Have a Chronic Illness? Good News— You Can Still Travel


Traveling around the country or abroad is good for a person, but it might seem daunting with a chronic illness, especially if you’re flying. You might have limits or need extra care and medical supplies that make air travel a hassle. However, with a little planning and preparation, you can travel successfully with a chronic illness—and gain new, priceless memories in the process.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic diseases every year. Of those, 25 percent have more than one condition.

Because these prolonged illnesses are unfortunately common, doctors and experts have learned a thing or two about safe air travel. In other words, as long as you’re stable, you shouldn’t let your condition stop you from visiting family for the holidays.

Let’s look at how you should prepare.

Travel Smart.

When flying with a chronic medical condition, you’ll need to make a few extra preparations to ensure your safety. A few steps to consider:

  1. See your doctor.

Even if you’re condition was declared stable a few months ago, you should make sure that nothing has changed before boarding a flight. Planes are able to fly at increasingly high altitudes with lessened air pressure in the cabin.

While most people don’t notice the change, you may experience problems depending on your condition. Your doctor will have suggestions to help ease the process and keep you safe. Aim for a visit 4–6 weeks out.

  1. Know your destination.

This step is very important in case of an emergency. Study the area around your destination and get to know what their hospitals are like. Depending on your condition, you may need to call ahead and let the staff know you may be seeing them.

  1. Find a travel buddy.

If possible, travel with someone who knows your condition and can act quickly. Stick with them or have a system in place to check on each other periodically.

Living with Endometriosis

  1. Pack well.

No matter the illness, you should keep helpful information on you: most importantly, an official doctor’s note detailing your condition and any emergency medication. If you’re traveling abroad, you’ll want to find out about medicine restrictions at your destination country.

In addition, consider keeping a health kit in a carry-on with any supplies that will ease pain or make your condition more comfortable.

  1. Get insurance.

Many travel or flight companies will have add-ons for extra insurance. For example, you might want to get insurance for trip cancellation or medical reimbursement (for going abroad). The reimbursement would help cover costs if you need to use medical help while out of the country.

  1. Take precautions.

During your flight, make sure to stand up and stretch or do leg exercises to keep blood flowing. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration or stomach upset.

Then, once you’ve arrived, schedule in extra time for rest to let your body adjust. Do the same if you have an active day of sightseeing as well—this step will make sure that you’re not exacerbating your condition because of stress.

Traveling with These Common Conditions

Every person will have needs that are specific to their situation. Again, seeing your doctor before flying will ensure that you’ve taken all the necessary steps. In general, though, you can get an idea of what else you might need by looking at these common chronic illnesses.


  • Heart disease/heart conditions


It’s especially important that you’re cleared by your doctor before flying with a heart condition. If you’re stable, you may want to ask the flight personnel ahead of time to keep extra oxygen on hand. You may also need low-dose aspirin or anticoagulants.

Be sure to keep a recent copy of an EKG on you and take precautions against the flu. Because sickness is a problem on packed seasonal flights, consider taking an early morning or late night flight that’s less crowded.


  • Stroke


Most airlines and doctors won’t recommend flying after a stroke until 1–3 months. Like the closely related heart conditions above, you may need extra oxygen on standby and should drink plenty of fluids.

If your stroke has left you partially disabled, you should arrange for a driver, wheelchair or other assistance as needed. Ask your doctor about any other steps that might help.


  • Cancer


Those with cancer have an increased risk of anemia and may also need pain or nausea medications. Keep extra supplies to make you more comfortable in case of pain or nausea, research medicine restrictions abroad, and keep iron-rich foods on hand.

Finally, wear loose clothing and walk around often to keep blood flowing. You may need supplemental oxygen as well.


  • Diabetes


Ask your doctor about any adjustments for insulin that you might need. You’ll also need to keep well-hydrated and check your blood sugar every few hours on the flight. Adjust your position often to prevent pressure sores.

You may want to bring a small travel pillow and extra bandages or antibacterial cream if you’re prone to these sores. In addition, consider wearing pressure stockings to improve blood circulation, a common problem for diabetics.

Overall, following the general steps above will make sure that you’re comfortable and safe during air travel with a chronic illness. Although traveling might seem daunting, you shouldn’t let it stop you from seeing the world or visiting family for the holidays. Once you’re used to the preparations, traveling will not only be a breeze but a delight.