Tips for traveling well after transplant

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No matter what the length of your trip ─ a short road trip or a global adventure ─ the key to traveling well after transplant is careful preparation, including having plans in place to access medical care should you need it.

Managing your special medical needs

Chris, transplant recipient

Tell your transplant doctor or primary care doctor about your travel plans. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you schedule your trip to make sure they think you’re healthy enough to travel.

Experts also recommend that you take a letter from your doctor and a list of your current medicines with you.

“I always travel with a letter from my doctor that explains my health history, my condition, the list of medicines I’m on and my most recent blood test results,” says Chris, who began to travel again about 2 years after her transplant.

If you’re traveling to a different country, have the letter and list of medicines translated into the language of the country you’ll be visiting.

It’s also a good idea to carry emergency contact numbers with you, along with an after-hours phone number for your medical team. If you wear a medical alert bracelet, be sure that information is up-to-date. And don’t forget to bring your insurance information with you.

Help your immune system do its job

Even if you are years out from your transplant, your immune system may not be at full strength. Ask your doctor what precautions you should take if you’re flying, staying in a hotel room, or visiting a beach.

The first time Chris took a long flight, she wore a mask and gloves as a precaution. And when she arrives in a hotel room, Chris also wipes down all of the hard surfaces ─ like faucets, sinks, toilet seats, countertops and desks ─ with disposable sanitary wipes.

Chris says that when she travels with a tour group, she contacts them ahead of time. “I’ll explain that my immune system is weak and that there are certain restrictions I have, especially with food,” she explains. “They’re really good about making sure that everything is okay for me to eat.”

Medicines and medical emergencies

Make sure you have enough medicine with you to last the whole time you’ll be away. Take all medicines with you in their original containers, and if you’re flying, pack your medicines in your carry-on bag.

Traveling on a cruise ship is not recommended because medical services onboard can be very limited. And even the medical services available when the ship docks at a port may not be enough to meet your unique medical needs.

Also, consider buying 2 types of travel insurance:

  1. Trip cancellation insurance. Because complications can develop even years after a transplant, it’s wise to buy trip cancellation insurance in case an unforeseen medical issue forces you to cancel your trip.
  2. Supplemental medical insurance. This can help in case you need care outside of your home country. And even if your trip doesn’t cross a border, medical care outside of your health insurance company’s designated network is expensive.

Do some research and find out where the nearest hospital or transplant center is at your destination, in case of an emergency. Mike, another transplant recipient and frequent traveler, needed to go to the hospital while he was on a trip to Florida. His pre-trip preparation helped him quickly get the medical help he needed.

Because Mike was going to be away from home and his transplant doctor for several months, his doctor connected him with another transplant doctor in Florida. “He gave him all of my files and asked him to be my doctor if needed,” Mike says. “It was a good thing we had done that because I had some severe respiratory issues and needed treatment.”

Take it slow

Although you may be tempted to let your guard down and “just have fun” while you’re away from home, continue to follow your doctor’s advice. Take your medicines on schedule, and eat and drink according to your doctor’s recommendations.

Also be sure to protect yourself from the sun and bug bites. If your immune system is weak, avoid dirty and crowded locations as well as lakes, pools and hot tubs. If you’re headed to a beach location, wearing shoes may help protect your feet from cuts or scrapes when you walk along the shoreline.

Ask a traveling companion to support you in making good choices so you can have fun without taking unnecessary risks with your health.

A pre-travel checklist

When you’re packing for your trip, make sure you have:

  • A summary of your medical condition and treatment
  • Your vaccination records
  • Enough of your medicines to last your whole trip
  • Copies of your prescriptions
  • Your insurance information/card
  • Emergency contact information

Questions to ask your doctor

Before you make any travel plans, ask your doctor:

  • Am I healthy enough to travel in this country? In another country?
  • What specific precautions should I take because of my stage of recovery?
  • How do I reach my transplant team while I’m traveling?
  • What clinical documents should I take with me?

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