For many people, the prospect of booking a holiday is an exciting time. Taking some time away from our daily routine can offer the perfect opportunity to discover somewhere new, relax and unwind.
However, for the estimated 15 million people living with chronic illness in England, planning a trip abroad can pose stresses of its own.
If you have a chronic illness and you’re thinking about booking a holiday, we’ve pulled together some useful tips to help your trip go as smoothly as possible.
Take time to plan your trip
If you have a chronic illness and you want to go travelling, take some time to research your options before you book anything. This should begin before you select your destination.
Depending on the nature of your condition, there may be some parts of the world that could actually aggravate your symptoms.
A change in climate, pollution levels or diet all have the potential to exacerbate the symptoms of some chronic conditions. For example destinations with high levels of pollution may be unsuitable for those with asthma, allergies or COPD.
Rural destinations with poor access to healthcare may also present some risk for travellers with chronic illness.
Speak to your doctor or healthcare professional and use commonsense when you select your destination.
Make an appointment with your doctor
Arrange an appointment with your doctor before you travel. They can review your medication and give advice on how to stay well whilst you’re away.
There are some destinations where a visit to your doctor is vital because you may need to arrange specific vaccinations or medication prior to travelling. Check the Fit For Travel website for detailed information.
Ideally you should arrange an appointment with your doctor a few months prior to your trip.
You should take into account the fact that some vaccinations require several doses, spaced out over several weeks.
Where can I get my travel vaccinations?
This depends on the type of vaccinations that you require. Your doctor will be able to advise you. Some doctor surgeries run specific travel clinics but bear in mind that you may need to book in advance, as your GP practice is unlikely to keep a stock of all vaccinations.
The yellow fever vaccination is only available from designated travel centres. You can search for your closest yellow fever vaccination centre here.
How much do travel vaccinations cost?
The cost of each vaccination you require may vary depending on the clinic you attend.
A single dose can cost anything between £30-£90. It is important to remember that you may require more than one dose.
There are some vaccinations available on the NHS.
Vaccinations that are usually prescribed for free by the NHS include:
- Diptheria, polio and tetanus
- Hepatitis A
Vaccinations that you will usually have to pay for include:
- Japanese encephalitis
- Yello fever
- Hepatitis B
- Tuberculosis (TB)
If you have time it could be worth shopping around for the vaccinations you require in order to get the best deal.
Whichever clinic you decide to attend, it is essential that you make them aware of your medical status and disclose any allergies.
Do I need to take malaria medication?
In order to answer this question, you first need to establish whether the area you are travelling to has a risk of malaria.
Malaria is found in mostly tropical parts of the world such as Africa, Asia, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Central and South America, some Pacific Islands and areas in the Middle East.
Your doctor or travel centre will be able to advise you if your destination poses a risk. There are online resources where you can check the specific advice for a country.
It is important to disclose details of your chronic illness and any medications that you are taking. This information could influence the choice of antimalaria medication that is prescribed for you.
Do I have sufficient medication supplies?
If you take medication for your chronic illness you will need to make sure that you have enough for the duration of your time away.
Give yourself plenty of time to organise your prescription with your doctor and pharmacy. The pharmacy may need to order extra amounts of your drug, this can take time depending on the drug required.
Remember to check the expiry dates on your medication. Your medication needs to remain in date for the whole time you are away.
It is wise to take extra medication to allow for any delays that you might experience during your travels.
You may wish to pack an extra supply of medication in your hold luggage, in case anything should happen to your hand luggage.
Packing your medication
Packing your suitcase can be a laborious task. But it’s important to get organised, especially when it comes to your medication.
If you need to take medication with you when you travel, there are some rules that you should follow to make the process as easy as possible:
- Keep your medication in its original pharmacy packaging.
- Take copies of your prescriptions with you and ideally a letter from your doctor which explains the medications that have been prescribed to you. Your doctor may charge an administration fee for writing any letters.
- Keep your medication with you in your hand luggage. Essential medication is exempt from the current UK hand luggage restrictions of 100ml.
- If your medication requires refrigeration you will need to arrange a suitable method by which to do this. Airlines are not usually able to refrigerate your medication for you.
- Check with your airline for any specific restrictions.
- Check the expiry dates on your medication.
- Make a copy of the names of the medication you use, including their generic name. You may wish to have this translated into the language of the country or countries that you’re visiting.
- Some countries have restrictions on certain drugs being allowed through customs. Medication that is purchased over-the-counter in the UK may be classed as a controlled drug in another country. You can contact the country’s embassy to check. Contact information can be located on the GOV.uk website.
Organise travel insurance
It is essential to purchase travel insurance whether you have a pre-existing medical condition or not.
You may wish to look for policies that contain the following:
- Trip cancellation - if you are taken ill before you travel and you are not able to go ahead with the trip as planned.
- Medical cover - medical bills can quickly stack up if you happen to fall ill or have an accident whilst travelling.
- Medical evacuation - this covers transportation to a more appropriate health centre or hospital if required.
- Repatriation - covers the cost of your return to the UK.
Make sure you purchase comprehensive cover for your condition and your trip. The cheapest option may not always be the most suitable for you.
Check with any charities that offer support for your condition before you apply for travel insurance. There’s a good chance they will have helped people in similar circumstances purchase travel insurance in the past and they may have useful advice.
Pack a positive outlook
Travelling when you have a chronic illness may seem a little daunting. But by following the above steps, and with a little careful planning, we’re sure you can have a enjoy your time away.