How to plan and prepare for a trip abroad when you have cancer or are having cancer treatment
There’s always plenty to think about before you go on holiday; having cancer means that you have a few extra things to consider – to make sure that you have an enjoyable and restful time. Cancer affects each person in a different way, so knowing what to expect and planning ahead can help. This handy guide includes tips from the Live Better With Cancer community and will help you make the most of your holiday.
In this guide:
What do you need to think about before you go abroad? | What should you do before you go abroad? | Travel insurance for people with cancer | Help with getting around | Being comfortable when travelling | Keeping cool on holiday | Staying well when abroad
What do you need to think about before you go abroad?
People often worry about how they will cope away from home. You may be worried that travelling, especially during long journeys, will be too demanding, exhausting or difficult. And you might feel anxious about managing to keep up with your medication while you are away. If so, the Live Better With community has plenty of tips to help you plan for your journey and for your holiday.
- During your journey. Long journeys can be a challenge for anyone but we have some suggestions to make your travel time more comfortable. People with lymphoedema need to take particular care when travelling because sitting for a long time can affect your lymph flow.
- Keeping cool. If you’re heading somewhere hot, there are simple things that you can do to stay cool, and comfortable. Our tips can help you to have a better night’s sleep or a relaxing midday siesta, helping you to recharge your batteries and enjoy your time away.
- Staying well abroad. Stomach upsets, insect bites, and taking medication – they’re a worry for many holidaymakers. When you are a holidaymaker with cancer, there are extra pointers to bear in mind. These can help you to stay well and to save your energy for the things that you enjoy – relaxing on the beach, exploring a new city, or catching up with friends.
What should you do before you go abroad?
“If you’re still on treatment but want to go on holiday then just check with your doctor or nurse when the best time to go is so you can avoid high risk periods, like when your cell counts are likely to be low.” Andrew, Live better With community member.
Here is a useful checklist of things to do before you go on holiday.
- Doctor’s letter. Ask your doctor to give you a letter that explains your type of cancer, the treatment you’ve had, and the medications you need to carry with you. Always keep this with you when you are travelling and throughout your holiday, as it will be helpful at airport security, at your holiday accommodation, and if you need any medical treatment while you are abroad. If you are taking injections, you'll also need a doctor's letter and to bring a sharps box.
- Medication. Always carry spare medication in your handbag or hand luggage in case you lose some or your trip home is delayed. You must carry a doctor’s letter listing your medication in detail, so keep this somewhere safe but easy to reach.
- Vaccines. Tell your doctor which country – or countries – you are planning to visit; she or he will tell you which vaccinations are recommended or required. Do this well before your travel date, as some vaccinations need to be given some time before travelling; for example, yellow fever vaccinations should be given 10 days before. However, during and after treatment your immune system is weakened, so some vaccines could put you at higher risk of infection. Your doctor will advise you which, if any, vaccinations to avoid and why.
Travel insurance for people with cancer
Healthcare can vary depending on your country of origin and the country you’re visiting.
“When I was planning a holiday overseas, I found the list of non-European countries offering free or low cost emergency care on the NHS website really useful.” Ian, live Better With community member.
If you are taking out travel insurance, make sure that your policy covers any routine or unexpected medical treatment.
Some travel insurance policy providers charge much higher premiums for people who have cancer or have been treated for cancer in the past – even if they have been successfully treated and are fully recovered. But there are specialist travel insurance companies who offer policies at affordable rates to people with, or who have had, cancer.
Help with getting around
“Don’t forget all your pills need to be in their original packaging with the prescription stickers on them to get through customs.” Diane, Live Better With community member.
Most airlines and airports have special arrangements to help people who can’t walk or stand for long periods.
Contact your airport and airline a week or so before your journey (or when you book your ticket), as they may be able to give you a wheelchair, an assistant to accompany you through the airport, and help with your luggage. You may also be able to board your plane early.
If you tend to tire more easily, or if your journey involves a lot of walking or standing, take a walking stick.
A folding design fits easily and discreetly into a bag; if you prefer to have a guaranteed seat even in the busiest airport, go for a lightweight stick with a combined fold-out seat. These are also ideal for trips to museums, galleries or walks along the beach and general sightseeing.
“This walking aid is a huge help for those who find it difficult to walk any distance or to stand for very long. The seat folds out in an instant and provides very stable seating . . . folds up very easily when no longer needed and then the aid can be used as a three- legged walking stick to aid balance. It is very light to carry.” Live Better With customer.
Being comfortable while travelling
Comfort when sitting
Once you’re in your seat, an inflatable cushion can relieve any pain caused by pressure from prolonged sitting. They help by lifting you and spreading your weight to avoid pressure building up in a particular spot. They’re easy to deflate and pack in your bag while you’re on the move.
“When I’m on a flight I make sure I get an aisle seat so I can get up and walk around frequently to help reduce my risks of getting a blood clot in my leg veins.” Nigel, Live Better With community member.
