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The Ultimate Chronic and Mental Illness Travel Packing Guide

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So you’re going on vacation? Yay! But you have to think about what to pack? Boo. Frankly, as exciting as an upcoming trip may be, the prospect of packing always fills me with some anxiety and dread. I’m always worried that I’ll forget something important or that I won’t be able to find it at my destination, which could make my trip not only not fun, but downright dangerous if it’s something necessary for my physical or mental health. I can also attest to the fact that in my 17 years as an innkeeper, I have witnessed every possible permutation of items guests have forgotten, and have actually had guests drive two hours back home to retrieve the forgotten item so they could enjoy their getaway. Nobody wants to do that.

It is in that vein that I decided to compile a comprehensive travel packing guide based not just on my personal experiences traveling with health conditions, but on those of the thousands of guests we have hosted at our bed and breakfast over the years. This list endeavors to cover every possible condition and concern I could think of. Some items may not apply to you, but I wanted to make sure I included them. I hope this list enables you to take some of the guesswork out of your next trip, allowing you to enjoy it more thoroughly and in a more carefree manner. One quick note: Where applicable, I will make distinctions between air travel versus a road trip, however, always check current TSA requirements before packing any item. You don’t want something you need to be confiscated if you can repackage it to fit the appropriate requirements.

1. Basics

Appropriate ID, a passport if traveling abroad, and any credit cards you plan to use.

A small amount of cash for incidentals.

If you’ve received the COVID-19 vaccination, your proof of vaccination, as well as a good quality N95 or KN95 mask or two.

A list of any medications you take and any allergies you have in case of an emergency.

Your mobile device/tablet or laptop, a power cord, and perhaps a backup power pack, particularly on long travel days where you may not have access to an outlet to recharge.

I recommend keeping basics on your person at all times, preferably in an anti-theft travel bag that you can wear across your chest.

2. Prescription and Non-Prescription Medications and Supplements

Make sure you order any refills in advance of your travel. If you typically get a 30-day supply and will be traveling for longer than that, ask your doctor if you can switch to a 90-day supply.

Pre-populate a pill case with all of the doses you will need (including supplements) with at least two extra days worth in case of emergencies.

If your medications require refrigeration, I recommend contacting the property you are staying at in advance to make sure you have access to a refrigerator. Alternately, there are a number of mini portable refrigeration devices designed for traveling with prescriptions that are TSA compliant like this one.

Never pack your prescription medications and supplements you rely on daily in your checked bag in case it gets lost. Always place them in your primary carry-on that can be easily accessible. If you have a lot of prescriptions or small medical devices such as a CPAP machine, you should pack them in a separate carry-on that contains only medical equipment. For flights within the United States, bags that contain only medical supplies do not count toward your carry-on limit and you cannot be charged bag fees for them. Larger items that must go in cargo, such as a power wheelchair or shower chair, are also exempt from baggage fees.

3. Medical Marijuana

While medical marijuana has been legalized in many states, marijuana possession of any kind, medical or otherwise, remains a federal crime, and transporting it across state lines can be considered a federal offense. In certain states, even if you have a medical marijuana card, you can still be arrested. It depends upon the location you are traveling to and what their reciprocity laws are.

Even though TSA doesn’t necessarily actively search for marijuana, particularly if it is in a sealed container in a checked bag, if they do find it, they can confiscate it. Additionally, many airlines outright ban it even with a medical marijuana card. The best rule of thumb is to check before you travel.

As a property located in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, we have clear policies on where guests can imbibe, as do many other properties in our state. For the most part, the rules are the same as they are with cigarettes, but again, check before you travel.

4. Over the Counter Medications

As someone with IBS, I always travel with backup anti-nausea, motion sickness, anti-gas, antacid, and anti-diarrheal medications. The last thing that I want is for my trip to be disrupted by an upset stomach.

I also always bring back up pain medication like Advil or Tylenol, AZO for urinary tract pain, Neosporin and bandaids, alcohol swabs, and a decongestant in case my allergies kick in.

Store OTC meds in a pill case rather than transporting individual bottles to save space.

5. Personal Hygiene Products

While most lodging facilities will provide shampoo/conditioner, soap, lotion, and shower gel, this may not be the case, and if you use a particular product, like a certain shampoo or cleanser for eczema or another skin condition, make sure you bring your own.

