Travel Tips for Cancer Patients
Many cancer patients travel during the holiday season. Whether you are traveling for work or for pleasure, planning is the key to reducing your health care risks and having a successful, safe and comfortable trip while in cancer treatment.
- Talk to your doctor(s): Always check with your oncology physician(s) if you plan to travel. He/she may have some instructions for you, and it’s always good to let your doctors know where you are going so they can help you identify emergency contacts at your destination. If you are traveling for pleasure, your doctors also may help you choose your destination, so you can both be assured that there is good quality health care available and avoid places where you might increase your risks for infection.
- Travel with a companion: Traveling with a companion becomes more important if you are traveling while undergoing cancer treatment. A travel companion can reduce your physical and emotional stress during travel and help with practical matters like managing heavy baggage and picking up food if you feel too tired to go out to eat.
- Manage your medication: Carry a list of all of your medications. Be sure you have adequate supplies of each of your medications for your entire trip. If you are traveling by air, tuck your medications into your carry-on bags rather than checked luggage in case your luggage gets lost or is delayed.
- Avoid sitting for long periods of travel: Traveling can elevate your risk for developing a blood clot. If you are traveling by plane or train or bus, walk up and down the aisle several times during the trip and exercise your legs in your seat. When traveling by car, make frequent rest stops so you can walk and stretch your legs.
- Avoid germs: Make sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before eating and when traveling on planes, trains and buses; did you know that airline tray tables have been proven to be dirtier than the lavatory? Bring sanitizing wipes to clean off surfaces.
- Have a plan for medical emergencies: No one plans to get sick while traveling, but it’s important to know where you would get medical care should you become ill; ask your doctors for their recommendations. Travel with the names and phone numbers of medical facilities on your itinerary. Find out if your health insurance will cover you while traveling, and if there is an option to cover emergency transport home. And carry a summary of your medical history and treatment as well as your current medications and doses.
- Understand Travel Cancellation Policies: Before you make your travel arrangements, know the cancellation policies related to your transportation, hotel and activities. Travel insurance may be an option for trip interruption not related to your diagnosis, but most travel policies will exclude anything related to a pre-existing condition, so read any policy you might consider very carefully before you purchase it.
- Plan time to rest: Because of your treatment, you may not have the stamina to do a full day of activities. Plan for shorter days and for an easy return to wherever you are staying so you can rest, which will make for a more enjoyable trip.
- Eat and drink wisely: Plan to stay well-hydrated throughout your entire trip. When traveling abroad, choose bottled rather than tap water. Avoid foods that are raw or undercooked or that may not be handled properly such as food from street vendors. Take along some meal replacement snacks in case local foods don’t appeal to you or you are concerned about food safety.
- See a travel specialist before you travel abroad: If you are traveling outside of the United States, consider seeing a travel doctor, who can recommend any vaccines or preventive medications that you might need. Tell your oncology physicians about these recommendations so you can be sure they are safe for someone during cancer treatment.
- Be wary of the sun: Certain types of medication and chemotherapeutic agents will increase your sensitivity to the sun, so always use sun block and protective clothing to minimize your exposure, even if your plans don’t include lying on the beach.
- Be aware of symptoms and fatigue: Whether you are visiting family or friends or taking the trip of a lifetime, be prepared to listen to your body. If you experience symptoms or you are feeling tired or unwell, listen to your body and report symptoms to your health care provider immediately. Carry over-the-counter pain and fever medication, and ask your doctor if you should carry antibiotics for infections or traveler’s diarrhea.
- Keep your lines of communication open: Call your cellular carrier and find out if you will have access to cell service at your destination, and plan to deal with language differences in an emergency. And speak with your hosts or hotel staff about language assistance in a medical emergency.