Lymphoedema and circulation
Cancer can make you more susceptible to deep vein thrombosis, known as DVTs (blood clots). This happens because your blood circulation slows down when you are not moving – and that makes it easier for your blood to clot.
The same thing happens to your lymph flow; so, if you have lymphoedema, it may get a little worse when you travel. But there are several ways to minimise these complications, whether you are travelling by rail, road, sea or air.
- Loose clothing. Always wear your most comfortable, loose-fitting travel outfit, as this helps to keep your skin comfortable and to regulate your body temperature while you are flying.
- Compression stockings. Ideal for long periods of sitting, these help to reduce any blood stasis and improve your blood and lymph circulation. This reduces the risk of DVTs and helps to prevent lymphoedema from becoming worse. (Check the size you need by measuring around your calf; this will ensure that the stockings are as effective as possible.)
- Swollen ankles. Many people find that their feet and ankles swell on long journeys, and cancer can make this more uncomfortable. Try wearing soft, seamless socks made from a comfortable material such as bamboo to reduce pinching and promote better fluid draining around your ankles.
- Staying hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids helps to prevent your blood and lymph fluid becoming too thick. If you have a strange taste when you drink water (a common side effect of chemotherapy), try taking some of your favourite teabags or squash with you.
- Look after your skin. When lymphoedema is flaring up, your skin can become irritated or sensitive, so keep your skin clean and moisturised, and avoid exposing it to heat or sun.
Keeping cool on holiday
If you are staying in a much warmer climate than you are used to, here are some tips and recommendations to help you stay cool.
“My chemotherapy made my skin really sensitive to sunlight so I used to stay covered up and avoided sitting outside between 11am-3pm when the sun is at its strongest.” Leanne, Live Better With Community Member.
- Cooling pillows. These foldable gel mats are fantastic for helping you to stay cool at night in hot weather. Chill them in the fridge while you’re out during the day; at night, put them on top of your pillow or on other hot spots to relieve hot flushes and improve your sleep.
- Comfortable pyjamas. Mosquitoes come out at sunrise and sunset, so covering up during these periods will help protect you from bites. Full- length, loose-fitting pyjamas, made from a lightweight, breathable, natural fibre such as bamboo, will help you to keep covered and stay cool and comfortable.
- Cooling sprays. These can keep you cool while you are out. They come in 100ml bottle sizes so you can also take them on board your flight to help you stay refreshed and cool when you are flying.
- Sun protection. Cancer can cause your skin to become more photosensitive (sensitive to sun and daylight), so stay in the shade whenever you can, use a sun cream that is at least SPF 30 – or higher, and reapply regularly throughout the day. If cancer treatment has irritated your skin or made it drier, a special sun cream for sensitive skin could bebetter for you.
- Self-tanning. If you love having a tan but need to stay out of the sun, try a chemical-free self-tanning product to give you that holiday glow.
“Using this oil kept my tan for the next four months, I used it more like a beauty product than anything else, so nice to your skin!” Anick, Live Better With customer.
- Cover up. Good advice for anyone visiting a hot, sunny country but, if you’ve had hair loss or are now more affected by hot weather, invest in a stylish sunhat, a parasol, or a lightweight headscarf to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
How to stay well when you’re abroad
“I got a nasty tummy bug when I was on holiday and I think it was because of the ice-lollies I used to eat from the street seller. I didn’t realise that they used tap water to make them so they are best avoided” Alice, Live Better With community member.
As well as avoiding exposure to insects by covering up, use insect repellents as an extra deterrent to insect bites. This will reduce both the risk of infection from insect-carried bacteria and diseases and the risk of developing cellulitis and lymphangitis – any break in your skin increases the risk of infection.
“I made sure my hotel had mosquito nets in the rooms to avoid getting bitten while I was asleep.” Emma, Live Better With community member.
As your immune system could be weaker than normal, be extra careful about what you eat. Now might not be the time to be adventurous about street food or a trendy sushi restaurant . . . If you do have a stomach upset, take some anti-diarrhoea medication, and make sure you drink plenty of fluids.
If you suffer from mouth sores or ulcers, keep a soothing mouth gel in your travel bag and when you are out and about. This could help you drink and eat enough while you are away, so that you stay well hydrated and energised throughout your holiday.
Organise your tablets to make it easier to remember when to take your medicines, when you’re not in your usual routine. Pocket organisers will also keep your doses safe, secure and easy to take when you are out.
When you are travelling, you must keep all medicines in their original packaging, fully labelled with your details, to pass through customs.
“A great way to avoid having to carry around seven days worth of medication all the time. I have to take at least nine tablets a day, and they all fit comfortably inside. Quality is good for the price.” Live Better With customer.
Enjoy your holiday!
Everyone at Live Better With wishes you a wonderful holiday, whether it’s a long weekend in a new city, a week on the beach, or a visit to friends and family further afield. With a little planning and some help along the way, you’ll have the relaxing and enjoyable that break you’ve been hoping for.
Share your travel and holiday tips
Do you have special travel and holiday tips that can help when you have cancer or are coping with side effects of cancer treatment? If so we’d love to hear from you as your tips could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.