Catheters During International Travel

Blue and yellow sign indicating lavatory. Text reads "Tandas - Toilet"
Manage your daily toilet routine, wherever in the world you may be!

"Every four hours, every day, for the past fifteen years I have had to insert a tube to empty my bladder" writes John Hockenberry in his book "Moving Violations," which accounts his international travels as a journalist who happens to have a disability. "It is a detail which can remain fairly discreetly hidden in most situations."

Hidden, that is, until Hockenberry found himself reporting abroad in a remote area of Iraq "soaked in mud and surrounded by human waste," struggling to minimize the risk of contamination while going about his business.

While your international travel sanitation conditions may not be the same as what Mr. Hockenberry encountered, you can still take measures to practice good hygiene and minimize your risk of infection!

First, plan to bring enough urology supplies to last your entire trip, including sanitizing liquids and lubricating gels. Catheter sizes may be different in your host country than what you’re used to, so it’s best to bring your own if you can.

Note that Medicare will not pay for supplies shipped outside the U.S. or purchased in your host country. Likely, you will not be eligible to get supplies paid for by services in your host country either. The upside? Airline policies often allow passengers with disabilities to check an additional piece of luggage at no extra charge as long as it is full of disability-related supplies, including urology and other bathroom-related equipment. Contact your airline for details.

When on the airplane, empty the catheter bag into a closed, inconspicuous bottle which can be emptied in an airplane lavatory or in a bathroom in the airport upon arrival. Trying to be discreet? Use a coat or small blanket.

What to Pack

  • Peroxide: This is useful for keeping catheters and other equipment sterile.
  • Vitamin C: This can help with avoiding bladder infections.
  • Medications and antibiotics: Make sure to include your prescription information with your medications. Bring antibiotics for infections.
  • Hand sanitizer, baby wipes or rubber gloves: These are life-savers if you are going to a place where there is no access to clean water.
  • Catheter supplies and sanitizing liquid: Some travelers stock up on catheter supplies and bring them abroad to ensure that they have the right-fitting tubes.