Today, I want to share “20 Tips for Travelling with Heart Failure”.
But, before I do, let me explain why.
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, and 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 barriers to travel. I meant every word of it, but it was easy for me to say in hindsight 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 purchased here:
If I need more equipment, I’ll buy it. I can see a couple of lightweight travel scooters on the horizon, 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 helpful.
Top 20 Tips for Travelling with Heart Failure
1. You Know Your Own Body Best
It might seem common sense, but only you know when you feel fit enough to travel. You know your own body best and 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 travel if you don’t feel 100% able to get to your destination and 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
The points below cover the holiday plan, but it’s not a complete list. Add 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, including 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, getting their reassurance and any special instructions don’t do any harm.
4. Travelling with Heart Failure Medication
Ensure you have enough medication for the whole trip and some extras if you are delayed.
If you’re travelling abroad, ask your GP for a letter detailing your medication, dosage, what it’s for, and the generic name because some medicine has a different name in other countries.
If there are any special storage instructions with your medication, make sure you’ve pre-planned how 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 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 for Heart Failure Patients
I know travel insurance is expensive, and 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 ever.
Don’t scrimp, and don’t lie or miss bits of information. If you buy the wrong travel insurance policy or fail to disclose your illnesses when you purchase it, you’re fooling no one except yourself.
The best advice is to buy the highest level of insurance. Fully disclose your medical conditions, including heart failure and keep a list of emergency contact numbers should you need to use them.
Does your standard travel insurance policy cover them if you use any aids such as wheelchairs or electric scooters?
If not, have you bought a separate cover for your scooter and did 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 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 nice luggage with wheels, so 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 to give it a good check-over before leaving. Do you have spare parts and batteries or at least know where to get them?
If you’re flying, check beforehand about carrying batteries on the aeroplane (essential).
If you need to hire special equipment, can you do it before arriving? If not, have you got the details of the hiring company for when you arrive?
9. Home or Abroad
As you know, we mainly travel in the UK and Ireland, and 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 oxygen levels at high altitudes mean 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 you will expose yourself to very hot or very cold temperatures or high altitudes, seek medical advice before travelling.
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.
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 you’ll likely 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, ensure you have the correct size, or they won’t be effective.
It’s worth repeating. If you doubt 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.
In this day in age, accessibility to 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 and offer a range of guided holidays on luxurious, accessible coaches.
12. Driving with a Heart Condition
I love driving, and it’s unlikely I’ll stop anytime soon. Whereas I used to jump in the car and drive for 5 hours, that’ll need to change. Driving is always my preferred option because I can carry everything I need.
I recommend breaking the journey up. Drive for shorter periods and travel outside of peak hours, so the traffic is lighter and less stressful.
A couple of good resources for drivers with disabilities are Disabled Motoring UK, and the Motability site often has helpful information.
Also, make sure you have a breakdown cover. If you have a Motability car, a RAC breakdown cover is included. You can buy RAC Blue Badge Breakdown Cover or shop around if not. The AA and Green Flag often have deals, and breakdown cover is worth investing in for peace of mind.
13. Accessible Accommodation
Probably the most crucial part of any holiday is your accommodation, and it can make or break the holiday in my opinion.
For me, comfort is the key, and that includes accessibility. Wherever we stay, we need no stairs, a wetroom or at least a walk-in shower and a comfy bed because of Bridget’s mobility.
Hotels are fine for a night, but you get more comfort, space and facilities in self-catering accommodation.
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 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, that I’m not one for lying on a beach or sitting by the pool, and I like to explore.
Heart Failure doesn’t mean you can’t explore or participate in activities. It just means you need to do it slowly.
Build-in rest time, do things on alternate days, and 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 equal 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, and you’ll pay for it in more ways than one.
Drink in line with the advice you’ve been given, at least in line 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 excellent tips, but I think this one is just as important as “Don’t Feel Guilty”.
So what, if you can’t run around as you used to, who cares if you need to rest more often than on your last holiday?
You can still do many things, have fun, and create many memories. You need to do them at your own pace.
18. Travelling with Loved Ones
If you’re travelling with loved ones, keep them informed of how you feel. 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, from partners’ and carers’ perspectives, that 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.
19. Travel Anxiety
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 something that can 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 enjoy yourself.
20. Travel Memories
Travel and holidays are about creating memories, and 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.
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.
Heart Failure Resources
Accessible Travel Resources
Where would you like to go next?
Photo by Upgraded Points on Unsplash