphone app to find in-network health care providers while you are away.

Time Zone Change?

Going to a different time zone? Some medications need to be given at precise times, and may still be needed at those specific times based on your home clock (not the local time at your destination venue), so ask your doctor and adjust as necessary for any time change.

Traveling by Plane?

If you are traveling by airplane, there are few things to consider:

  • If you plan to bring “sharps” (needles, syringes, etc.)  on an airplane, check in advance with the TSA for the latest regulations and restrictions.  It is a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor, with a copy of the prescription, to minimize any issues.
  • Ask for an aisle seat so you can get up easily and walk around.

Prepare for an Unexpected Change of Plans

Before you leave, specifically plan how you would get home in case of a medical emergency.  Look into coverage for medical evacuation from your credit card company, trip insurance companies and even through your employer.

  • Options to consider are membership plans such as that available at or  These travel insurance plans provide medical evacuation from anywhere in the world to the hospital of your choice.  When evaluating plans, read the plan’s policy before purchasing an insurance plan and be sure to choose a plan that will allow for medical evacuation from the countries you plan to visit.

What to Bring with You

Keep all of these in your carry-on luggage – do not check them in case your bags are lost or delayed. Bring:

  • A list of all medications, including dosages.
  • Plenty of medication, more than you would expect to need.  You may have travel delays beyond your control or you may drop or ruin a medication accidentally.  Realize that shipping medication to a foreign country is nearly impossible.
  • Paper copies of each prescription if you are bringing medications in pill organizers (instead of bringing each original prescription container).
  • Each prescription medication in its original container if you a traveling to a foreign country.  If desired, bring an empty pill organizer with you and fill it at your destination.
  • Names and contact information for all doctors on your team.
  • Your “medical diary” notebook with your diagnosis, treatment and medication history, along with test results.
  • A list of nearby hospitals and contact information for your emergency evacuation plan.

If you are taking controlled substances to a foreign country, such as narcotic pain relievers, you may want to check with the US Embassy in the country you will be visiting to see if there are restrictions.  You can find a list of Embassies at

Finding a Doctor in a Foreign Country

If you plan to travel to other countries, think ahead about how to find a doctor if needed.  Options include:

  • The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers is a non-profit organization that maintains a database of licensed, English-speaking doctors in 90 countries. You must become a member to access the directories (free for the first year; a tax deductible donation is required to renew) Search by country name to find lists of doctors and clinics (
  • Ask the concierge at your hotel for recommendations. Larger hotels often have doctors who take care of the hotel guests.

Although it can be daunting to plan a trip when you or a loved one is dealing with a serious medical condition, with proper planning you can enjoy yourself and create great memories.  Bon voyage!

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