Travelling with a chronic health condition

Jetting off on a holiday soon? Tim McGuire shares his top tips for travelling with a chronic health condition.

Written by Tim McGuire

Anyone who’s taken a trip with me will agree: I’m a very organised traveller. Moments after we pick a destination and set the dates, I’m already looking up where we’ll stay and — more importantly — where we’ll eat.

But part of my preparedness is born out of necessity. Like almost 1 in 2 Australians, I have a chronic health condition, which means there are a few extra considerations for me when I travel, especially overseas.

These are my top tips for travelling with a chronic health condition.

Research your destination

Before you book your holiday, research your destination to understand the climate, the local healthcare system and any potential health risks.

For example, if you have asthma like me, you may want to avoid places with high levels of air pollution. Or if you have accessibility requirements, you’ll want to check whether your destination and accommodation choices can satisfy them.

Before I book any overseas trip, I also check Smart Traveller, the government’s official travel and cultural advice service for Aussie travellers. If there are any travel warnings for your destination, Smart Traveller will be onto it. Check it again before you depart.

Talk to your GP

Your GP will be able to advise you about any special precautions you need to take, and can help you plan for any potential health risks. If you need to update your medications or get any vaccines, a visit to your GP can usually sort these out for you.

While you’re there, ask your GP for a summary letter outlining your health condition, along with any medications or devices you need to help manage it. This will come in handy if you need to seek medical attention on your trip. Get a printed copy of it to keep with your medication, and a digital copy as a backup.

Consider your insurance options

Lost baggage, flight cancellations and medical emergencies are an unfortunate possibility of any trip, no matter your health status.

If you have an existing medical condition, you can still apply for Medibank Travel Insurance provided you’re not travelling against the advice of a medical practitioner. Your policy won’t automatically cover you for a number of existing medical conditions, including pregnancy, so you’ll need to let your travel insurance provider know about any health conditions as part of your quote process.

You can call 1300 645 079 to speak to a Medibank team member about what level of cover might be right for your trip.

Pack your medication in your carry-on luggage

If I had a dollar for every time my luggage has gone missing during a flight, I would have… $1. Still, as someone who lives (and travels) with two chronic health conditions, losing my luggage once was a stressful enough experience that I never want to repeat it.

Now I always keep my medication nearby in my carry-on luggage. It means I have easy access to it during my flight and there’s no chance of it ending up in Montenegro instead of Montreal.

I also pack extra medications (or prescriptions for them) just in case I’m delayed and I’m away for longer than I’d planned to be.

Eat well and stay hydrated

I’m the kind of person who carries a water bottle everywhere, even to the shops, and there’s almost always a muesli bar hiding somewhere at the bottom of my backpack. This goes double when I’m travelling or on the road.

If you have a health condition such as a diabetes, or if your medication needs to be taken with food, keep appropriate snacks with you while you’re travelling. Always pack a large water bottle and drink plenty of water, especially if you’re holidaying somewhere hot.

Learn the lingo

If you’re travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s never a bad idea to pick up a few local phrases before you go. Phrases like: “hello”; “thank you”; “which way to the beach?” and “can you please recommend a crisp chardonnay?”

But if you have a chronic health condition, consider learning or writing down a few additional phrases particular to your circumstance. If you need to pop into a pharmacy or seek medical attention, it’ll save you time and stress if you know the word for your health condition, as well as any medications you might need to ask for.

Go slow

Even without a chronic health condition, travelling can be exhausting. Personally, I’ve never stepped off a plane after a 14-hour flight without feeling (and looking) like I stowed away in the cargo hold. Giving myself the chance to rest on arrival and at strategic points in my trip goes a long way to helping me keep my energy levels — and my health — in check.

Where your time and budget allow, aim to stay a few nights in each location if you’ll be moving from place to place. Plan your rest days and do your best to stick to them. Being on the go all the time is draining and makes it hard to relax — you know, that thing you flew 10,000 kilometres to do.

Enjoy yourself

It wouldn’t be a holiday if I didn’t have to remind myself at least once to have a good time. There will always be stressful moments when you’re on the go (think long airport queues or misplaced travel documents), but if you take the proper precautions and heed your doctor’s advice, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to take an enjoyable, memorable holiday. You deserve it.

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Important things you should know:

Limits, sub-limits, exclusions and conditions apply. This is general advice only. Medibank Private Limited, ABN 47 080 890 259, an Authorised Representative, AR 286089, of Travel Insurance Partners Pty Limited, ABN 73 144 049 230 AFSL 360138 arranges the insurance on behalf of the insurer. The insurer is Zurich Australian Insurance Limited ABN 13 000 296 640, AFSL 232507. Please consider your own needs and the Combined FSG/PDS to decide if this product is right for you. For information on the Target Market and Target Market Determinations, visit

Written by Tim McGuire

Tim McGuire is a reader, writer and editor living and working in Narrm/Melbourne.


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