If you are traveling by air, you will need to transfer liquids to 3 oz. containers carried in a quart-size Ziploc bag, three per bag.

Don’t forget sunscreen if you are planning to spend any time outdoors or are extremely sensitive to sun, which is common with some medications.

I also recommend bringing along any kind of pain relieving cream or rub that you use to calm aching joints and muscles. Travel can be hard on anybody, but it can be particularly challenging for those with conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.

Consider bringing disposable ice packs and hot packs. They are easier to use than trying to transport an ice pack or heating pad and don’t take up much space.

6. Sleep Aids

If you are like me, sleep is an issue under normal circumstances, but when I travel, it can be downright impossible. This is partly because of being in a foreign location, but I am also extremely sensitive to noise and light, so it helps to pack basics like an eye mask, earplugs, and noise-canceling headphones.

I also recommend a mild sleep aid, but consult with your physician first. If you can tolerate it, melatonin can be helpful.

Other considerations may include a special pillow if you are used to a certain kind of pillow, a cuddle stuffy if you are used to having one, a special blanket if you have a favorite one, and even a weighted blanket if you use one at home and are traveling by car. I can’t go anywhere without mine, and when I’m traveling by air, I always end up asking for extra blankets to create the illusion of that weight.

For those who are not used to sleeping without noise, I recommend downloading a white noise app on your phone.

For anyone who sleeps hot, consider bringing a mini portable travel fan. There are battery-operated fans that you can place directly on the nightstand next to your bed as well as ones you can wear around your neck if you are comfortable doing so.

If you use a CPAP machine, consider obtaining a travel CPAP machine that is smaller and more portable and uses distilled water cartridges. This takes the anxiety out of trying to find distilled water for a full-sized unit.

If you don’t have a travel CPAP unit, make sure you bring distilled water with you. If you are driving, bring a large bottle. If you are flying, try to obtain it at the airport once you have cleared TSA. Many hotels do have it in their gift shops, but not all of them, and most convenience stores don’t carry it. My husband and I once had to hire an Uber to drive us 15 miles away from our hotel to a grocery store that carried it so that he could use his machine, and this was in Las Vegas. You can imagine it’s even more challenging in a more remote rural destination.

7. Travel Anxiety Remedies

While travel is exciting, it can amp up anxiety, particularly if you already struggle with anxiety, like I do. If you do take any kind of medication for breakthrough anxiety (for example I have what my doctor refers to as “rescue Xanax”) don’t forget to bring extra along.

I also recommend fidget toys, stress putty, noise-canceling headphones, your favorite video games, meditation or calming apps on your phone, a stuffed animal to cuddle, and music that soothes you.

And don’t forget distractions like a good book or magazine.

8. Medical Devices

Make sure you bring along any other medical device that you use on a regular basis including but not limited to catheters, glucose monitors, thermometers, blood pressure monitors, syringes, mobility devices, etc.

Don’t forget to include menstrual products and incontinence products.

9. Clothing

Everyone has different needs where clothing is concerned. Take into consideration temperature dysregulation, skin sensitivity, allergies, and general comfort both while traveling and once at your destination.

Loose clothing with elastic waistbands is a great option, as is layering clothing.

Comfortable footwear is also crucial, particularly if you plan to do any walking.

High-quality comfortable undergarments and socks are a must. You don’t want to have an issue with any kind of skin irritation or fungal infection.

For sun protection, don’t forget a hat and sunglasses, and you may consider investing in UV protection garments.

Even if you don’t anticipate it raining, a disposable rainproof poncho might be easier to pack than a raincoat and umbrella.

10. Snacks/Beverages

For those needing to regulate their blood sugar or who are on special diets of any kind, such as those with celiac disease, bringing snacks or beverages along, particularly on a driving vacation, is crucial. You never know when or where you will be able to find something to eat or drink that is safe.

If there is a particular creamer, tea, or sweetener you use, consider packing that as well.

And finally, pack a reusable water bottle that you can refill so you always have water on hand to take medication.

The bottom line? Do some pre-planning. Going through this guide and then writing out a specific list to accommodate your unique set of needs will help you to plan for every possible scenario so that you can have a stress-free, safe trip. And as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, never be afraid to make special requests. As long as you let a property you are staying at know ahead of time what kind of accommodations you need, most will be more than happy to obtain any necessary items in advance of your stay. All you have to do is ask.

Getty image by Portishead1.

Originally published: June 1, 2022
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