Holiday Travel: How to Get Where You're Going (and Stay Well)

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

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 24, 2022
photo of the sky as seen from an airplane window

As the busy holiday season approaches, thousands of people head to the airports, jetting to see loved ones or just to get away from it all. Many more will take trains or buses -- or pack up the car and cruise onto the highways. But whether by land, sea, or sky, there are likely to be delays  along the way.

For people with serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease -- and for young children -- those travel glitches can be more than an inconvenience. To stay well when you're traveling, you'll need to plan well. Here's how. 

If You Have Diabetes

Eat close to your regular schedule. "That's especially important for diabetics," says Inyanga Mack, MD, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Temple University School of Medicine 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 the road or in the air, she says.

Wear an appropriate medical alert bracelet. Carry the name of an emergency contact person and your primary care physician, Mack suggests. Keep a list of your medications and doses, so someone can get access to your medication in an emergency.

Take medications with you, not packed in luggage. Carry a few days' supply of your medications. Then if luggage gets lost, or if you're trapped in the airport or on the plane for extended periods, your health won't be in jeopardy. Always eat and take medications according to your regular schedule, even if everything else is in turmoil.

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

FAA requirements: Diabetic people carrying syringes and/or needles must also carry the injectable medication. Diabetic people traveling in the U.S. can bring syringes and other such equipment in carry-on bags, but insulin vials must have a professional, printed medication label. Better yet, keep insulin in its original box, since it has the pharmaceutical company label. Needles must be capped. The glucose meter must have the manufacturer's name on it. Injectable glucagon should also be in its original plastic kit with the 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 Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "If you feel fatigued, find someone to carry your bags. Don't rush. Getting around a long airport can be like a stress test. Carry as little as possible on board, so you're not struggling 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 says. "Allow time to get plenty of rest, and make sure you're well hydrated."

Carry a copy of your ECG. If you've had heart bypass surgery, get a note from your surgeon. This should detail the number of veins and arteries that were used to do the bypass, Krone says. If you're in a foreign country and need an emergency catheterization, "the cardiologist at your destination would know exactly how to perform the catheterization," Krone says. "It would make the whole thing much simpler."

If you're taking Coumadin and will be abroad a month or more, consider making arrangements at your destination to have your blood checked. Many countries require that you see a local doctor to monitor your blood and write a prescription if necessary. The U.S. embassy can easily make these arrangements, Krone says.

If You're Traveling with Kids

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

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

Take along snacks, drinks, and activities. Books to read, puzzle books, game boys, and portable checkers keep kids busy. For younger kids, coloring books, little games, action figures will work. Plan activities you know they will like, says McCoy. "Also plan something new and different, something they don't see every day, or have never seen before. The novelty will help a little bit." Another idea: keep individual toys wrapped, then bring them out at just the right moment.

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

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

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

Make sure booster or car seats are available. If you're renting 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? The same things that apply at home still count when you're away. Are there gates at the tops of stairs? If you're staying with someone who has a gun, is it  stored out of children's reach? When you're done unwrapping gifts, make sure the ribbons and wrappings picked up, so little children won't suffocate or choke on them. And make sure that  leftover party food gets stored safely,  so kids won't get into it if they wake up before you. 

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Photo Credit:

Tommaso Tuzj / Getty Images



Inyanga Mack, MD, assistant professor of family and community medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.

Ronald Krone, MD, professor of medicine and cardiology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Andrea McCoy, MD, director of primary care, Temple University Children's Medical Center.


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