Planning for memorable vacations when faced with health issues
January 1, 2024 | View PDF
Q: My son has asked me to accompany his family on a vacation. They’ve requested I choose a destination suitable for my chronic illness. This seems like an unsettling task.
A: Living with a chronic condition can make a vacation seem daunting, but with proper planning and preparation, it is possible to have an enjoyable trip.
After consulting with your healthcare professional, take time to plan your itinerary carefully, considering accessibility, availability of medical facilities, and climate of destination. Choose activities and attractions that are suitable for your health condition. Other factors to determine are the duration of the journey, level of comfort and support required.
Modes of transport. Airlines are equipped to handle passengers with disabilities and most medical conditions. Many train services offer accessible seating, ramps and disability assistance, making it a comfortable choice. Bus transit may be suitable for shorter distances and have accessible vehicles with ramps or lifts for passengers with mobility challenges. Another option is to rent or drive your own car, which allows easy access to medical supplies, and for breaks if you have back or mobility issues. Cruises are an option providing a range of amenities and services for your specific needs. Additionally, research available specialized vehicles to ensure safe transportation if you have a severe medical condition or disability.
Weather conditions. Extreme temperatures impact your health. If you experience heat intolerance or cold sensitivity, plan travel during seasons with milder temperatures.
Be aware of the humidity and high altitude levels at your destination. High altitude can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness and fatigue, especially for those with respiratory or cardiovascular conditions.
Since different regions have different allergens, research the common allergens at your destination and carry allergy medication or avoid known triggers if you have respiratory conditions.
Rain, inclement weather or long-distance hikes are challenging if you have mobility issues or are recovering from an injury. Be prepared with appropriate rain gear, waterproof clothing and footwear.
Know medication restrictions. Find out if there are restrictions on medications for your destination country by checking with the foreign embassy. Use the original packaging with a letter from your doctor explaining your condition and need for medications. A pack smart checklist is available at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/pack-smart.
Immunizations. Research what is recommended or required far in advance. This website is a good place to start: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/faq
Travel insurance. If you get ill overseas, travel arrangements home can be outrageously expensive without transportation or travel interruption insurance.
Emergency preparedness. Wear a medical ID bracelet or carry a card that clearly states your medical condition, allergies, and emergency contact details. Obtaining 9-1-1 equivalent phone numbers in foreign countries ensures your safety while traveling. Consider the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service of the U.S. Department of State to receive destination-specific travel and security updates. This service also contacts international travelers during emergencies.
Location suggestions. San Diego has accessible beaches with free beach wheelchairs and wheelchair-friendly sites, including the San Diego Zoo (free admission for your attendant), and the Civic Theatre. Barcelona has accessible public transit, and Sicily offers many activities with mobility accommodations, from scuba diving to olive-oil making.
Everyone’s experience with an injury or disability is unique, so tailor this list of tips to your specific needs. Prioritize your health and well-being to ensure a smooth and comfortable vacation.
Based on research, individuals who were able to travel at least 15 miles away from home, and who were able to travel frequently and see more places, were more likely to report better health. This was especially true for those respondents over age 55. Enjoy the journey and bring awe to your life. Despite challenges, take time to appreciate new surroundings, try local cuisine, and create lasting memories.
Numerous resources for travelers: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/.
Karen Casanovas, PCC, CPCC, CLIPP is a health and wellness professional coach practicing in Anchorage. If you have questions, write to her at email@example.com.