Before pilots leave the ground, they use detailed checklists to be sure the airplane is ready to fly. Are the engine gauges accurate? Is the fuel tank full? Like a pilot, do you have a personal checklist to assure you’re traveling safely, with the information and supplies required for the duration of time you’re away from home? Don’t run out of fuel before you touchdown back home.
I have cared for many people in emergency rooms who didn’t plan ahead. They left blood pressure and heart medications at home. They ran out of narcotic medications that doctors who don’t know them are unlikely to prescribe. Some even ran out of insulin or forgot asthma inhalers. Managing chronic health problems when you’re away from home is an important aspect of travel that requires planning.
If you are traveling across international borders, you must have your medications in pharmacy bottles labeled with your name. Ideally, whether you are traveling or just running to the grocery store, you carry a list of your medical problems, your physician’s name and phone number, a list of surgical procedures you’ve had, and a list of medications and dosages you take daily. When you fly or even travel by rail, your medications and important health information must be in a carry-on bag or on your person, not checked into baggage. If your luggage is lost or delayed, you are separated from important medications that impact your health and destroy your travel plans.
People with chronic pain problems requiring narcotic medication to suppress the symptoms are in a world of hurt without medications, especially if withdrawal occurs. Addiction to legally obtained medications is common. You likely are addicted if you take them daily throughout the day and will therefore, experience uncomfortable effects if you run out. There are many commonly used addictive drugs, both narcotics and sedatives, including sleeping pills. The market for these medications on the street is huge. Don’t risk having yours stolen.
If you leave these medications in your hotel room, even locked in a safe provided at the hotel, they are no safer than other belongings or jewelry. Hotel workers have keys to your room and your safe. Leave your jewelry at home. Carry your medication on your person.
Try to stay healthy. Only eat fruit you peel. Don’t eat food from street vendors. Cold viruses can survive for days on surfaces such as an airline tray. Highly contagious Norovirus can survive up to a month, so what you touch and what you eat could ruin your day and your trip.
Germicidal hand wipes and lotions help purify surfaces and decrease your risks. Bring a clean pillow case to place between you and a pillow shared with other flight passengers. Sitting adjacent to a coughing, wheezing passenger could make you sick. Some people carry masks to wear if this happens. Some take Airborne, a popular herbal and vitamin product, believing it helps prevent colds. The company was sued and paid millions in a class-action suit for false advertising. Airborne does not prevent colds.
Sitting for long periods while driving, flying or even at home, places you at risk for a pulmonary embolism (PE), a problem far more serious than the flu and common cold; it can be fatal. PE results from stagnant venous blood flow in the legs, leading to blood clots that break loose and travel to heart and into the lung.
The clots often develop in the legs or groin. You are at higher risk if you have suffered a leg injury, your leg is casted or you’ve recently had pelvic surgery, such as a hysterectomy. Check with your doctor before taking a long trip. Consider wearing elastic compression stockings to wear while traveling. Do not wear short tight socks or cross your legs. If you are traveling by car, get out and walk every hour. Between connecting flights, walk. Exercise your legs while sitting. Flexing muscles helps move venous blood back to the heart. Pumping your feet up and down, and moving your legs while sitting, reduces blood clot risk. While seated, increase your circulation by using your feet to write letters of the alphabet. Do some exercise at least once an hour. Drink extra water to avoid dehydration. On long flights, get up and move around.
A few weeks before you travel, make your personal check list.
Carry on your person:
ID, credit cards, passport (if needed), insurance information
Make copies of above items and store in separate location
Cash, keep it out of sight
Medication supply for entire trip; list with dosages
Medical information and a copy of your ECG if you have heart problems
Cell phone with charger
List of important phone numbers in case cell phone or coverage is lost
Camera with extra digital storage, a charger or extra batteries
Extra contact lenses or glasses, sunglasses
Small first aid kit
If traveling outside the US: Consider travel and transport insurance. Have addresses and phone numbers of embassies and consulates in the areas you plan to visit.
Written by: Betty Kuffel, MD
Edited by: Bev Erickson