Holiday Travel Advisory

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on November 06, 2003

Planning to travel this season? Here's how to stay happy and healthy en route.

As the busy holiday season approaches, thousands of airlinetravelers get ready to tackle the lines and delays. Thousands more are bravingthe trains and buses and automobiles to be with family and friends. But beware,travel today is fraught with long delays at check-in, on the tarmac, and on theroad.


For people with serious health problems like diabetes and heartdisease -- and for young children -- all this can be a real ordeal. If youdon't plan properly, it could even be life-threatening.


How to keep everyone healthy and happy during those long travelhours? WebMD sought the advice of a few experts.


If you have diabetes...


Eat close to your regular schedule. "That'sespecially important for diabetics," says Inyanga Mack, MD, assistantprofessor of family and community medicine at Temple University School ofMedicine in Philadelphia.


Since meal service has been discontinued on most flights,getting to the airport early leaves you time to eat before the flight. Also,bring along healthy snacks to offset the risk of hypoglycemia, whether on theroad or in the air, she tells WebMD.


Wear an appropriate medical alert bracelet. Carry thename of an emergency contact person and your primary care physician, Macksuggests. Keep a list of your medications and doses, so someone can get accessto your medication in an emergency.


Take medications with you, not packed in luggage. Carrya few days' supply of your medications. Then if luggage gets lost, or if you'retrapped in the airport or on the plane for extended periods, your health won'tbe in jeopardy. Always eat and take medications according to your regularschedule, even if everything else is in turmoil.


Make sure medications are properly labeled. Allprescriptions must have the pharmaceutical label or professionally printedlabel identifying the drug. If you are not permitted to board with yourmedications and supplies, ask to speak with the airport's FAA representative orthe security director. You may even want to call ahead of time to be sure youcan get on board with what you need.


FAA requirements: Diabetic people carrying syringes and/orneedles must also carry the injectable medication. Diabetic people traveling inthe U.S. can bring syringes and other such equipment in carry-on bags, butinsulin vials must have a professional, printed medication label. Better yet,keep insulin in its original box, since it has the pharmaceutical companylabel. Needles must be capped. The glucose meter must have the manufacturer'sname on it. Injectable glucagon should also be in its original plastic kit withthe pre-printed pharmaceutical label.

If you have heart disease...


Don't get dehydrated or fatigued. Get plenty of rest,says Ronald Krone, MD, professor of medicine and cardiology at WashingtonUniversity School of Medicine in St. Louis. "If you feel fatigued, findsomeone to carry your bags. Don't rush. Getting around a long airport can belike a stress test. Carry as little as possible on board, so you're notstruggling to lift something overhead. Minimize your workload."


If traveling abroad, give yourself a day to recover."You should not be on a go-go schedule," Krone tells WebMD. "Allowtime to get plenty of rest, and make sure you're well hydrated."


Carry a copy of your ECG. If you've had heart bypasssurgery, obtain a note from your surgeon. This should detail the number ofveins and arteries that were used to do the bypass, Krone tells WebMD. Ifyou're in a foreign country, and an emergency catheterization is necessary,"the cardiologist at your destination would know exactly how to perform thecatheterization. It would make the whole thing much simpler," he says.


If you're taking Coumadin, and will be abroad a month ormore, consider making arrangements at your destination to have your bloodchecked. Many countries require that you see a local physician to monitor yourblood and write a prescription if necessary. The U.S. embassy can easily makethese arrangements, says Krone.


If traveling with kids...

Have a game plan. "Really consider the amount oftime you're going to be waiting," says Andrea McCoy, MD, director ofprimary care at Temple University Children's Medical Center in Philadelphia."It's tough to travel with kids to begin with, and delays and changes intime zones make it even more difficult," she tells WebMD.


Let kids run when there's a chance. "You can'texpect young kids to sit like little soldiers," she says. "Mom can letkids run in a hallway while Dad stands in line. It's thankless enough to standthere as a grown-up; you can't expect your kids to do it."


Take along snacks, drinks, and activities. Books toread, puzzle books, game boys, and portable checkers keep kids busy. Foryounger kids, coloring books, little games, action figures will work. Planactivities you know they will like, says McCoy. "Also plan something newand different, something they don't see every day, or have never seen before.The novelty will help a little bit." Another idea: keep individual toyswrapped, then bring them out at critical intervals.


Take light snacks. Carry something like bagels, whichare starchy and don't require refrigeration, to offset both hunger andairsickness.


Carry prescription medications on board. Remember to putmedications in an icepack if they need to be refrigerated. Let your doctor knowahead of time that you will be traveling, in case a second-choice medicine ismore convenient to carry.


Carry Tylenol or acetaminophen -- something kids can suck orswallow. These are for normal aches and pains, plus ear pain, says McCoy.The swallowing or sucking action will help clear a child's ears.


Make sure booster or car seats are available. If you'rerenting a car, make the appropriate arrangements at your destination. Also,consider having a car seat on board for a safer flight.


Check at your destination -- is it child proof? Arethere gates at the tops of stairs? Are guns stored out of children's reach? Areribbons and wrappings picked up, so children won't suffocate or choke on them?Is leftover party food cleaned up, so early-rising children won't get intoit?

Originally published Dec. 18, 2001.

Medically updated Nov. 5, 2003.