Wheels up! Tips for traveling with a health condition

Got summer travel plans? For many, hitting the road with a health condition can take some extra planning, so we’ve gathered tips and tricks – from the PatientsLikeMe forums and beyond – to help you prepare for smooth sailing, start to finish.

Traveling with a chronic illness

Before you go

Bring a buddy. Traveling with someone – whether a spouse, niece or friend – can be very helpful when you have extra luggage, medical equipment or a tricky health regimen to stick to during your trip. Traveling by train? Amtrak offers discounts of 15% or more for people with disabilities and their companion.


“If possible, travel with a relative or friend. When making hotel reservations, remember that smaller hotels require less walking. Request a room on the first floor or near an elevator. Request a room with a grab bar in the shower. If traveling by airplane, request a straight-through flight and an aisle seat.” – Member with Parkinson’s disease


Set reminders. Write up your daily treatment plan and ask your travel mate(s) to help you stick with it. Set smartphone reminders, too, so you don’t forget your usual “to-do’s” when you’re away from home.

Talk with your doctor.

  • Ask about any recent symptom flare-ups, motion sickness or sun-safety concerns, changing time zones (and adjusting your medication schedule), and any other questions you have.
  • Check the CDC’s list of symptoms that might mean postponing your trip.
  • Make sure you’re well stocked with prescription meds, plus extra in case of delays – you may need to request a “vacation override” from your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Get a letter from your doctor (on letterhead) stating your condition, treatment regimen and medications. Some items, such as oxygen tanks and needles, may require a doctor’s note to carry onto flights.

Check your insurance coverage. Call your health insurance provider to ask about coverage where you’re traveling. If you’re traveling far or out of the U.S., it may be worth getting travel health insurance – although some members note that they’ve had trouble getting covered for a “pre-existing condition.” Look into it as early as possible.

Also, research trip insurance – a broad policy may protect you if you need to change plans for any reason, health-related or not. 


“Buy travel insurance within 24 hours of purchasing your tickets so your pre-existing conditions can be covered. Read the fine print. I’ve had a lot of good experience with this website: www.insuremytrip.com.” – Member with MS


Make special accommodations. Check with the TSA and your airline or other travel provider(s) to learn about available help, special accommodations and planning ahead for smooth security screenings. Read up on your rights as an airline passenger with disabilities.

“Be aware of services like Curb to Curb Wheelchair service (don’t be too shy… the airport IS huge, and the name of the game is to spend your energy WHEN YOU GET TO your destination, NOT just getting there…!) The service will take you to your plane (right down ton the tarmac if that’s what it takes!) as well as back down to the luggage claim and taxi, etc.” – Member with MS

Traveling with an illness

Pack like a pro. Write down a packing list, thinking of your typical daily routine and the items you use from morning to night. (Hint: Don’t throw away your list! You can use it again for your return trip or down the road.)

Rolling your clothes can help you neatly squeeze more into your suitcase. If you have things that you can’t pack until the last minute (medications), stick a reminder note on the door you’ll exit through for your trip. Important: Pack your medications in your carry-on, in case your checked luggage gets lost. Also, keep your ID, doctor’s note and emergency contact list on you at all times – in English and the language of your destination.


“I went to Europe this summer and if I had to do it again I would write a note in Italian (or any language for the places I was visiting) which explained why I needed to use disabled services. I had a hard time getting access to elevators in the Colosseum.” – Member with MS


During your trip

Make (loose) plans. Remind your travel mates that you might need to take pit stops and time to rest.

“While traveling, meet the needs of your illness. For me, that means trying to get enough sleep (and knowing the signs of not having enough sleep!!) and making sure I get some alone time every couple of days.” – Member with major depressive disorder

Eat (pretty) well. If you follow a specific eating plan because of your condition or if you’re sensitive to dietary changes in general, you may not want to stray too far from your typical menu. Also: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

“Make sure you eat wholesome food while traveling. Try to keep your normal diet as much as possible. Traveling is tough on the body! Good luck and enjoy what you can. That is what makes living worthwhile, even if we all had to re-invent ourselves after our diagnosis.” – Member with fibromyalgia

Call ahead for help at tourist sites. Some museums and tourist spots have wheelchairs visitors can use free of charge – try calling ahead to confirm and see if you need a reservation.

After you’re back

Take it easy. If time allows, fit in some downtime after your trip (such as an extra day or two off work), especially if you’ve done a lot of physical activity, changed time zones or feel a cold or bug coming on. Unpacking alone can take a lot of time and energy. But hopefully it was well worth the journey!

Have any travel advice to share? Add a comment here or join the conversation in the forum!


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