Today, I want to share “20 Tips for Travelling with Heart Failure”. But, before I do, let me explain why I want to share them.
A few months ago, I was diagnosed with Heart Failure and my world fell apart. I was annoyed, confused, scared and in denial. I had loads of concerns, which I wrote about in this post:
I was sure The Bimblers would have to stop. I mean, Bridget suffers from Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, I have Fibromyalgia, Asthma and now Heart Failure, so how in god’s name were we supposed to carry on travelling?
My main concern was pushing Bridget’s wheelchair. I was already struggling due to Fibromyalgia and Asthma. Then there was the added breathlessness and fatigue that comes with Heart Failure, surely this meant we’d have to stop travelling?
You Can Travel with Heart Failure
For three years, I’ve blogged about accessible tourism and travel. In many of those posts, I’ve encouraged you to overcome your personal barriers to travel. I meant every word of it, but with hindsight, it was easy for me to say because all I had to do was push a wheelchair.
Things are different now and I know I must practice what I preach.
I’d already started buying equipment to help us travel, and now more than ever, they’re needed, you can read about what I bought here:
If I need more equipment, I’ll buy it. On the horizon, I can see a couple of lightweight travel scooters, but Bridget’s not that keen so we’ll see what happens!
Because I’m a fully paid up bimbler, I’ve adopted the attitude “I Can Travel with Heart Failure” and in that vein, here are my top 20 tips for travelling with Heart Failure, I hope you find them useful.
Top 20 Tips for Travelling with Heart Failure
#1. You Know Your Own Body Best
It might seem like common sense, but only you know when you feel fit enough to travel. You know your own body best and you know whether you feel well enough to travel.
It doesn’t matter that you’ve paid for your holiday (see #5 Travel Insurance), it’s better to lose money than your health. DON’T under any circumstances travel if you don’t feel 100% able to not only get to your destination but also stay there for the length of your holiday.
#2. Plan Every Detail of Your Holiday
Heart Failure or not, if you’re travelling with a disability or chronic illness, you should always have a plan. Better still, have a written plan including what to do when things go wrong.
I recommend breaking your plan down as follows:
- Travelling to the Destination
- At Your Destination
- Travelling Home
Broadly speaking, the holiday plan is covered in the points below, but it’s not a complete list. Add to it anything you can think of that will make your travels easier.
#3. Speak to Your Cardiologist or GP
You already know the secret to longevity when you have a heart problem is good management and that includes good relationships.
When you travel, especially if you’re flying (see #10 Flying), you should always check with your consultant or GP that it’s safe for you to travel.
Even if you feel well in yourself, it doesn’t do any harm to get their reassurance and any special instructions.
Make sure you have enough medication for the whole trip and some extras in case you are delayed.
If you’re travelling abroad, ask your GP for a letter detailing what your medication is, your dosage, what it’s for and what the generic name of the medication is because some medication has a different name in other countries.
If there are any special storage instructions with your medication, make sure you’ve pre-planned how you’re going to store it during travel and at your destination.
Always carry your medication in hand luggage just in case your luggage is lost or delayed (yes it happens). When you’re flying, it’s always a good idea to contact the airline, your destination airport and local customs to see if there are any special rules about carrying medication.
#5. Travel Insurance with Pre-existing Conditions
I know travel insurance is expensive and I know it’s an expense you could do without. But, if you take ill before, during or after your holidays, travel insurance will be the best investment you’ve ever made.
Don’t scrimp, and don’t lie or miss bits of information out. If you buy the wrong travel insurance policy or fail to fully disclose your illnesses when you buy it, you’re fooling no one except yourself.
The best advice is, buy the highest level of insurance you can afford. Fully disclose your medical conditions including heart failure and keep a list of emergency contact numbers should you need to use it.
If you use any aids such as wheelchairs or electric scooters, are they covered by your standard travel insurance policy? If not, have you bought a separate cover for your equipment and does it cover you in your holiday destination?
#6. Backup Plan
From experience, when you travel, things go wrong. I have no idea why, but they do. Therefore, always have a backup plan. Here is a selection of questions to ask yourself and of course, add your own:
- What happens if I’m too ill to travel, can I cancel my trip?
- What happens if the taxi to the airport doesn’t turn up?
- How will I transfer through the airport?
- How will I cope on the flight, what happens if I take ill?
- What happens if the car breaks down?
- What happens if I take ill on holiday?
- Who should be contacted in an emergency?
- What happens if the accommodation isn’t suitable when I arrive?
- What happens if my equipment is damaged or breaks?
#7. Packing and Luggage
Packing is my nemesis. Despite all the planning, I never seem to have the right clothes? I think it’s because we mainly travel in the UK and the weather is so unpredictable.
Make sure you pack the right clothes for your destination and build in a failsafe just in case the weather changes. That said, don’t carry more than you need, it adds to the weight and if you’re flying it adds to the cost.
Talking about weight, don’t lift heavy cases. Get yourself a nice set of luggage with wheels so that it’s easily transported. If you’re reliant on a wheelchair and have no one to help you with your luggage, there are specialist wheelchair carriers and bags that you can use.
If space allows, always have a spare set of clothing in your hand luggage in case your luggage is lost or delayed.
#8. Equipment and Spare Parts
If you need to travel with equipment such as a wheelchair or mobility scooter, make sure you give it a good check over before you leave. Have you got spare parts and spare batteries or at least know where to get them?
If you’re flying, check beforehand about carrying batteries on the aeroplane (important).
If you need to hire special equipment, can you do it in advance of arriving? If not, have you got the details of the hire company for when you arrive?
#9. Home or Abroad
As you know, we mainly travel in the UK and Ireland. We’re happy to travel abroad when the opportunity arises. Two new things to think about when you travel abroad with Heart Failure are temperature and humidity.
