It’s no secret that travelling with a chronic illness can be difficult. From ensuring you have all your medication to planning for unexpected emergencies, there are a lot of things to take into account.
If you’re one of the many people living with a chronic illness, you know that packing your chronic illness travel essentials is key to having a successful trip, regardless of where you’re going.
Living with a chronic illness definitely comes with its own set of challenges, and traveling is often near the top of the list. It can be tough to know what to pack when you’re dealing with things like chronic pain, stomach issues, fatigue, joint pain or unpredictable flares.
But you don’t need to let that stop you from exploring the world! With a few careful considerations, you can make any trip a success.
You might also like:
- How to Manage a Chronic Illness Flare Up When Travelling
- What it’s Really Like Travelling With a Chronic Illness
- 28 Mindful Gifts for People with Chronic Pain
- A Spoonie’s Guide To Travelling With Chronic Pain – 10 Important Tips
- What is a Spoonie: Explaining the Spoon Theory to Family & Friends
- 5 Ways to Manage Chronic Illness Burnout While Travelling
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- Why it's harder to travel with a chronic illness
- Chronic illness travel essentials
- 1. Medical folder
- 2. Medication
- 3. Medical equipment
- 4. Travel insurance
- 5. Travel journal
- 6. Folding walking stick seat
- 7. Snacks
- 8. Heating pad / ice pack
- 9. Medication bag
- 10. Backpack / Rolling case
- 11. Face mask and hand sanitizer
- 12. Blanket
- 13. Neck pillow
- 14. Compression socks
- 15. Foot sling
- 16. Essential oils
- 17. Eye mask and ear plugs
- 18. Itinerary
- 19. List of nearby hospitals / emergency numbers
- 20. Noise cancelling headphones
- 21. Water bottle
Why it’s harder to travel with a chronic illness
Traveling can be a difficult undertaking even under the best of circumstances. Packing, lugging suitcases, dealing with security and TSA – it’s enough to make anyone stressed out.
But for those of us with chronic illnesses, travel can be an even bigger challenge.
We have to contend with the uncertainty of whether our medications will be available at our destination, the possibility of flare-ups, and the difficulties of find accessible restrooms and accommodations.
And let’s not forget the inevitable concern about what will happen if we get sick while we’re away from home.
In short, traveling with a chronic illness is no picnic. Whether we’re taking a short road trip or heading on a long haul flight.
But that doesn’t mean we’re going to let it stop us from seeing the world. We’ll just pack a little extra patience – and maybe a few more snacks – and hit the road.
Chronic illness travel essentials
My chronic illness journey began over 15 years ago when I was diagnosed with Hashimotos. Since then, I’ve been diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses – Crohn’s Disease, POTS, CFS – and have mastered the art of packing for any trip like a pro.
Check out my chronic illness packing list below.
1. Medical folder
The first step in packing for a trip is to gather all of your medical documentation in one place. This should include (but not limit to):
- your medical insurance details
- a list of all your prescription medication (including dosages)
- doctor’s note outlining any health condition
I like to keep all my important documents organised in a small folder that I can easily grab and go. This way, if I need to see a doctor while I’m away, they will have all the medical information they need on hand.
I love this travel medical folder as it’s really handy to carry around if necessary.
Of course, you’ll also want to make sure you have enough of your medications to last the entire trip. This is especially important if you’re travelling to a foreign country where your medical supplies might not be readily available.
Be sure to pack your medications in their original, labelled containers and keep them in your carry on bag for easy access in case your checked bag goes missing. It’s also a good idea to bring along a letter from your doctor outlining your health conditions and the medication you take too, in case you’re stopped by airport security.
Before travelling to any country, be sure that your medication is legal there. For example, codeine is a controlled drug in the UAE and you will need to fill out a form before bringing it into the country.
