Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

10 Tips to Prepare for Travel with a Chronic Health Disability

A young woman wearing a neck support excitedly points at an elephant from a safari car.
A young woman wearing a neck support excitedly points at an elephant from a safari car.

From health care coverage to stress-busters, prepare for issues that might arise when traveling with a chronic health condition.

  1. Consider disclosing your disability. This step can potentially help the program increase accessibility and prepare for issues that might arise.
  2. Research cultural attitudes. Your disability may not be well-understood in the host country. For example, in some cultures the need for extra rest or sleep may be regarded as laziness. In others, some may fear contagion from a non-contagious condition such as diabetes. Learn how to explain your disability in language your hosts will understand. National associations or online support groups for your disability often have international members that you can contact.
  3. Reach out to a local health professional, including medical resources or specialists, in your host community. Most countries have a medical association that is a member of the World Medical Association and can usually assist with referrals. 
  4. Use the Center for Disease Control’s tips for travelers with chronic illnesses. This page also includes links to websites associated with specific chronic medical illnesses and considerations related to immunizations.
  5. Bring a letter from your doctor translated into the language of the host country describing your disability and its treatment. This will be useful to have in the event of a medical emergency. 
  6. Make sure you are covered abroad. Understand issues related to health insurance, pre-existing conditions, and more. 
  7. Make a plan to address medical emergencies should they arise during travel and the exchange experience. 
  8. Prepare for air travel. This can include adjusting to large time differences as you cross time zones, or making arrangements for reducing exposure during flight to things that negatively impact your condition.
  9. Be aware of altitude and climate of the host destination and their effects on your disability.
  10. Relieve stress. It’s common to feel stressed during international exchange. Busy program or school schedules, cultural or language barriers, conflicts with hosts or peers, culture shock, homesickness, and more can all contribute to stress. Think about how you will get through stressful situations while you’re abroad, whether it’s making time to rest, listening to music, exercising, or updating your travel blog.

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