Whether you choose to go by car, rail or air, holiday travel to spend time with distant friends or relatives can be stressful for anyone. For cancer patients undergoing treatment, including chemotherapy or radiation treatments, travel can prove even more taxing or worrisome. Extra planning is key, and with our 10 tips, your holiday trip can be safer, easier and go much more smoothly. Remember, these are general tips; please be sure to consult with your cancer care team about your travel plans and the specific issues or considerations related to your unique treatment plan.
Talk to your cancer care team in advance of travel. Tell your doctor or team about your plans, and make sure they don’t have any concerns; you may need medical clearance for air travel, or you may need to schedule treatment around your travel dates. Most doctors advise against starting new chemotherapy (either oral or infusion) in the same week you plan to travel, but these treatment schedules are often flexible enough to accommodate your plans. Ask your doctor about any potential complications related to the altitude and air pressure changes associated with flying, as well as your potential for increased swelling at high altitudes. Your doctor may recommend a compression garment or have other suggestions to keep you healthy, comfortable and safe.
Research your destination. This can be an exciting part of any travel planning, but it is particularly important for cancer patients. Your tolerance for unanticipated problems or changes to your itinerary is going to be even lower during cancer treatment, so ensure you’ve researched and booked hotel rooms, car rental agencies and airline tickets as early as possible. Look for hotels rooms with either easy elevator access or handicap accessibility features, as needed, and make sure you know the location of the nearest hospital, emergency room or cancer center at your destination.
Notify the airline of your needs. Make sure the airline is aware of any specific needs or special accommodations, including oxygen, special meals (for long flights) or easy lavatory access while on board. Consider booking airline seats with extra legroom or exit row seating to make you as comfortable as possible. If you have an implanted medical device or a port that may cause issues at security checkpoints, bring along a letter from your doctor detailing your condition.
Pack your medications in your carry-on bag, including pain medication, nausea or chemotherapy drugs.
If your checked baggage is misplaced or lost, you’ll want to have access to the medications you need. In addition, pack a list of your prescribed medications, your medical records (including dosing information) and any allergies. In the event your medication is lost or there is an emergency, this will make it much easier for a pharmacy to verify your prescriptions. Check with the Transportation Security Administration
for the latest updates on carry-on restrictions.
Check in with your insurance company. Give your health insurance provider a call to verify coverage for the area where you will be traveling. If you need treatment or attention while on the road, your health insurance company may require you to see specific providers or hospitals.
Double up on your handwashing. It’s important to reduce your risk of infection any time you are traveling in close quarters with others, including by air or train. Practice a diligent handwashing routine, and check with your cancer care team to see if they recommend wearing a mask while traveling.
Listen to your body, and ask for help when you need it. Airports can be enormous, and you can expend a lot of energy traveling on foot from the terminal to the gate, or from terminal to terminal. When checking in for your flight, notify the airline if you would like special assistance getting to your gate, or to place an early boarding request. Conserving energy at the airport will help you arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and ready to have fun. During travel, if you develop a fever, chills, shortness of breath, increased pain, or sudden nausea or vomiting, slow down and contact your cancer care team as soon as possible.
Pack light snacks or meals. Due to the nausea associated with some types of chemotherapy, eating while traveling may prove difficult or unappealing. Don’t risk being stranded with nothing to eat; a few snacks or light meals in your carry-on bag will help power you through to your destination.
Drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest and avoid prolonged sun exposure. Carry a water bottle to remind you to drink water and stay hydrated throughout the day. Remember to set aside plenty of time for rest or short naps throughout the day, and be careful in the sun; certain types of chemotherapy can cause photosensitivity, making it easier to get sunburned. Don’t forget to pack a wide-brimmed hat, a light long-sleeved shirt and a bottle of broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Remember to enjoy yourself. Remember that the point of holiday travel is to spend quality time with distant loved ones. Allow yourself to take a break from worrying about cancer, avoid any potential sources of stress or anxiety, take a deep breath, relax and enjoy your trip.