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Traveling with COPD

With sensible planning, most everyone with COPD and other related lung disease can travel and take trips. Whether you plan to be gone for a few hours, a day, several days or weeks, planning ahead and preparing for all possibilities is one of the best things you can do to help make your journey a pleasant and stress-free one.

As has been stressed on numerous occasions throughout this site, always keep an updated list of emergency contact numbers along with an updated list of all medications with you at all times.

Short or day trips

  • Even if you plan to only be gone for a few hours, the unexpected can happen. Being well prepared for any emergency is important, especially if you are on oxygen.

  • Always carry a full day’s supply of your medication with you. Many department and drug stores have single-day pill holders with compartments for 3 or 4 doses per day. Always take your MDIs (metered dose inhalers), as well as your spacer, with you when going out. You never know if you will be unexpectedly detained.

  • Always make sure you have an adequate supply of o2 (oxygen) with you at all times. Tanks can malfunction. If you are on liquid o2 and do not have a travel reservoir in your vehicle, make arrangements with your oxygen supplier to have some compressed portables for backup and/or emergency use. An extra cannula is also a good item to have along “just in case”.

  • Carry some water or other non-perishable beverage with you for taking pills.

  • For day trips, be sure to take frequent rest breaks to move around some; this helps prevent legs swelling that many with COPD are prone to.

Longer trips

With advanced planning, any trip is possible for those with COPD even those on continuous oxygen. In addition to the information given for short and day trips, consider the following:

  • Get your doctor's okay before taking a prolonged trip. Try to get the names of doctors, clinics and hospitals along the way if you need help.

  • Ask your doctor for extra medication to take with you. This includes your routine medications along with any others you might need for emergencies, ex: antibiotic standby, as well as prednisone, if it may be needed for an exacerbation. Be sure to get his advice on when and how to use these extra medications.

  • Make sure you have made the necessary arrangements with your oxygen supply company in advance. Many have divisions across the country and can see to it that all you need is delivered to your destination before you arrive.

  • Carry a valid current prescription from your doctor for your oxygen requirements. If possible, get the names, numbers and locations of your supplier’s branches along your way. Be sure to have enough portables to get you to your destination and allow extras for unexpected emergencies or delays.

  • If there are no arrangements that can be made at your destination, check with your supplier for the availability of a travel concentrator for your trip. They are much lighter and easier to handle than the ones we have at home.

  • Some people who travel frequently have “inverters” installed in their vehicles to allow the use of a portable concentrator while driving. If you travel frequently, this may be an additional expense worth investing in. Check with a reputable car service for installation and costs involved.

  • Also get names, numbers and places where you can purchase extra portables if you run out. If you are on liquid oxygen, many suppliers also have a small travel reservoir you can borrow or rent. Check with them on places along your route you can get refills.

  • If you use oxygen and are planning to fly, plan ahead and check everything out ahead of time. Some airlines will not accept travelers that require oxygen. No airline will allow you to fly using your own oxygen. You must make arrangements in advance with their special needs department to arrange for oxygen on the plane. They will tell you what you need in the way of prescriptions, etc., and the cost to you for these services. This is an out of pocket expense for you and is not reimbursable by insurance in most cases.

  • Airlines charge per leg of the trip, so try to schedule non-stop trips to keep costs down. You will need someone to take you to the airport and take your oxygen from you when you get on the plane and someone to meet you at your destination with oxygen when you arrive. Some oxygen suppliers will do this for you for a fee.

  • If traveling by bus or train, check with them in advance for special needs and what they will or will not allow as far as oxygen equipment needs.

  • If traveling by car, keep the air conditioner on and the windows closed to lessen your exposure to air pollution and vehicle fumes. In high pollution or heavily congested areas, try to limit your driving to nighttime or early in the day.

  • Limit your exposure to high-altitude areas. It is well known that, in many instances, higher altitudes can cause or increase shortness of breath. If it cannot be helped, remember to go slower and pace your self to allow for the changes it may cause. Get your doctor’s recommendations ahead of time regarding the possible need to increase your oxygen during these times.

  • Regardless of how you travel, keep your medications in the luggage you carry with you. Do not let them get out of your reach tucked away in a trunk or storage area of whatever type of transportation you chose to use.

  • If you will be staying in hotels or motels, try to plan your stops so you can make reservations ahead of time. Ask for a first or ground floor unit. If one is available, it is advisable to get a room with an outside entrance where you can park nearby for ease in unloading whatever you may need. Ask for help in unloading concentrators and other equipment if you need it.

  • If you are planning a car trip, try to keep one smaller bag with only what you will need for an over-night stay. This way, if you are only stopping for one night, you will not need to unload all of your luggage. You can replenish with clean clothes from your vehicle.

  • Always allow for well-timed, short exercise breaks. Get out and move around some even if it is just for a few minutes at a rest stop. This can also be done on planes and trains; though more limited in space, it is important for our total well being. It helps prevent edema caused from sitting too long and helps to minimize the chance of blood clots or other unwanted medical emergencies.

  • Make a personalized checklist for your self when you begin planning your trip. It will make preparations easier and less stressful as the time draws near for you journey.

  • Don’t try to do to much at one time!

For Additional Information on all aspects of oxygen therapy, including equipment:

Compiled by COPD-International Community Members

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Last modified: June 17, 2002