Whether you’re flying, driving or cruising – the items on your chronic illness packing list may change. But there are 4 things that you just cannot travel without.
1. Your medical folder and supplies;
2. Comfort items;
3. Your daily aids; and
4. Some snacks.
How did I come up with this idea? Well, we need to go back 10 years when I arrived at the airport security with a suitcase full of meds, thinking: “Shit! I’m going to be arrested today.”
This near-jail-experience was actually the first trip I decided to take since my CRPS II diagnosis in 2010. I thought I was as organised as I could be, but I was wrong.
You see the people who helped me every day knew how sensitive I was to touch, sound and movement. The security who helped did not!
Basically, I couldn’t stand and walk. Especially without my crutches. And I couldn’t be patted down – because the touch was too intense.
The good news is I was not arrested! (Obviously)
However, I did end up delaying the flight by 2 hours with my security debacle. And I can confidently say that no one on the plane liked me very much that day.
This ultimate chronic illness packing list is a product of experience
I wish I had someone to help me back then, and share with me what I’m about to share with you right now… Because experience is the only thing that qualifies you to put a chronic illness packing list together.
Since that day, I’ve taken more than 150 trips. So I think it's safe to say that I have a fair bit of experiences to share with you.
So buckle up.
Your Medical Folder
Your medical folder is at the top of list of priorities. No matter where you go, it will keep you safe.
A medical folder basically needs to be any folder that is:
I have hand tremors, so losing my papers is definitely not something I want to risk when I’m in a public space, like an airport. Try to use a folder that has a button, zip or velcro closure.
At the end of this section I give you some printables to make this part a whole lot easier!
Here’s what you need to keep in your medical folder:
A valid doctor’s note that explains your health condition
Think about the small things here. It’s your most unexpected symptoms that make a difference in an airport.
For example, if you have:
- Skin sensitivity. You can’t have security pat downs.
- Any medically implanted devices, such as a Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS). You need the device’s ID card.
- A prosthetic leg. You need to ask for privacy and extra assistance when going through security.
One of your latest medical scripts or pharmacy receipts.
Every country has its own rules about travelling with meds. But I find it’s always best to protect yourself here.
Make sure you keep the script and proof of payment with you.
If you just have ibuprofen on you – chill. No one cares. But if you look like a dodgy drug sales rep when you open your hand luggage, the German Shepherd at security is 100% going to single you out.
Do some research about where you’re going. You need to ask:
- Is the medication I take allowed in the country I’m visiting?
- Am I allowed to bring more than a 30-day prescription?
This is especially important if you’re travelling alone, and taking more than 1 flight.
Try to keep organised (and everyone around you calm) when you travel, by writing out your plans.
Your schedule needs to include:
At the end of this section I give you some printables to make this part a whole lot easier.
- The date and time
- What’s happening then (Where are you coming from or going to?)
- Your flight details (airline name, flight number, terminal)
A printed list of nearby hospitals, doctors and pharmacies
Do you seriously want to rely on WiFi in a foreign country if you urgently need to find the closest hospital?
No you really don’t.
Print all that information out. Get all addresses, phone numbers and taxi details ready.
Not all places have Uber so make sure you find out all these details before you leave.
An emergency protocol sheet
One of the most traumatic experiences I had was slipping in a shopping centre. The pain was extreme, I couldn’t stop crying. And I couldn’t get up. But worst of all…
No one knew how to help me because I couldn’t get a single word out of my mouth.
This isn’t something that will happen very often – at all! But please don’t take any chances, especially if you’re alone.
Just write down your emergency protocol on a sheet of paper. Try to keep it to a bullet format – short and easy to read.
This should also include:
Emergency contact details
Medical aid or insurance information
A brief explanation of your medical condition, especially if it’s a rare illness.
Just a quick FYI here – if the place you’re visiting uses a different language, I’d highly recommend writing down your protocol in that language (as well as in English).
Your medication and medical equipment
Plan ahead here. There’s always a chance you’ll run out of meds while you travel. Make sure you have enough for the whole trip – plus three days extra.
Keep all your meds in their original boxes (so it’s labelled properly). These are not vitamins you’re taking – if you mix them up it’s a big problem.
Beyond your prescription meds. Remember to pack:
- An immune booster (with as much vitamin C as possible)
- A natural energy boosting supplement
- Throat lozenges
- Electrolyte tabs
- Cortisone cream
- Antibiotic cream
- Paracetamol and/or ibuprofen
- Joint and muscle spray
- Antiseptic cream
- Burn shield
- Laxatives and diuretics (not a hot topic – but still important)
Some medical equipment you may need to pack:
- A face mask (Not the mud kind – the kind that covers your nose and mouth from breathing in impurities.)