My essential medication list (of course you will need to tailor this to your needs) is:
- usual prescription medications
- pain relief
- hydration tablets
- stomach medication
- vitamins to boost immune system
- small first aid kit (if you’re immunocompromised I highly recommend this in case you get any cuts. First aid kits come with antibacterial wipes which you can use to make sure any cuts and scrapes don’t become infected).
3. Medical equipment
If you use any medical equipment – like a CPAP machine, blood pressure monitor or heart rate monitor – make sure you pack it in your carry-on luggage. This way, you’ll have it with you on the plane in case your checked baggage gets lost.
It’s also a good idea to bring along extra batteries and any other necessary supplies, just in case.
If you have a disability, be sure to research any accessibility needs you might have at your destination in advance. This way, you can make any necessary arrangements – like renting mobility devices – before you go.
4. Travel insurance
This is an essential for anyone travelling, but it’s especially important if you have a chronic illness. Make sure you’re fully covered in case of any medical emergencies while you’re away from home.
Be sure to read the fine print of your travel insurance policy to make sure you understand what’s covered and what’s not. For example, some policies might not cover you if you need to cancel your trip due to a chronic illness flare-up.
5. Travel journal
Apart from wanting to document all my trips, carrying a travel journal with me has been really useful for tracking any symptoms while I’m away. This has come in handy on more than one occasion when trying to figure out if something I ate caused a flare-up or not.
I also like to write down any helpful tips I learn while travelling – like where to find the best gluten-free food in town – so I can refer back to them next time I’m in the area.
6. Folding walking stick seat
This has been a lifesaver on many occasions! If I’m feeling really fatigued, having a place to rest can make all the difference. This folding walking stick seat is great as it’s lightweight and easy to carry around. Plus… how cute is it?!
Having POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) means that standing for long periods of time can make me feel faint, so being able to sit down whenever I need to is really helpful.
One of the biggest struggles of travelling with a chronic illness is places not being able to deal with my dietary needs. Packing snacks with me has been a game changer as it means I’m never left feeling faint (or worse, hangry!).
If you suffer with low blood sugar, I recommend packing some snacks with you to keep your energy levels up. Some of my favourites are gluten-free biscuits, rice cakes and dark chocolate.
8. Heating pad / ice pack
Having a heating pad or ice pack with you when you travel can be really helpful for managing pain. To save space, I use these hot and cold bags. They’re small and lightweight, so they don’t take up too much room in my suitcase. You can literally squish them up when they’re empty!
9. Medication bag
With all that medication we have to carry around, every chronic illness warrior needs somewhere to put it all! I recommend getting a small bag – like this stylish one from Amazon – to keep all your pills and potions organised. That way, you can just grab it and go whenever you need to take something.
Because of the number of pills I have to take each day, I also use a pill organiser (I sound more and more like an old woman, don’t I?)!
And last but not least, if you have to pack injections which need to be kept cool while travelling, you may want to pack this cooler travel case. It’s s generally designed for insulin pens but can fit other types of injections too (e.g. Humira).
10. Backpack / Rolling case
If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to pack light to make your life easier. But sometimes, you just can’t avoid taking a lot of stuff with you – especially if you’re travelling for a long period of time.
Where possible, I bring a roller case so I don’t have to carry a heavy carry on bag (you know… chronic pain and fatigue and all that). My new favourite roller case is this super cute Kroser rolling case. With all the pockets, I can store everything I need for a flight to keep me comfortable and pain free.
But, it’s not always possible to take a roller case when travelling – especially if you’re a camping enthusiast like me!
When I can’t take a rolling case with me, I opt for my Osprey Kyte. The Kyte has been amazing for hikes and camping trips as it has a lot of compartments which make it really easy to organise everything I need. Plus, the fact that it’s specifically designed for women means it’s really comfortable to carry – no more back pain!
11. Face mask and hand sanitizer
Whether there’s a deadly virus on the rampage or not, I always travel with a face mask and hand sanitizer. Being immunocompromised means that I’m more susceptible to getting ill, so it’s important for me to take precautions.
I always recommend bringing your own blanket when travelling, regardless of whether you have a chronic illness or not.
