Everything you need to know about going on holiday with a chronic illness

Travelling is stressful: having to pack everything, remembering to label suitcases in case they get lost, going through security – and that’s all before you even arrive at your destination.

But for disabled and chronically ill people, travelling can be even more challenging.

With extra considerations like packing medical equipment, inaccessible environments, and medical letters, it isn’t easy.

Emma Duke, 40, from Oxford, has Type 1 diabetes and finds travelling ‘a bit of a nightmare.’

‘As wonderful as new technology is – it has a habit of breaking at the worst moments,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. 

‘I’ve had to get companies to send out replacements when I’ve been on holiday multiple times, which can be very stressful. 

‘The fact that my insulin pump can’t go through airport security scanners means I’m always incredibly anxious until I’ve gone through security. Most airport securities are nice about it, but it usually means I have to be frisked and have my pump scanned.

‘I’m super-paranoid about being unable to access my insulin for any reason, so I take multiple batches – in both my hand luggage and suitcase.’

While it can be nerve-wracking, those with chronic illnesses shouldn’t have to miss out on travelling due to added complications.

‘Travel is one of life’s most rewarding and enriching activities,’ says Dr Irem Tezer Ates, Medical Science Director at NuroKor. ‘With the right planning and adaptations, everyone can enjoy time away from home and embrace new experiences.’

Here are some tips and tricks on how to prepare and travel with a chronic illness.

Before the trip

‘Before travelling, I make sure I have at least double the medication I’ll need, so I can split it between hand luggage and checked luggage, in case either gets lost or if I get stuck in another country,’ says Amy Fogarty, a freelance writer from Birmingham.

‘The same goes for my stoma supplies. I also make sure I have the prescription slips from the pharmacy in case I get stopped at security.’

The 28-year-old has multiple chronic illnesses, including Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), ulcerative colitis with an ileostomy, chronic spontaneous urticaria & angioedema, and adenomyosis.

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And as a result of her ongoing health issues, Amy is always well prepared prior to any trip.

‘I have a stoma passport signed by my stoma nurse (issued by the Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association) in case security wants to search me.

‘It explains what an ileostomy is in different languages and asks the searcher to be sympathetic in doing so. 

‘The full body scanners usually flag up my stoma with a big exclamation point, so that’s when I usually hand over the passport.’

Amy recommends an ‘extensive’ packing list, which allows you to triple-check you have everything you need, as well as contacting your airline in plenty of time before flying if you require airport assistance.

She continues: ‘Give yourself plenty of time to account for rest or unexpected pain and health flares at the airport.’

‘Also, think about upgrading to flexible transport tickets and hotel reservations, so you’re not forced to travel on a day when you’re not feeling up to it,’ adds Dr Irem.

Don’t forget decent travel insurance

When it comes to packing, Emma also recommends that people should always have backups of medication and replacement technology.

‘You can get a letter from your GP that explains why you need to carry medicines with you, which can make those conversations with security easier,’ she says.

But Dr Irem adds that your medication may contain ingredients that are illegal or restricted in some countries. ‘Check the official government advice before packing it!’ he advises.

Travel days

Travel days are intense. Making sure we arrive hours early, getting our bags checked in and going through security can be an anxiety-inducing time for any of us, but having a chronic illness makes this process even more daunting.

‘I use my sunflower lanyard to go through the express lane at security,’ explains Amy.

These lanyards, which are green and decorated with bright yellow sunflowers, are worn to discreetly indicate to people around the wearer that they may need additional help or support.

Amy adds: ‘My POTS means that standing still in queues can increase my heart rate significantly and make me feel very unwell/put me at risk of fainting, so this was a massive help this summer when airports were rammed. 

‘Beyond that, my other preparations are to prevent discomfort as much as possible. My EDS causes quite severe pelvic and lower back pain, so this year, I brought my coccyx cushion to sit on during the 10-hour flight to Mexico.

‘Compression socks also help manage my POTS symptoms by reducing blood pooling in my legs, which is especially important when flying.’

In case queues for the toilet are long, Amy takes a radar key with her, which gives her access to the disabled toilets. 

‘As someone with a stoma bag,’ she says, ‘this is great for avoiding toilet anxiety.’

Additionally, Amy recommends taking an empty refillable water bottle and snacks with you for travelling (airports have free water refill stations), ensuring you stay hydrated and nourished throughout your journey.

During the flight or journey

‘For the flight, my BeYou monthly patches help with lower back pain from sitting for long periods, alongside getting up to stretch every half an hour or so,’ Amy explains.

‘A memory foam neck cushion also helps for upright naps, and noise-cancelling headphones help to avoid sensory overload on loud, crowded flights.’

The holiday itself

When you reach your destination, Amy has some top tips to make your trip as hassle-free as possible:

  • ‘Make sure you’ve done your research regarding local time zones, so you know when you should now be taking your medications.
  • Stick to bottled water.
  • Learn any relevant expressions in the native language for informing of dietary requirements.
  • Just because you’re on holiday, it doesn’t mean your illness is, so try not to push too hard to keep up with others.
  • Pace yourself and remember to rest.
  • High SPFs are key, especially if you are immunosuppressed or are taking medication which increases sun sensitivity.
  • Above all, make sure to enjoy yourself and embrace relaxation.’

Dr Irem adds:

  • ‘If you have a Blue Badge, bring it with you! In Europe, you can use it to access priority parking. 
  • Familiarise yourself with the medical facilities at your destination – checking where the nearest doctors’ surgery, pharmacy and hospital is – so you can access them quickly in an emergency.’

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