- A blood pressure monitor
- A blood sugar monitor
- Iron count monitor
- Nebulizer or inhaler
- Your personalised equipment (I.e. a portable EKG monitor, or oxygen tank, Epi-pens etc.)
Now Let’s talk about flying (as this is where most issues arise)
Most airlines will allow you to bring one walking aid on board without any hassle.
Just remember to double check the regulations for the specific airline that you’re using.
If you need assistance at the airport, call the airline you’ve booked with in advance to book a wheelchair.
You don’t need to be a hero here – rather be safe than sorry.
If you are already using a wheelchair then this also needs to be mentioned.
They will need to know:
- If you can walk at all
- How much assistance you need
- Whether or not to organise a special wheelchair to get you onto the airplane.
The next point I cannot stress enough:
All medication, medical equipment and medical information must stay in your hand luggage.
Clothes and shampoo go in your suitcase. Anything invaluable (like drugs) goes in your hand luggage.
If you’re cruising…
A lot of the rules that apply to flying will apply here too.
You need to check:
- How disability friendly the cruise ship is. (In the US, this would mean checking to see if they are ADA compliant.)
- How many pieces of medical equipment or walking aids they allow.
- Their policy on travelling with medication.
If you’re road tripping or camping…
The rules become a lot more lenient. Especially if you’re staying within your own country.
Again, if you’re crossing the border into another country, then you’ll need to make sure that you are compliant with the border control of that country.
Now for the juicy stuff – I’ve put all the templates you may need to complete this leg of your chronic illness packing list.
(Honestly, I love this part so much that I can’t help but wonder if these printables are more for me than for you.)
You can download your free chronic illness packing list printable here:
Comfort items are more important than you may think when you travel. The key is to separate the necessary stuff from the ‘nice-to-haves’.
What you bring really will depend on the kind of trip you’re taking. (Don’t worry – I will discuss this in a lot more detail.)
But it’s always a good start to ask yourself this question:
What health factors make you the most uncomfortable while you do your daily activities?
Get those down on paper, and explain why they make you uncomfortable.
We need to focus on those because they’re only going to get 10 times harder when you’re travelling.
Honestly, if I could bring my own blanket, hot water bottle, neck rest, leg rest, down feather duvet, and recliner chair on any given trip… I totally would.
But it’s just not practical.
The irony of packing everything that may help you on a trip is that it’s a b*tch to carry around with you for the rest of the time.
But seriously, comfort does equal compact in this case.
If you’re flying…
You’re probably going to need to cushion-up your body, and keep warm. I recommend packing:
- A inflatable neck pillow
- An ultra-light down feather jacket
- One of those you stuff into a pouch, you know?
They are super warm, take no space, and are light as a feather.
- Warm, fluffy socks (Compression socks are also great)
- An eye mask
- A heating or cooling pack (or both!)
- A scarf
(Something long that you wrap around the airplane chair to make it softer.)
If you’re driving or cruising…
You have more flexibility here then when you fly. So you could potentially pack more comfort items – especially those that can’t pass through an airport security check.
I would definitely tell you to consider packing:
- A proper pillow (especially if you need something hypoallergenic)
- Your favourite blanket
- A travel flask
- A donut cushion (to help you sit for long periods of time)
- Something to keep you distracted
- A portable neck massager
- A thermal spring water spray
Books are a good way to engage yourself here – whether it’s novels, short stories, puzzles, or colouring in – they can keep you busy for hours.
If you prefer listening then audiobooks and podcasts are also great.
And if you’re ore creative then you can bring a sketch pad or some knitting to dig into.
Being comfortable on-the-go
Remember to wear the most comfortable clothes you own when you travel.
You’re not leading a runway show. So what you look like doesn’t matter as much as your comfort. If you’re most comfortable in baggy sweats and trainers – that’s awesome too!
I’m definitely the kind of spoonie who travels like a happy hobo and I highly recommend it.
I also suggest using a belt bag, or fanny pack, instead of a handbag. Especially if you use walking aids.
You need to have quick and easy access to your documents, cash and phone.
A handbag is heavy, difficult to carry and you can’t get to your things easily. Not ideal when you’re pressed for time.
How you can take advantage of the space you’re in
On an airplane…
If there are a few available seats next to one another in the cabin. Then ask to move there, so you can lie down.
On a road trip…
Set yourself up in the back of the car and lie sideways so that you can stretch your legs. And use the pillows you’re bringing to make the back seat more comfortable.
On a cruise…
Ask if you can book a room that is handicap friendly and close to an elevator so it’s easy to get around.
Your Daily Aids
Any ultimate chronic illness packing list needs to have a set of daily aid items that make your life feel a whole lot more manageable.
I can get very bad pain in my legs, and it makes me a little slower when I walk. Okay a lot slower… like if I’m in a crowd I’ll blend in with all the 85yr olds with walkers.