Being able to wrap yourself up in your own blanket can make all the difference when you’re on a long flight or feeling unwell. And let’s face it, airplane blankets are never as good as our own!
My all-time favourite blanket to take travelling is this electric blanket because I can remove the lead for the flight and use it to wrap up when I get a flare up or just when it’s chilly (like in Finland or Prague!).
13. Neck pillow
Whether you have a chronic illness or not, a neck pillow is an essential for anyone who wants to get some sleep while travelling.
I’ve tried lots of different types of neck pillows over the years and my favourite is this memory foam one from Cabeau. It’s really soft and supportive, and you can tie it to your bag so it doesn’t take up too much space in your case.
Random tip: I also use this pillow any time I get a new ear piercing to get a better night’s sleep. Your newly pierced ear fits perfectly in the hole – no pain at night!
14. Compression socks
Compression socks are essential for chronic illness warriors who suffer with poor circulation.
Make sure to pack a pair of compression socks in your carry on bag, so you can put them on as soon as you get on the plane. That way, you can avoid getting swollen ankles and feet during long haul flights.
If, like me, you prefer something a little more funky and fun, check out these cute compression socks from Aoliks.
15. Foot sling
Another essential for those with poor circulation (or short travellers like me, who’s feet don’t always reach the ground…) is a foot sling.
A foot sling is basically a small hammock that you can put under the seat in front of you, so you can rest your feet on it and avoid them dangling for hours on end. It’s a game changer for long haul flights or bus rides!
16. Essential oils
I am a big fan of using essential oils for everything, and travelling is no exception. They can make a huge difference when you’re feeling unwell or just need a bit of relaxation.
There are so many different ways you can use these when travelling, from keeping yourself calm during takeoff to dealing with motion sickness or headaches. I always make sure to pack a few of my favourite essential oil roll-ons in my carry on, just in case.
17. Eye mask and ear plugs
Getting enough sleep when you travel is essential, especially if you’re dealing with health issues. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done.
That’s why I always travel with an eye mask and earplugs. They’ve come in handy more times than I can count! Whether it’s to block out the bright sun on an early morning flight or to drown out a snoring neighbour on a night bus, they’re essential for getting some shut-eye.
Brain fog is real, my friends. And when you’re dealing with a chronic illness while travelling, it can be even worse. That’s why having a solid itinerary is a must when you travel.
I recommend planning your trip in advance, so you know exactly what you need to do and when. That way, you can avoid getting overwhelmed and can just focus on enjoying yourself.
That said, there’s no need to plan out every minute of your day. At the very least, make sure to plan some ‘chill time’ so you don’t burn out.
If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got a free trip planning printable that can help! Just enter your email address below and I’ll send it straight to your inbox.
19. List of nearby hospitals / emergency numbers
This one is especially important if you’re travelling to a country with a different healthcare system.
Make sure to do your research in advance and have a list of nearby hospitals or emergency numbers, just in case. I also recommend packing a copy of your insurance card, so you can easily access it if you need to.
20. Noise cancelling headphones
If you tend to suffer from sensory overload or just need some peace and quiet, noise cancelling headphones are a must. They can make a world of difference when you’re trying to relax or get some work done on a long flight.
I’ve had my Sony noise cancelling headphones for years, and they continue to be one of my favourite travel accessories. They’re definitely worth the investment!
21. Water bottle
I can’t stress it enough, people. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Dehydration can make so many chronic illness symptoms worse, so it’s important to drink plenty of water when you travel.
Make sure to pack a reusable water bottle with you, so you can fill it up whenever you need to. I like to keep mine in my carry on bag, so I can fill it up after going through security and easily access it during the flight.
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So there you have it! These are my top travel essentials for those with chronic illnesses. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!
Vourneen is a travel junkie and chronic illness warrior. Although she was late to game in terms of travelling, she has picked up numerous tips and tricks from the almost 30 countries she has visited in the past 5 years.