Every now and then, everyone needs to take a break. In fact, taking a vacation may be just what the doctor ordered. Planning is necessary for any individual who wishes to travel; however, if you have cystic fibrosis, there are a few extra things that you need to plan for. Travel insurance, enough medication for the trip, and possible flight restrictions are all things that must be carefully organized. But don’t let this put you off! Plan ahead and together with your CF care team, identify any special travel accommodations and documentation that you may need.
Choosing your destination
It’s a great big world out there, waiting to be explored and there are countless places to visit. However, some of these places may be less ideal travel destinations if you have cystic fibrosis. They may lack the resources you need to care for your overall health. Consider your tolerance for climate, physical activity, and foreign foods before booking your ticket. It is also recommended that you speak with your CF care team several months in advance. They can help you arrange necessary tests and treatment options such as: replacing nebulized antibiotics with oral ones, how to pack efficiently, and how to adjust your exercise routines into your travel schedule.
Travel and health-related documents
Travel and health-related documents may be required by your medical insurance company. These documents can help you to avoid hassles when crossing borders and they typically include:
- A list of all current medications you are taking (trade and generic names) and a description of why you need each one;
- Your prescriptions in case you need to get medications;
- A letter from your CF specialist explaining your diagnosis, current medications you are taking, and medical equipment you are using;
- A “fit to fly” letter if you are travelling by airplane (the letter should be dated within two weeks of the booked flight)
- Your CF care team’s contact information
Make sure to make extra copies of these documents so that you can give a copy to any officials who request them. Keep the originals on you or in a safe place at all times.
Getting travel insurance with a chronic disorder such as CF is not easy. Basic insurance covers your luggage, flight cancelations, and injuries sustained on the trip. However, you will also need to cover for a “pre-existing health condition” in case of any health complications that might arise. This covers you for any CF treatment that you might need while you are away. Consider your options by contacting a number of travel insurance companies. Keep in mind that if you apply to one company and you are rejected, you will have to disclose this fact when you complete your application for the next company.
Get a letter from your CF specialist detailing your current state of health and a list of all the medications you are currently taking. You may even want to consider asking your CF specialist to complete the medical report section of your application. They are more likely to know the most accurate details of your medical history and your current treatment plan.
In general, air pressure and oxygen concentration decrease at high altitudes. While this may not have any effect on most people, it can pose a problem if you have low lung function. For this reason, it is advisable that you speak with your CF care team to determine whether it is safe for you to fly without extra oxygen.
In cases where you might require a portable oxygen concentrator, a medical certificate and prescription needs to be completed by your CF specialist. These documents certify that you are eligible to fly and that the airline should provide an in-flight oxygen service. Check ahead with your airline as some airlines may charge a fee for such services. Ensure that you have made arrangements for the return flight home as well.
Notify your airline of all medication, needles, and devices you will be bringing on board with you. Carry any medications that you require during the flight in your carry-on luggage and pack an extra supply (particularly enzymes) in case of delays. Keep in mind that not all countries permit certain medications to be imported. If this is the case, you will need to see how to get the medications locally.
Keep handy a letter from your CF specialist, detailing what medications and equipment you are carrying with you and why. Approved nebulizers will need to be battery-powered and you should ensure that the battery has 50% more battery life than the estimated duration of the flight. Additionally, ask your CF specialist to help you prepare a stand-by supply of antibiotics in case you develop an infection while on your trip. Most important, do not travel alone unless you are sure that you can cope in case you become ill.
Many medications are temperature-sensitive, so special care should be taken. Call ahead of time and make sure that your hotel or hostel has a refrigerator that you can use to store items that require refrigeration. Keep all medications at the recommended temperature and avoid extreme heat or cold sources such as windows and automobiles. Also, make sure that you have the appropriate adapters and converters for your medical equipment and bring extra batteries with you if you are using a battery-operated machine.
Food and beverages
Talk with your dietitian before you leave for your trip and discuss what to do when you encounter new foods. Everyone has their own levels of tolerance, so you should know your limits. Practice good hygiene in order to avoid infections, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, and pack extra enzymes for those high-fat meals. If you start to experience cramps, loss of appetite or fatigue, you will need to increase your salt intake for 24 hours to 3-4 times more your usual amount. Moreover, avoid raw or poorly cooked food.
When traveling to an area where the weather is hot or humid, make sure to drink plenty of water in order to avoid dehydration. If you are in a place where there is no safe drinking water, only drink water from sealed bottles. Furthermore, find out if there are CF clinics or hospitals nearby where you are staying in case you need to seek medical attention.
Arriving at your destination
Jetlag is a real thing so make sure that you allow yourself time to get to rest you need. You are more likely to get sick if you are overtired, so recognize your limits, don’t push yourself too hard, and enjoy your vacation to the fullest extent.
Every individual with CF has a different treatment plan. Your treatment plan is unique to your specific needs, health, age, lifestyle, and medical results. Along with the help of your CF care team, you can maintain good health and plan / prepare for your body’s needs. Having cystic fibrosis does not necessary mean that you cannot travel, it simply means that you need to be extra-prepared. The more prepared you are, the more your mind will be at ease and you can truly enjoy your vacation!