Disability-Specific Preparations: From Fatigue to Sensitivities

A young woman sits atop a wooly yak with a lake and mountains in the background.
Quick tips for travelers with environmental sensitivities, fatigue, and other chronic health conditions

Use these at-a-glance tips for going abroad with specific chronic health or systemic health conditions. Don't forget to browse our resource library for more detailed advice on many of these topics! 

Chronic Pain or Fatigue

  • Be mindful of your energy levels. Avoid overbooking yourself, and schedule out activities to correspond with times of the day when your energy is likely to be greater. 
  • Discuss with program advisors or supervisors how you will make up scheduled activities if you must miss them. Will you do them at a different time or participate in an alternative activity requiring less physical exertion?
  • Research environmental factors (such as weather or sunlight), diet, and level of activity to gauge how these aspects may cause stress, "flares," or other changes in condition. 

"Living in Spain slowed down my pace in a really good way. The calm lifestyle and afternoon siestas made me happier and healthier." - Angela Brown, who has lupus 

Diabetes

  • If possible, travel with more than enough supplies to cover your needs while abroad. Learn about diabetes resources in the host country.
  • Research the types of insulin available in the host country and how the blood glucose and nutritional measurements compare to what you use at home. Supplies from other parts of the world are generally not interchangeable because of differences in unit measurement.
  • If you wear an insulin pump or carry syringes or testing supplies, be sure to carry a letter from a physician documenting your medical condition and describing the need to use insulin, pump and syringes on a daily basis. This may help avoid delays in dealing with airline and customs regulations. Consider having this letter translated into the language of the host country. 
  • Consider using a medical alert bracelet while abroad if you don't already have one. 

Chemical/Environmental Sensitivity

  • Work with your exchange program coordinator to create areas with reduced environmental triggers, or arrange alternative areas. For instance, you may be able to live in alternative housing if a shared dormitory exposes you to numerous triggers.
  • Consider using equipment such as air purifiers, a personal air supply, dust masks, or furniture covers to minimize exposure to triggers. 
  • Ask about air quality in the host community.
  • Let the airlines know in advance if you may need oxygen because of a history of severe asthma.
  • Bring an electrical adapter for your home nebulizer, which will allow you to use it in other countries, or bring a portable nebulizer that runs on batteries.
  • Pack dust mite-proof mattress covers and pillow cases to use at your hotel.
  • Pack an N95 air mask if you must be in areas with poor air quality.

Food Allergies

  • Have information about your condition available in the local language if needed. In the event of a severe reaction, know in advance where you can seek immediate medical care.
  • Injectable epinephrine, such as EpiPen or Ana-Kit, should always be on hand for treating anaphylactic shock. Seek medical care promptly after using epinephrine, even if symptoms have lessened. 
  • If you have life-threatening allergies, consider wearing a Medic-Alert bracelet to let health care workers know of the allergy in an emergency. 
  • Research food customs of the host country, including common ingredients and methods of preparing food. 
  • Educate exchange staff, peers and host families about how to recognize and assist in an emergency situation related to a food allergy. 
  • Consider sending special foods to the program location to ensure that food will be available when you arrive in the host country.

Epilepsy

  • Your seizure threshold can be influenced by many things that can arise during travel, including emotional upsets, bodily discomfort, stress, hunger, thirst, environment, certain activities, tiredness or a change in medications. In addition to any medications, be mindful of getting good nutrition and rest to help control seizures. 
  • If you have seizures, make accommodations in activities that might trigger or be dangerous during seizures. You are the expert on what you can and cannot do and can best provide guidance about how to assist should you have a seizure. 
  • In some cultures, epilepsy is stigmatized or associated with superstitious beliefs. Connect with local eplisepy associations in your host country to learn more.
  • Read more tips on "International Travel with Epilepsy" from epilepsy.com. 

HIV/AIDS

  • Many countries now require HIV testing prior to entry. Contact the United States embassy in the country you plan to visit to verify the requirements and which United States laboratories, if any, that country will accept test results from.
  • Plan strategies both for minimizing exposure to contagions and for medical care should you become ill.
  • Connect with host country organizations for people living with HIV/AIDS to find resources and referrals.
  • Knowledge of your current CD4 count is a crucial part of pre-travel consultation. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine whether your immune status will affect which vaccinations can be safely taken.

Using Medications

  • Personal physicians and insurance company representatives, for example, can answer many questions related to the availability and use of medications abroad. Exchange program staff can assist you with finding medical facilities and resources in the host country.
  • Resident staff in the host country can also help research the availability of particular medications and dosages.

Using Mobility Equipment

  • If your chronic health condition affects your mobility, read our tips for using power wheelchairs, packing for easier travel, and working with personal assistants abroad. 
  • Request a cane or folding chair for long periods of walking or waiting during activities.
  • Be aware that there may be limited access to wheelchairs in small airports or for late-night arrivals.