On the Road Again. 12 Tips for Taking a Road Trip When You Have a Lung Condition
One of the things that I love to do the most is travel. As the kids are getting older, it is getting easier to throw them in the car and go places. With recent pandemic events, we have skipped the idea of air travel and have taken to the roads. Last weekend was particularly fun because we jumped in the car and went to Wintergreen in the Blue Ridge mountains located only 1 ½ hours away. It was just far enough so that our “little trip” felt like a “getaway.” For many of my patients, road trips are the easiest way to travel. Sure, many times it won’t take you to exotic and faraway lands, but they offer the convenience of taking your lung and oxygen equipment with you, the expense is generally less, and let’s be honest… the ability to social distance. I have posted a road trip blog before but due to the pandemic and hearing from many of you interested in road trip tips, I have updated the content to 2020. ***Remember, traveling anywhere during our current COVID crisis is a risk. This blog is to give you tips on how to be safer and to reduce the anxiety of car travel, but there is no guarantee that even if you follow all suggestions, that you will avoid COVID.*** So let’s get into it!
12 Tips for Taking a Road Trip When You Have a Lung Condition
1. Make sure you are healthy and those that are traveling with you are healthy before leaving – You don’t want to jeopardize your health or your fun by leaving for a trip when you aren’t well. Also, check-in with those that you are traveling with to make sure they aren’t sick either.
2. Be sure your vehicle is roadworthy – this tip probably goes without saying but I don’t know about you but when I am going on a road trip, the last thing I think about (unfortunately) is my car. Sure, I fuel up, but I don’t always think about having my oil changed and fluids and tires checked until the last moment. This could have spoiled my spring break road trip when a few days before, I had a flat tire. This flat enlightened me to the fact that two of my tires were bald. Although this inconvenience put a damper on my workday, I was so glad that it happened before my trip than when I got on the road a few days later… I had total peace of mind that my vehicle was roadworthy. I encourage you to get a quick check by your mechanic to ensure your vehicle will be reliable for your upcoming adventure!
3. Pack masks and disinfectant – Although traveling by car gives you many reassurances, you will need to stop occasionally for gas, food, and perhaps lodging. Mask sure you bring 1-2 masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant. Use the wipes in high touch areas. Wear your mask when going inside any establishment including restaurant, rest stop, gas station, or store. And it goes without saying…wash your hands when given an opportunity.
4. If staying in a hotel/motel etc.– Inquire ahead of time what protocols they are putting in place to disinfect between guests. If it makes you feel better, bring a bottle of disinfectant to use in areas you want to be sure are clean. Most of the time the hand soap provided isn’t antibacterial. Bring your own antibacterial hand soap for your kitchen and/or bathroom.
5. Pack light – gone are the days when carrying a bunch of luggage was a doable feat. Actually, carrying anything is one of the most difficult things that lung patients have to do each day so grab a small rolling suitcase and pack only what you need. Consider using travel size containers for your toiletries to lighten up your suitcase. If your destination is equipped with a washer and dryer, you may be able to pack even lighter considering the option of washing a load of clothing while you are there. Shoes can also weigh down a suitcase, pack shoes that you can wear with multiple outfits eliminating the hassle of adding multiple heavy pairs to your luggage. Another way to lighten your luggage is to coordinate “items to share” with family. Why should each person carry sunscreen, tubes of toothpaste, body wash, etc.? Communicate with your travel buddies and see if everyone would be responsible for one or two items to share. This should lighten not only your load but your pretravel shopping expenses as well.
6. Medical Prep – Make a copy of your insurance card and current list of medications that you are taking and place them in a spot that is easy to access. Be sure to have enough of your prescriptions to last the duration of your trip. If you know in advance that you may require a refill, know what pharmacies are near your destination that you could access. Keep medications handy so you can take each dose on time. Many of my patients have decided to purchase a portable battery-operated nebulizer so that they can administer breathing treatments no matter where they are.
