Summertime Travel Tips!

In the Northern Hemisphere, we are well into summer now and many people plan to travel at this time of year. For individuals with mast cell diseases (MCDs), careful planning, packing, and coordination are central to making travel safe and fun!  We know that each patient is different and will have unique needs when embarking on travel.  With that in mind, we went right to the source – the MCD community —  to get the best travel tips!

We surveyed community members among our Facebook, Instagram, and Inspire forums, and received tips through these efforts and via direct submission.[1]  So many great tips were submitted and provide a great starting point to help you maintain your health and well-being throughout your travels.   

Consult Your Healthcare Provider:  It is critical that you contact your healthcare provider and let them know you are traveling, where you are going, and for how long. They may want to weigh in on whether you are well enough to travel, but they also might be able to give recommendations regarding symptom management while you are away. It never hurts to also ask your provider to supply you with a letter of necessity that includes the medications that you need to have access to. This is also a great time to review and update your ER protocol.

Be prepared to regulate your body temperature:  Many of the tips provided strategies to regulate body temperature to prevent you from becoming too hot, humid, or cold.  The top tips included: “dress in layers”, “bring a fan”, “wear hats”, and “stay in the A/C”. Strategies for blocking the sun include wearing UV blocking clothing or using an umbrella with UV blocking properties.

Bring Your Own stuff:  Nearly every respondent recommended bringing your own stuff.  Having your own items that you know are safe for you can take a lot of stress off your trip and can allow you to have more fun! Items to bring from home according to our respondents included:

  • Food/snacks (items can be cooked and frozen ahead of time and then easily transported in a soft-sided cooler),
  • toiletries (including itch cream, bandages, and over the counter medications)
  • bedding, pillows, and towels ,an air ionizer or HEPA filtration unit;
  • if heading to a foreign destination, electrical converters sufficient for your medical equipment (e.g., nebulizer, CPAP machine), and
  • a fan.

Plan Ahead:  Research and plan your itinerary in detail in advance. Choose destinations that will fit within your needs in terms of climate, accessibility of medical treatment, and any accommodations that you may need.  Research what is nearby and safe for you to do and the places that might be safe for you to eat. Our respondents had a great list of calls you should consider making ahead of time, including:

  • Call the hotel and ask about their cleaning solutions and fragrance policies to see if they can accommodate your needs for your room during your stay. Their reply to whether they infuse fragrance into the facility’s air may allow you to avoid potential triggers.
  • Find out if the airport or airline can accommodate any needs you may have related to flying. Airlines have an ADA accommodation office; connecting with them early on can help to make your fight day easier.
  • Call restaurants to ask what food allergies they can accommodate and how they prevent cross contamination.  Calling ahead of time and discussing your dietary needs with the chef allows the staff to ensure that your meal will be made safely.

“Plan before you go, purchase tickets for shows, transportation, activities before you go, it saves a lot of time and energy for the fun things.”- Heather, lives with mast cell disease.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION:  Several of the tips we received recommend that folks choose locations that are near a hospital, a grocery store, and/or restaurants and activities.  If staying near a hospital isn’t possible, you may want to make a list of nearby hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies, and keep their contact information handy. Asking for recommendations through forums for MCDs or traveling with allergies may give you better insight before heading into a new location.

“Research the locations and find safe places to eat, food shops, and the closest hospital/ER” -Corrinne S.

Medications, Supplies,  Medical ID, and Documentation:  Make sure you have enough of all your medications (prescription and over-the-counter) for the duration of your trip, and for a few extra days just in case you get delayed on your return. BRING YOUR EPI-PENS! BRING EXTRA EPI-PENS!  Medications should be in their original container and be clearly labeled and include instructions for how and when you must take them. If diphenhydramine is a medication that you rely on, and you are headed to a foreign destination, know that this medication is not available in many countries & that the Benadryl may have a different antihistamine in it instead. Carry a  medical ID such as a wallet card or a bracelet; a wallet card can be downloaded from the TMS website. Keep your medications, instructions, ER protocol, and other documentation relating to your condition with you; if flying, make sure to carry your medications and other medical necessities with you (do not check them!). If you pack these items in their own bag, this bag will not count toward your carryon limit (this can be confirmed with the airline ahead of time by contacting their disability accommodation office).  Store digital copies of everything in a cloud storage option that you can access while away if necessary.

“Have your medications accessible to you and keep a list of your conditions & the medications you take on you as well”- Rebecca W.

Stay Hydrated: Hydration is so important, and it is easy to forget to drink water when you are outside of your normal routine. Bring a water bottle and keep it full! A few patients who answered our survey also recommended packing electrolyte packs.

Prioritize Rest and Pace Yourself: Traveling can be exhausting, and that goes double when you are dealing with an illness at the same time. Listen to your body, plan frequent breaks on the travel days, but also schedule rest time while you are at your destinations.  You may not be able to get in all the possible sight-seeing, but building in rest time will ensure that you enjoy your trip without overdoing things too early in your trip.

“Like at home: No overdoing it – just enjoy the details”.- JayCS

“Pace yourself. Have fun, but if you need to take a break because your heart rate is too high or you are exhausted, take a break.” – Tanya M.

While living with a mast cell disease certainly poses challenges, we hope that with some of these tips from your fellow community members you can enjoy some safe and memorable adventures.

Remember, your health is a priority, so take care of yourself and embrace the joys of traveling at your own pace. Bon Voyage!

Acknowledgments: A HUGE thank you to all the folks you responded to our travel tip survey, including, but not limited to: Azzray, Andrea W., Rebecca W., JayCS, Heather, Tanya M., and Corinne S.

[1] These surveys were not conducted for the purpose of presenting rigorous, scientific research.

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