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How to travel with a chronic disease

About PossesstheWorld

We are Possess the World, a couple of empty nesters travelling the world slowly, avoiding tour groups and having our gap years a bit late; we hope to inspire you to do the same. You can read about us on our blog

Here's how to plan your holiday, stay healthy and happy when travelling with a chronic disease.

Travelling with a chronic or long-term disease can present some challenges and limitations, but it should not mean that you are unable to travel.

Possess the World Travel Health Tips.

Possess the World Travel Health Tips

We recently travelled through Europe and the UK with a friend who has severe C.O.P.D. Many of the health and travel tips in this article are based on our experience, as well as Cath’s many years as a nurse.

The health and travel tips in this guide will help you:

  • plan your travel;
  • gain some confidence in knowing how to stay healthy; and
  • know what to do if you have an exacerbation of your disease while travelling.
  • WHAT IS C.O.P.D?

    , or C.O.P.D, is a chronic disease of the lungs. It's also known as COAD or lung disease -- and encompasess emphysema, asthma and chronic bronchitis.  

    It has varying stages, from mild to severe, and is best characterised as shortness of breath while at rest or during physical exertion.

    If you or someone you care about has C.O.P.D, you will know that feeling short of breath can:

  • increase fatigue;
  • limit ability to exercise (even low-intensity exercise, like walking);
  • increase levels of anxiety.

  • Always see your medical practitioner prior to travelling. Our  blog post lists all the information you need to discuss with and get from your health team.
  • You may need to consult with your respiratory physician prior to flying, it is likely that you will need a . The  has a great resource for those with C.O.P.D, which outlines how to obtain this clearance and why you may need it. Just click on this link to access the .
  • Ensure all your vaccinations are up to date, including an influenza vaccination. Remember that if you are travelling overseas, it may be flu season.
  • Consider the destination you are planning to travel to. Altitude, humidity and heat can cause respiratory distress or difficulty, so have a plan in place for dealing with these factors.
  • Ensure that you have an up-to-date C.O.P.D ACTION PLAN. You can download an editable version 
  • If you require in-flight oxygen, check with the airline about equipment and costs. Do this by phone and on the airline’s website.
  • Request a seat close to the bathroom on long-haul flights to lessen your chance of becoming short of breath.
  • Increase your exercise tolerance e.g. if you plan to do more walking than normal or think you may be using public transport, start walking a couple of months before your trip so that you have some fitness. You may need to consult with your doctor and an exercise physiologist before embarking on any exercise regimen. On our recent trip in Europe and the UK, we walked 5-10km a day, while also using public transport.
  • Plan your itinerary carefully to include time for rest and relaxation to avoid becoming stressed or increasing anxiety.
  • Ensure your travel companions are aware of your disease and your C.O.P.D Action Plan.
  • Ensure that you have enough medication for your whole journey, including any medications you may need for an unexpected illness. I always have some paracetamol in my first-aid kit in case of fever or headache. Our  blog post has more tips for you, just click on the link.
  •  Know how to access healthcare in your chosen destination. Dialling 000 will not work overseas. You can read more about  in our blog post .
  • Purchase appropriate travel insurance, check the fine print and ask them about coverage for chronic illness. We cannot stress this enough, DO NOT RELY ON YOUR CREDIT CARD TRAVEL INSURANCE

    Consider your exercise tolerance

  • Limited ability to walk may reduce your access to public transport in some cities (you may need to walk up and down multiple flights of stairs to access underground trains in many European cities). Check if the stations near your destinations have lift access or consider other options like buses, taxis, Uber.
  •  Plan your days carefully, decide before you head out for the day which sights you want to see and include time to rest along your route (there is always a cafe or bar nearby!)
  •  Use a mapping program to check the distance between sites and plan your time accordingly. This may mean you need to prioritise which sites you see in a given city. We like to use  (online) or  (offline), both of which also show public transport options.
  •  Plan for fatigue

  • Time to rest and recover from a long flight or sightseeing is a must for any traveller, but of particular importance to those with COPD. On our recent trip, our friend found that having a break during the afternoon/early evening enabled us to see the sites we wanted to see and allowed a night out too. Siesta is perfect for managing fatigue.
  • Consider having a few days where you relax and don't over-exert yourself. These days can be useful for catching up with washing, talking to family at home, updating your travel journal or planning the next part of your travels.
  • Recognise and plan for anxiety-inducing situations

    Travelling can be stressful for everyone at varying times, but you may be more prone to feeling anxiety and panic if you are:

  • short of breath due to over-exertion;
  • in an unfamiliar city;
  • dealing with signs in an unfamiliar language;
  • or using public transport for the first time
  • Try to avoid feeling stressed or anxious  by giving yourself plenty of time to familiarise yourself with a new destination.

    Read more from Possess The World: It pays to know your healthcare rights overseas

    Practice using public transport at home before you leave and learn a few basic phrases in the appropriate language.  Google Translate is a great app to have on your phone and we have used it on many occasions.



  • Plan your days to include rest stops
  • Have a plan in place for illness or exacerbation AND use it if required
  • Ensure your travel companions know about your plan for exacerbation
  • Carry your medication with you (it is no good leaving your ventolin in the hotel room)
  • Take short breaks
  • Know what you want to see and how long it will take to see it
  • Inform yourself about access to venues (check if there are multiple flights of stairs to climb or a lift)
  • Ensure you continue to eat a healthy diet, as this can impact on your physical and mental health
  • Access health care if you need it. We have found pharmacists very helpful when travelling, even if only for advice
  • Check out our Preparing for Travel, Managing Medication and Knowing Your Rights blogs for more information and links to reliable medical sources
  • Don't

  • Try to see every major tourist site in one go, you will be exhausted
  • Reduce or stop taking your medication
  • Try to push through. If you are feeling short of breath, take a break
  • Fail to prepare
  • Ignore signs and symptoms of exacerbation. Use your action plan, the last place you want to end up is hospital on your holiday
  • The advice contained in this post is general advice and should be discussed with your medical practitioner before you travel.

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