7. Pack enough O’s to last 1 ½ times your road trip duration – Oxygen wearers have another item to prepare for travel. It adds another level of complexity to a road trip, but it is certainly doable if you are prepared. The easiest way to take your oxygen with you is a portable oxygen concentrator (POC). Many of my patients have 2-3 batteries for their POC and it allows them the freedom to travel without lugging several oxygen tanks with them. Many POCs will plug into your cigarette lighter outlet in your car and will allow you to use your car battery to power your POC all the while preserving your battery life. However, not everyone can afford, tolerate, or has access to renting a portable oxygen concentrator for traveling purposes. If you must utilize oxygen tanks, make sure you secure them on the floor or the seat beside you. Bring enough tanks that will last 1 ½ times the length of your car ride. You never know when a traffic jam will have traffic backed up for an extended period. Have confidence that you have plenty of O’s to last you. You may also be able to turn your oxygen down if while sitting your oxygen saturations are above 90%. However, I caution my patients that are prescribed oxygen continuously to refrain from taking their oxygen off while driving. There can be some legal ramifications if you aren’t wearing your oxygen and get into a wreck. Lastly, many home care companies have multiple locations throughout the US. If you find a branch close to your destination, you may be able to coordinate a concentrator being dropped off at your destination. Wouldn’t that be convenient?!
8. Consider a roadside assistance program. – Roadside assistance programs are an excellent way to have a plan if for some reason you have car problems. Changing a tire or a dead battery can seem like a simple task to a young healthy individual but for someone with a lung condition… it can be a crisis. (Especially in extreme heat and cold temperatures) Having the ability to call roadside assistance will give you a plan in case a problem occurs with your vehicle. Typically, they cover services like towing and sometimes offer discounts on other travel services.
9. Take frequent breaks to stand and stretch – One of the most critical risks for travelers is the development of a DVT or deep vein thrombosis. These blood clots develop from the low circulation of the blood. DVTs are serious and could cause death. When riding, try to wiggle, stretch, and move about occasionally by stretching your toes and moving your legs. When you are able to stop for a rest, try and walk around a bit (if you are able) to help circulate the blood in your legs.
10. Ask for help from travel buddies whenever needed. – Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help during your road trip. Often friends and loved ones want to help but don’t know how or don’t realize what activities are difficult for you. Ask your travel buddies to help you lift and load your luggage into the car. If you need to stop to use the restroom, ask them to choose a parking spot close to the building. Bring along a “handicap tag” if you have one so that you can utilize it if need be.
11. Pack healthy food and snacks. – One of the things my family and I have adopted on road trips is the understanding that we will pack our lunch. It is an added step to preparing for a trip, but it is well worth the hassle. Fast food is known to cause bloating and indigestion. Frankly, I never feel great after eating at a fast-food restaurant so packing a healthy lunch allows me to feel my best while enjoying the ride. The other benefit to packing a healthy lunch or snacks is that it shortens rest stops and helps to avoid the mealtime rush at restaurants (helpful during this day and time). Some foods I like to pack are water, grapes, granola bars, apples, protein bars, cheese and crackers, and (being honest) a can of Pringles will typically make it into our snack bag. (Hey, you can splurge here and there!) If you have added a nice restaurant stop into your itinerary (and you are looking forward to it) don’t let me persuade you to skip it. My intention is for you to avoid processed, fried foods during travel so that you can feel your best!
12. Keep the air quality inside the vehicle optimal – Many people with lung conditions have reactive airways. Keep the windows up to avoid triggers like pollen and traffic fumes from affecting your lungs. Don’t allow people in the vehicle to smoke. If you are traveling with smokers, allow for rest stops so that they can get out of the car to smoke. Keep the temperature in the car cool but not frigid. Most people with lung conditions breathe their best in cool dry climates.
Have Fun! – You have done everything you need to do to prepare for your road trip. Enjoy the time away with friends and family, live it up, and be safe!
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Thanks for Reading and Stay Well!
Remember: We are in this TOGETHER!
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