Travel

Chronically Happy Traveling Tips
Reprinted with permission from Chronically Happy - Joyful Living in Spite of Chronic Illness.

Traveling is fun, adventurous and rewarding. It gives you the opportunity to experience different cultures, see beautiful sites and create memories with your family and friends. However, if you have a kidney disease or are on dialysis, traveling can be a little more challenging.

Having had firsthand experience myself living with kidney disease for the past 48 years, traveling is fun and doable. I have traveled to over 40 states and abroad for work and pleasure. I can safely say that I am a veteran traveler and have learned how to navigate airports, maps and foreign surroundings. It gets easier with practice.

Sometimes I have limited energy and planning ahead is key. Here are a few things I have learned over the years:

  • Scheduling Dialysis Treatments—Work with your social worker to assist you in locating a dialysis facility. If you are on PD, the manufacturers can drop ship your supplies to your destination. The more advanced notice you have - the better.  Work with your social worker.  
  • Check On Insurance—A wise thing to do before you leave is to check on your insurance coverage’s policy on out-of-town doctor/emergency room visits. This way, if an emergency comes up, you’ll follow the proper protocol so you won’t have issues with the insurance company later.
  • Research Accommodations—Educate yourself about where you are going. If you are in a wheelchair, for instance, make a phone call to find out about the hotel’s accessibility. Before you leave for your trip, make hotel and restaurant reservations at wheelchair-friendly establishments so you aren’t met with unpleasant last-minute surprises. If you need to refrigerate your meds, make sure you call ahead to see if the hotel has in-room refrigerators. If they do not have a refrigerator available, ask if you can store your medication in their refrigerators when you arrive—or, better yet, make reservations at a hotel that can better accommodate you. Another option is to have someone else do the research for you. Some travel agencies specialize in coordinating trips for the disabled. Do a search on Yelp to find a agency that has good references. 
  • Carefully Plan Excursions—If walking is an issue, find out about parking at the theatre you’ll be attending when you’re in New Orleans. Will you be able to park close to the theatre, or will it be a hike? Find out if the theatre has a drop-off point, or if the management company can make special valet-parking arrangements for you. If you are going on an all day outing that will require a lot of walking, you may want to check into wheelchair or scooter rental. Plan day treks that won’t exacerbate your shortcomings. If you know stairs are difficult, cross out the part of your trip to New York where you climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty. Take that time to go to SoHo instead. If you are travelling with a group, there is no shame in breaking off and meeting up a few hours later. Why frustrate yourself, when there are so many amazing things on this planet to see?
  • Tell People Where You’re Going—Let your loved ones know you’ll be travelling, and leave the hotel phone number and an itinerary. You should also leave your doctor’s number and relevant insurance information. Why? If there is an emergency and you are unable to talk, whoever is your “In case of an emergency” contact needs to tell the hospital who your doctor is and how to contact them. If you’re on a waiting list for an organ transplant, tell the transplant center you’ll be travelling and let them know how you can be contacted. Time is of the essence! I happened to be on a camping trip when I got the call. I’m very glad I heeded my own advice!

The Plane Ride
For air travel, it’s important to discover on your own what works for you. I always bring a neck pillow with me so I can rest comfortably, ensuring more energy when I arrive. Having arthritis I easily become stiff. I try to reserve an aisle seat, so I can get up and stretch. My feet don’t touch the floor, so I bring a little step stool with me pr rest my feet on my carry on bag. This helps to reduce the pain in my legs on long flights. Also, I do not drink any alcohol while flying.

Another good tip when traveling by plane is to never pack your meds with luggage you are checking. Always keep them with you in a purse or carry-on. You will arrive at your destination, but your luggage may not, and you don’t want to be stuck without a critical medication. To avoid the embarrassment of a search, make sure you have a letter from your physician describing why you need the medication. This is very important for diabetics who require syringes and needles.

If your medication needs to be refrigerated or stay cool, purchase a thermal insulated lunch bag. These usually provide enough temperature control, even on longer plane rides. If you are concerned, you can probably refresh with ice during the flight.

Make Sure These Things Go With You Everywhere

  • Cell Phones—If you don’t have one, I highly suggest you get one. These have become necessities nowadays, especially if you are more likely to be met with an emergency situation. Call ahead to determine if there will coverage at your planned destination, and, if it doesn’t, make appropriate arrangements. 
  • Medication—Don’t leave your meds at home! Make sure you keep them accessible and you take extra along in case you lose your planned-for dosages, or if you need to extend your stay. I suggest keeping the extra in a different place, so if your bag is stolen (heaven forbid), all your medications aren’t gone with it.
  • Meds & Allergies List—In your purse or wallet, keep a list of your medications, including dosages and schedule. List any allergies you may have, including medications and foods.
  • Contact Info List—It’s important that emergency-care workers find out how to help you. In your wallet, carry the number of your emergency contact, your doctor’s phone number and your insurance membership number. If your condition requires it, don’t forget to wear your medical alert bracelet—the best way of communicating your health issues when you aren’t able to. Also, many Smartphones have Emergency Health Apps.  The iPhone has one that works great and can be seen without needing a phone password.    

Know Your Limits
Only you know your body, and your body will tell you when enough is enough. It’s very important not to push yourself too far when you are away from home because getting help is so much more difficult.

Be sure you work with your doctor to know your limits, as well. Be mindful of all the sodium that is in restaurant foods and always ask server to tell cook to not add any extra salt. Before you solidify your travel plans, discuss your trip with your health-care providers. Find out what precautions you need to take or if there are any reasons you shouldn’t go.  

Be sure you mention where you are going, because the destination could alter your physician’s treatment choices. If you are headed to the “Mile High City,” for instance, and you are a borderline anemic, your doctor may need to prescribe medication to increase your red blood cell count so you can breathe easier in the high altitude.

Happy Traveling. Enjoy!

By Lori Hartwell
Reprinted with permission from Chronically Happy - Joyful Living in Spite of Chronic Illness.