Extremes in temperature and low levels of oxygen at high altitude means your heart has to work harder. The harder it works, the more breathless you become and you could run the risk of an angina attack.
If you know in advance that you will be exposing yourself to very hot or very cold temperatures or high altitudes, seek medical advice before you travel.
#10. Flying with a Heart Condition
As a general rule (according to the experts), if your heart condition is stable, you should have no problem flying. That said, I would still check with your GP.
At the airport, if you need assistance transiting through the airport, getting on or off the aircraft, getting into your seat or at your destination airport, make sure you book assistance in advance.
If you have a pacemaker or ICD fitted, inform airport security as it’s highly likely you’ll bleep. The security checks should not interfere with the operation of your device, but it makes sense to check first.
Another concern when you’re sitting on an aeroplane for hours is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). You may be advised to wear surgical stockings; if so, make sure you have the correct size or they won’t be effective.
It’s worth repeating, if you have any doubt about flying, speak to your GP or heart specialist.
#11. Public Transport and Organised Holidays
I’m of an age where I remember the slogan “Let the Train Take the Strain” and if it’s possible when we travel, we’ll be using it.
This day in age, accessibility on public transport is much better. Trains, buses and taxis are generally accessible, so why not use them.
Alternatively, book a holiday with a specialist tour company like Limitless Travel, they’ll take the effort out of travelling. They offer a range of guided holidays on luxury, accessible coaches.
#12. Driving with a Heart Condition
I love driving and it’s unlikely I’ll stop anytime soon. Obviously, whereas I used to be able to jump in the car and drive for 5 hours, that’ll need to change. Driving is always my preferred option because it means I can carry everything I need with me.
I recommend breaking the journey up, drive for shorter periods and travel outside of peak hours so the traffic is lighter and less stressful.
Also, make sure you have breakdown cover. If you have a Motability car, RAC breakdown cover is included, if not, you can buy RAC Blue Badge Breakdown Cover or shop around. The AA and Green Flag often have deals on, breakdown cover is definitely worth investing in for peace of mind.
#13. Accessible Accommodation
Probably the most important part of any holiday is your accommodation, it can make or break the holiday in my opinion.
For me, comfort is the key and that includes accessibility. Wherever we stay, because of Bridget’s mobility, we need no stairs, a wetroom or at least walk in shower and a comfy bed.
Hotels are fine for a night, but you do get more comfort, space and facilities in self-catering accommodation.
Normally, I would recommend Accomable for self-catering accommodation but they’ve recently been bought by Airbnb, so I’ll hold fire to see what they do with it.
Whether it’s a beach holiday in sunny climes or something a tiny bit more energetic here in Blighty, watch your hydration.
Yes, you need to take on enough water but remember, drinking large amounts of water makes your heart work harder. Monitor your intake and seek medical attention if you notice any significant changes in your health, fluid retention or output.
#15. Travel Slowly
I’m guilty of trying to pack as much into every trip. Now that I’ve been diagnosed with Heart Failure, I need to alter my behaviour and slow down. My problem is, I’m not one for laying on a beach or sitting by the pool, I like to explore.
Heart Failure doesn’t mean you can’t explore or take part in activities, it just means you need to do it slowly. Build in rest time, do things on alternate days, learn to enjoy sitting back and watching the world go by.
#16. Alcohol and Late Nights
You know the story, cheap cocktails, blue seas and romantic sunsets equals excess drinking, or it does for some of us.
There is no reason you can’t participate in a tipple (as long as you haven’t been advised against it) but don’t go mad. It’s easy to forget you’re ill when you’ve had a skin full, you’ll pay for it in more ways than one.
By all means, drink in line with the advice you’ve been given by your GP or in keeping with your medication guidelines.
#17. Don’t Feel Guilty
We’re at number 17 on the list of “20 Tips for Travelling with Heart Failure” and so far, they’ve all been “don’t do this and don’t do that”.
They’re all good tips, but I think this one is just as important, and it’s this “Don’t Feel Guilty”.
So what, if you can’t run around like you used to, who cares, if you need to rest more often than on your last holiday. You can still do many things, have so much fun and create so many memories, you just need to do them at your own pace.
#18. Your Loved Ones
If you’re travelling with loved ones, keep them informed of how your feeling. Don’t pretend everything’s fine when it isn’t.
It’s easy to get dragged along with all the excitement so you don’t spoil their holiday. Trust me when I tell you, and this is from a partners and carers perspective, the last thing they’ll want you to do is to make yourself ill on their behalf.
Communicate, if you need a time-out, say so. If you need a day off, explain why and do less energetic activities instead.
It’s normal to be anxious when you’re travelling with Heart Failure. There are so many things to think about, plans to make and things that can potentially go wrong.
The good news is, hundreds of thousands of people with Heart Failure travel all the time. Assuming you’ve done your planning, and aren’t travelling to Outer Mongolia, chances are, you’ll be absolutely fine.
There is no point in worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. If anything, it’s the worst thing you can do. Stress is more likely to ruin your holiday than anything else, double check your plans, make sure everything is in place and go enjoy yourself.
Talking about enjoying yourself, travel and holidays are about creating memories. They are the perfect distraction from the daily grind of living with Heart Failure.
My motto is “While I Can, I Will” and that’s what I encourage you to do. Go on, I dare you, go create some precious memories.
Travelling with Heart Failure
Wow, if you’ve made it to the bottom of the list, you deserve a holiday. I didn’t realise it was this long, and whilst none of it constitutes medical advice, I still hope you found at least some of it useful?
Travelling with Heart Failure is different for all of us. I’d love to hear your travel tips, why not share them with me in the comments section below …
Heart Failure Resources
Accessible Travel Resources
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