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Top 10 Travel Tips for Patients

Suitcase Packing

Anyone who has traveled before knows how stressful it can be.

Did I pack everything? Am I going to make it to the airport on time? Who will I be sitting next to?  All of these are justified thoughts and concerns.  Now, add to that a recent surgery or injury and your anxiety levels just skyrocketed.

As a patient who lives in Florida and regularly commutes to New York for visits with my doctor, I wanted to share with you my top 10 tips and tricks that I have learned when traveling as an out-of-state patient.

1. Receive the green light from your doctor:

Be sure to share your traveling arrangements with your doctor, and also obtain written documentation regarding your condition, this will help immensely to help make travel go much more smoothly.

2. Do your homework & contact your airline or train company ahead of time:

Most airlines offer their own credit card or some type of rewards system. If you know you will be making frequent trips, find out which airline offers these incentives, and consider signing up.  You could eventually rack up enough points to earn a free flight. Also, find out if they offer Extra Leg Room seating. If so, be sure to call the airline directly and explain to them your situation. The extra fee for those seats are typically waived for any medical conditions. These differ from the Emergency Row Seating, which if you have an injury, you will not be permitted to sit there. Also, request wheelchair assistance.  This will allow a smoother, typically quicker security line.  It also doesn’t hurt to ask at the ticket counter if there is anyone sitting beside you.  In cases where you need to elevate your foot, and the flight is not full, they will put a note in the system not to reserve that seat to anyone.

3. Expect the unexpected:

Anyone who has traveled knows that emergencies sometimes happen on the road or in the air. For patients, what is merely inconvenient for normal travelers can become a major challenge. Make sure you have a Plan B in place if any of your flights are delayed or canceled, including extra money for accommodations and enough medication if you need to spend an extra day traveling.  It is also a good idea to pack an extra set of clothes, and if you are needing to do pin care of any kind, to bring an extra set, in the event you will need to do an extra cleaning.

Gabrielle Medicine Box

4. Pack Accordingly:

Whether it is a car ride or plane, be sure to pack a bag that will be within reach with all essentials.  Make a checklist prior to packing, so you don’t get overwhelmed when the time comes. Germs live on plane seats, and I have found Purell Sanitizing Wipes to be my best friend!  Wipe down the seats prior to sitting to avoid any infections.  If you are conducting pin care regimen, only pack what you need by placing liquid in sterilized containers (i.e. sample cups)  If you are in need of elevating your foot, propping your arm up, etc. Also, be sure to pack a pillow or blanket that will allow you to elevate.

5. Dress Accordingly:

Comfort is key!  Spending hours in a car or airplane is uncomfortable to begin with.  Make it a little more tolerable by dressing in loose comfortable clothing.  Planes tend to be cold, so bringing a sweater, or sweatshirt is not a bad idea.

6. Timing is Everything:

Have a sense of your itinerary.  Cabin pressure, sitting for a prolong period of time, and being out of your comfort zone all are added stressors to your body.  If you know you need to eat prior to taking any medication, pack a snack.  TSA will allow you to bring food through security, just let them know it is for a medical condition, and if need be, obtain a letter from your doctor.

7. Plan Logically:

If you are needing to stay in a hotel while visiting your doctor, be sure to see what hotels are close in proximity and consider your limitations. Yes, you may find a hotel $30 cheaper further away, but then factor in costs of transportation to get there.  Most hospitals are affiliated with local hotels, and when making a reservation be sure to call and book directly with the hotel, and tell them you are a patient of specified hospital.  Also, Google, the office you will be going to such as, “Accommodations close to Hospital for Special Surgery,” to research potential places to stay. Also, if you know you need special accommodations for your room (i.e. shower seat, handicap accessible room) make sure to let the agent know at the time of reservation, so they can put a note on the account.  Don’t wait for time of check-in, as these items are scarce and you may not obtain them last minute. For additional help and information, you can also check out HSS’ Coast-to-Coast program, which is available to help you plan as well!

8. Consider your transportation needs:

So you just landed, but now need to get to your hotel.  Take your pick: taxi, Uber, limo, town car.  Options are limitless. However, if you are in a wheelchair or scooter, will that fit in the car?  What will the time wait be to hail a cab, or reserve an Uber?  You need to think of these things, as this all plays a part in your overall mental health while traveling.  Many hotels have their own transportation service that they work with.  You give them a call a week before your flight, and they will be there waiting for you when you arrive.  Be sure to let them know of any additional items you may have to ensure they arrive with transportation that best suits your needs.

9. Know your limitations:

Don’t try and be a superhero.  What you were able to do before is not necessarily what you are able to now if you have already gone through surgery.  If you know you need to elevate, do so!  Trying to take on too much, especially when you are away from home can cause harm or injury.  Being in a new city with lots of attractions may be enticing, but if you know you are not able to walk long distances, or you should be resting, don’t try to play tourist and run the risk of something happening.  You have your whole life to travel – make yourself a priority and get better first.  When returning back home, take the following day to rest and recover, trust me; your body will thank you!

10. Consider the Buddy System:

Traveling alone, especially after surgery or while injured is never a good idea. Ask a family member, or close friend if they would accompany you.  If you just had surgery, you will need assistance maneuvering around. If you are unable to carry heavy objects, they can help. In case of an emergency, you will have someone there with you.  It’s always best to have moral support as well.

Gabrielle Sholes Headshot

Gabrielle Sholes is a contributor to Playbook and a patient of Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch and Dr. David S. Levine at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS)To read Gabrielle’s personal journey with HSS, visit her series page: Walking the Road to Recovery

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The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.