Traveling With COPD: Tips to Make Your Trip a Success

What to Know About Insurance, Medications, Vaccines, and Oxygen

Traveling with​ chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) ​can be challenging, especially if you don't plan ahead. Whether you're traveling for treatment, business, or pleasure, adequate preparation is essential for a safe and enjoyable trip. Before you pack your bags and walk out that door, consider the following 10 travel tips when mapping out your plans.


Schedule an Appointment With Your Healthcare Provider

Doctor talking with patient in doctors office

Talking to your healthcare provider about your travel plans is one of the most important elements of traveling with COPD. Here are a few of the questions that you should ask:

  • Is it safe for me to travel?
  • When traveling to areas of higher elevation, will my oxygen requirements change?
  • How soon can I travel after lung surgery?

Your practitioner can discuss these things with you during your pre-trip appointment. It's also a good idea to have a basic physical, just to make sure that you're well enough for travel.


Don't Forget Your Medical Records

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During your pre-trip medical appointment, ask your healthcare provider for a copy of your medical records. Better yet, have him or her print out a summary of your care so that, in the event of an emergency, any medical professional who is unfamiliar with your medical history will have a better idea of how to treat you.

At the very least, your medical records should include a list of your current medications, your prescription for supplemental oxygen (if you use it), and a statement from your healthcare provider acknowledging that you're fit for travel.

For easier access, place your medical records in a folder with the rest of your travel papers. Keep the folder on your person, in case your luggage gets lost. Also, make sure you can log in and access health information on apps connected to to your healthcare system if needed.


If Possible, Don't Travel Alone

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When you have a serious medical condition like COPD, it's best to travel with a partner, regardless of whether that person is your significant other, a relative, or a friend.

If you become ill on your trip and can't answer questions about your medical condition, that person should be able to step in. This means that your travel partner should be familiar with your medical care, including your medications and your oxygen requirements.

Your partner should also be familiar with any medical equipment that you're bringing on your trip, including your oxygen concentrator, nebulizer, and/or COPD inhalers.


Review Your Insurance Policy

Insurance Policy

What if you run out of your medication or lose it while you're on the road? Does your insurance policy cover refills in another state or country? More importantly, does your policy cover emergency treatment out of network, or will you need to obtain a supplemental travel policy?

Many people don't realize that traditional Medicare does not cover medical care that's provided outside the United States, except in extremely rare instances. Some (but not all) Medicare supplemental plans do cover international travel.

Your best bet, of course, is to check with your insurance company before you travel to avoid any insurance mishaps along the way. This will help you determine whether you'll need supplemental travel insurance. Don't forget to pack a copy of your insurance card in both your checked luggage and your onboard carry-on.


Stock up on Meds

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There's nothing worse than being away from home and running out of medication. That's why it's so important to stock up on essential medications, including a few extra doses before you leave.

Always carry your medication in its original container. The medication should be properly labeled and prescribed to you, not to someone else.

If you use an inhaler, it should be transported in its original box that includes a prescription label. Always keep your medications in your carry-on in the event that your luggage gets lost or delayed.


Line up Medical Care at Your Destination

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Traveling to an unfamiliar destination? Ask your healthcare provider to recommend a doctor and hospital in that destination, just to be on the safe side. Be sure to obtain the correct address and phone number of each and add that information to your medical folder.

If your practitioner can't recommend anyone, your insurance company may be able to give you a list of providers.


Consider Traveling With Oxygen

Cropped Image Of Airplane Flying Over Cloudy Sky At Sunset
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If you'll be flying to your destination, be aware that the cabin of an airplane is pressurized for high altitudes. This means that during the flight, the air in the cabin contains less oxygen than normal.

Some people with COPD are unable to tolerate lower levels of oxygen in the ambient air and subsequently develop hypoxemia, a condition that makes it more difficult to breathe.

That's why it's critical to discuss your oxygen needs with your healthcare provider before you travel. Even if you don't normally use supplemental oxygen, your practitioner may recommend it when you fly.

If you do need to use supplemental oxygen when flying, notify the airline before your trip and make absolutely certain that you understand and meet their requirements for traveling with oxygen.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration allows only certain portable oxygen concentrators to be used on flights, so you may have to rent an approved unit. You'll need a prescription from your healthcare provider, and you'll need to carry extra batteries, as well.

It's important to make arrangements for oxygen supplies at your destination as well if you need this on a regular basis.


Exercise Your Calf Muscles

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Often, traveling by plane, train, or automobile requires sitting for prolonged periods of time, a known risk factor for deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Smoking, being over 60 years old, and being overweight increases this risk. If possible, while en route to your destination, get up once every hour and walk around. If walking isn't possible, stand in the aisle next to your seat and raise your body up and down while standing on your toes 10 times every hour.

If traveling by automobile, take periodic walks during stops at gas stations or rest areas. Walk to and from the restroom or cafe car if traveling by train.

If it's not possible to walk around or stand, exercise your calf muscles in your seat by stretching out your legs and then pointing and flexing your toes at least 10 times every hour.


Remember Those Vaccinations

Person receiving a vaccine
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If you're planning to travel internationally, be aware of which vaccinations you'll need by checking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC offers a worldwide, A to Z map that includes specific travel requirements for each country.

If international travel is not part of your plan, consider getting a flu shot, especially if you're traveling aboard a train or airplane in close contact with other passengers who may be sick. Talk with your primary doctor about other recommended vaccines for domestic travel, including COVID and pneumonia.

Also, take basic precautions against illness: Wash your hands frequently and carry a bottle of hand sanitizer to reduce your chances of catching a virus that could lead to COPD exacerbation.


Rest, Eat Well, and Exercise

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One of the most overlooked parts of traveling is taking care of yourself before, during, and after your trip. This means that you'll need to eat nutritious foods, exercise regularly, and get enough rest to increase your energy, lessen fatigue, and decrease jet lag. Doing so can turn an otherwise stressful trip into a more pleasurable one.

  • Exercise: These days, many hotels make it easy for an avid exerciser to maintain fitness away from home by offering guests free use of their health club facilities. Cruise ships often include group exercise classes in their vacation packages. If working out isn't possible, including a daily walk in your travel plans is one of the most convenient ways to exercise away from home.
  • Eat well: Making good-for-you food choices while traveling is now easier than ever. Most restaurants have jumped on the healthy-eating bandwagon by offering low-calorie meal choices that still taste great. And nutrition apps can help you make better decisions when shopping at a grocery store. 
  • Get enough rest: Last but not least, remember to pace yourself. Take time out to rest between daily excursions, even if you don't sleep. Doing so will restore your energy, so you won't miss out on exciting plans for the evening. Try to go to bed and wake up around the same times every day, if possible, and get in seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tsiligianni IG, van der Molen T, Siafakas NM, Tzanakis NE. Air travel for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a case report. Br J Gen Pract. 2012;62(595):107–108. doi:10.3399/bjgp12X625328

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) prevention.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Travelers' health: Need travel vaccines? Plan ahead.

By Deborah Leader, RN
 Deborah Leader RN, PHN, is a registered nurse and medical writer who focuses on COPD.