20 Tips for medicating whilst travelling
I’ve travelled quite a bit since my Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis 20 years ago and if there is one really positive thing in my genes it’s organisation. I am meticulous with my documentation and the administration side of RA treatment. If 20 tips for medicating whilst travelling opens the door to more travel and new experiences for you then a happy life is beckoning, you’ll just need to be organised.
I ventured into the tributaries of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea soon after I was diagnosed. It is subsistence life in those parts of PNG. You hunt for your food, avoid the snakes and keep the mosquitoes at bay. I think the GP’s words went something like.
So I went, and it was hard, but I’m so glad I did. It was my first concerted effort at a two fingered salute directly at chronic illness and it forced opened the door.
Travelling with any serious medical condition is a challenge and I’m sure that there are many more people that have far greater hills to climb than me. As much as I like to think that my trips are a spur of the moment kind of thing, the reality is a tonne of homework and lots of questions. But hey, it all blends into the background when you’re kicking back on a beach in the Caribbean. On with the tips!
1.Holiday destination and timing
Is there a better way to structure your travel times around your blood tests and treatment? Sure, it might be a really good deal, but is that trip to Kyoto in February going to work well with your arthritis or chronic asthma?
Research the best flight times and change overs so that you don’t put physical pressure on yourself getting to the next objective. That can work both ways. Everybody loves a short transit but you are better off waiting and resting in an airport lounge than hobbling through one at pace.
3. Personal timing
My 82 year old mother will scoot around an airport with her cane, her curls straightening, puffing and panting because she would rather fuss about her home prior to travel than get to the airport early and have a pleasant cup of tea. Ok, travelling at 82 is impressive, but it does make it all the more the frustrating when you think of the amount of stress and injury that could be avoided by giving herself just a little extra time, hell… why not a lot extra. A two hour coffee in an airport lounge with a boarding pass in hand, beats sweating on a shuttle bus.
Do you really know what it is that you are taking? What is it doing to your system? Is it readily available abroad?
Perhaps your medication causes muscle ache and cramps or nausea, ask your GP about skipping a few days whilst you are in transit. I use a heavy duty biologic drug that is next to impossible to obtain in a hurry, I take a spare in a separate compartment. My immune system is at it’s lowest directly after medicating, so to void being magnet for all things airborne and nasty I try not to jump on a plane or bus immediately after. Photosensitivity is a big one for a lot of medications. Find out and take a hat and zinc cream, otherwise you’ll be fried before you get to the first pharmacy.
Be smart. Keep the necessary documents and medication safe! Don’t stash them in the cargo hold and always have important documents in contact with your person! Without being patronising, pill organisers are the way to go if you don’t use them already. Perhaps it’s time to start a new habit?
My medication requires refrigeration (which is loads of fun), I’m always touting for ice to keep my cool bag errr…. cool. Cafe’s and airline staff are almost always obliging. Below are a selection of products that I have except for the “Rolls Royce” cool pack, that’s next on my list. You can order these from Amazon, of which I do get a small commission.
6.Flying with syringes
I reckon the TSA website is probably a good benchmark for the protocol of travelling with syringes. You can search individual medications on their site as to their suitability for importing/exporting, Murphy’s law says that your medication wont be listed – mines not. To Quote TSA – “Syringes to inject medicine – TSA allows larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in reasonable quantities for your trip, but you must declare them to security officers at the checkpoint for inspection.” Bring a letter from your GP to be sure.
7.Disinfectant hand wash
I love this stuff. Carry it, use it. You’ll scare yourself if you actually pay attention to where you put your hands and how often you touch your mouth or the food that is going into it.
I wont pretend that I’m telling someone anything new if they use a wheelchair full-time. But if you have an ailment, an injury, bad knees… request wheelchair assistance. Why not? Treat yourself, all airlines will accommodate you JUST ASK! Remember that you’ll be the last to get off an aircraft so keep that in mind if you have a tight transfer.
9.Take plenty of spare change
I’ve lost count as to the amount of times that we have been rummaging through our pockets for trolley change. When we do our first cash withdrawal at any destination we always head straight for the nearest convenience store or cafe to buy that bottle of water or coffee so we can cover baggage trolleys and of course tipping. People can be very helpful when motivated.
Drink plenty of water, if you get dehydrated you will be more susceptible to infection. Many, if not most airports will not allow water through customs. Empty the bottle before going through and fill it at the next fountain. Also, be diligent and check the seal on bottled water for tampering, especially in places like India or Egypt where refilling of unsanitised water is common.
Research airport, bus & train terminal commutes. Don’t wait until you arrive. What time will you arrive? Will shuttle services be running? Do you need to book ahead? You will be walking way more than you need too trying to get to information desks or trying to find the correct shuttle bus or taxi rank.
12.Speak to your specialist & GP
Apart from being the obvious go to source, they may have some geographical knowledge of your destination in regards to clinics, colleagues… or they may try to discourage you ?.
Check the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website here where you can check what diseases you should be aware of and immunising against. They also have an app that you can download.
I will often take my own snacks that are packaged in a vessel to minimise the amount of hand to mouth contact – I swear Perry takes cheese dip and biscuits just to taunt me, but hey I’m happy with my bananas, boxed nuts, sultanas, muesli bars and chocolate of course.
It ain’t sexy but it can’t hurt. I use masks that mount over your ears – for easy access to those gourmet airline meals. Wear them anywhere there’s a crowd – or if you need to match your hat. I never thought of ordering online – see below – I’ve been relying on visiting Japan, I can stock up on masks and blend in… my kind of people!
It’s worth the extra money to reserve an isle seat for easy access. Remember that the areas with optimum leg room often require the seat occupant to assist others in the event of an emergency… Are you up to that?
17.Take a chill pill
Who’s in a hurry? Why stand in a cue for 15 minutes the moment they call for boarding. You’re there, no one is leaving without you.
Learn the basic phrases that will at least give a medical professional or pharmicists an idea of what you need. Pay a professional to translate an introductory letter from your GP that explains your diagnosis and your medical requirements in regards to blood tests and medication. Aside from medical professionals you may need to explain your stash of medication to customs. DON’T USE ONLINE TRANSLATORS… well do, if you want to amuse somebody.
Take duplicates of documents and medication and keep them in seperate compartments. I keep duplicates online also eg. Dropbox, or even in your email inbox/drafts.
20.Take a step back
It’s very easy to get worked up when something as precious as your well-being is threatened. Whether you’re yet to make the decision to leave or you find yourself in a strange place without your pills. There is always a solution. If you have done your homework you will be fine. People, regardless of the cultural barrier want to help and will.