My tips for staying safe and healthy while traveling with chronic illness

These strategies help me ensure that my airline trips go smoothly

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by Lara Govendo |

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Living with cystic fibrosis (CF) and transplanted organs has taught me a great deal about how to successfully travel by air with a chronic illness. While my medical needs look significantly different now than they did before my double-lung transplant six years ago, all of my health concerns have affected how I pack and travel.

Let me preface this column by saying I’ve never been a light traveler, but I don’t let that stop me from taking trips and living my best life.

Following are some of the strategies I’ve picked up along the way.

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Be prepared

Before my transplant, I had to pack a lot of medical equipment, including my airway clearance device, my medications, and, as my health declined, my oxygen concentrator. Struggling to breathe and dragging heavy equipment through a giant airport mixed like oil and water, so it was essential to have a game plan. I’d use a wheelchair and request an escort to take me to my gate. Someone would also be waiting for me when I landed to wheel me out of the airport.

Since my transplant, I only have to bring my anti-rejection medications and enzymes with me on trips. Once I board the plane, I employ my cleaning system. I wear gloves to wipe down the seat, seat belt, tray table, and surrounding area with sanitizing wipes. I also wear a medical-grade mask with an N95 mask on top of it while I’m in the airport and on the plane. It gives me peace of mind to know I’m protecting my suppressed immune system as best I can.

I always bring my medications and any medical equipment in my carry-on. This step is essential in the event that I’m stranded in the airport overnight or separated from my checked luggage.

To prevent anxiety, I go through my checklist of health essentials before leaving home. Material items are easy to replace once I reach my destination; medical necessities are not. Knowing I have everything I’ll need allows me to relax.

Staying nourished while traveling is also essential to my health. To do this, I’ll pack a lunch that’s easy to eat and to travel with, such as a sandwich or granola, as well as snacks (meat sticks, trail mix, and the like). I also bring an empty water bottle I can fill once I’ve gotten through security at the airport. It’s important to stay hydrated, especially since my transplant left me with angry kidneys.

Don’t hesitate to request accommodations

Through all my health issues, I’ve learned not to hesitate in asking for what I need — even if it’s at the expense of my pride. For instance, I board early when the gate attendant invites people with disabilities to do so. This early step allows me extra time to get to my seat, sanitize my area, and get settled. I maximize the benefits of having a disability to protect my health and ensure a smooth trip.

I’ve found it’s not worth it to struggle just because I’m worried about what others might think. Honestly, who cares? I’ll probably never see them again, anyway.

Traveling is important to me, so I’ve never allowed my health to be a barrier in accomplishing that goal. I’ve found ways to pack what I need, receive accommodations, and get to my destination while staying safe and healthy.

What strategies have helped you meet your travel goals with a chronic illness? Please share in the comments.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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