But it doesn’t bother me, because I have a great grip on my crutch. So, my hand doesn’t get sore.
I also wear breathable and comfortable clothes. So, if I start sweating, or getting muscle cramps – my clothes don’t work against me when I’m trying to walk.
I also have a hair clip on my handbag strap so I can quickly put my hair back.
And finally, I have a donut cushion that helps me sit on public chairs so that my back and legs don’t get too sore too quickly.
This is exactly what I mean by daily aids.
Whether you’re flying, road tripping or cruising, remember to pack…
Your walking aid (I call mine my pimp stick since it’s gold all over)
A wheelchair (if you need one at the airport)
A hair clip or hair tie
A big bottle of water
Gentle cleansing wipes
Some meditation tracks or chilled podcasts on your phone
Your glasses and contact lenses
Orthopedic walking shoes
What I haven’t included in this list are the personal items that only you know help you.
However, I thought I’d share some of my personal items to help you out.
I don’t like leaving travelling without my:
On-the-go joint MSM spray
Hands-free earphones (walking with a crutch means you don’t have an extra hand to reach for your phone when it rings)
Clean set of underwear and socks in my handbag
UV protection sunglasses
You can download your free chronic illness packing list printable here: List of comfort items and daily aids.
I’ve never come right on the first try, it takes time. And. That. Is. Okay.
Snackage is super important to me. It keeps your energy and spirit levels up. It’s another must-have on your chronic illness packing list.
I don’t travel without snacks.
Scratch that. I don’t leave the house without snacks.
Since I already feel weak from pain and exhaustion, I don’t want hunger to be on the list too when I’m trying to get something done.
And given I struggle with very low blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It’s worth my while to plan for.
I highly recommend healthy snacks. But that’s purely because I feel a huge benefit to my overall well-being if I eat properly.
When you’re travelling, especially to unfamiliar places, you need to make sure you keep your body properly fuelled.
Personally, I follow quite a healthy diet. It helps me keep stronger than I otherwise would be.
Something to keep in mind is that when we’re travelling, we need to have as much energy as possible and keep on top of our plans.
So, eating the stuff that fuels your body and brain correctly goes a long way.
Now I'm not saying to go all in. Leave your containers of soup or rotisserie chickens in the freezer at home please. Keep it clean, simple and easy to eat.
Tips for travelling with snacks
Making sure your food fits in a zip-lock bag. If you’ve ever lost a packet of peanuts and raisins to the bottom of your purse – you’ll get this. Keep things neat and sealed.
Avoiding liquids and sauces. Anything liquid is seriously risky. Even if it doesn’t spill in your bag, it can spill on your clothes as you eat it.
Prepping food before you travel. I once saw a woman at the airport whip out an entire mango and began to peel it in her hands. Of course… it slipped. It was a mission to clean, and a sheer waste of time for the poor lady. Best to cut your fruit at home, and bring a fork to much away.
If you’re flying…
Food gets a little tricky to pack.
Each country has its own regulations about travelling with perishables - so you should definitely check out the rules in the country you’re visiting.
Snacks I like to have with me include:
- Nuts, especially almonds (I can have lightly salted with my blood pressure)
- Root veggie chips
- Natural liquorice
- Fruit gums or leather
- Dark chocolate
As you can see, all these items are dry. And easy to buy in sealable packets.
And if you’re travelling through a country that doesn’t allow certain perishables. Then look for landmarks, like duty free, where you can pick something up.
If you’re driving…
Food gets a whole lot easier to pack.
Just remember you want food that is:
- Already prepped;
- Easy to eat without cutlery – think bananas, muffins and wraps etc.; and
- Won’t leave a strong smell or mess.
If you’re staying somewhere overnight, or if you’re going on a camping trip then try do some meal prep in advance.
I’m no Martha Stewart, but the good news is that you don’t have to be in order for this to work!
The key is consistency and simplicity.
Another really important thing to remember about snacks is that they save you when you are served foods you potentially cannot eat.
I would always recommend calling your airline or cruise ship to confirm your dietary requirements.
But having snacks on you is just good sense! You don’t want to be hungry, tired and weak while you travel.
You can download your free chronic illness packing list printable here: My Snacking Checklist
Chronic Illness Packing List Printables
I have also included free printable packing lists that you can use. (Because it just wouldn't be the ultimate chronic illness packing list without them.)
If you’d like to download all 4 printables right here without having to scroll up, I’ve reattached them right here for you:
Between you and me – creating spreadsheets and lists gives me a deep sense of happiness. So maybe this actually gives me more satisfaction than it will give you.
And just remember I’ve also thrown in three of my top travelling tips for you to try out in each one.
But this doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear your top travelling tips if you have any to share?
The more we can help each other and add to the suggestions, the better!
I look forward to hearing from you.
Until then – happy travels!