Travel Series
Travel and Medical Access

n2y Staff

Welcome to part two of our travel series, where we cover a variety of topics on travel and access that will better prepare you for traveling with children with special needs.

Read more on this topic in the following articles in the series:

Bookmark this page so you can follow the series and come back to it for easy reference when you need a refresher.

Traveling with access to consistent and high-quality medical care is much easier today than it was for previous generations. Still, moving from place to place with a medical condition that requires attention can pose challenges. Traveling with a child or family member with a medical need requires additional planning and preparation on the front end.

If you are planning to take a trip, official public health guidance related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will still be in place. At baseline, travelers in your group as well as those around you will be expected to exercise proper hand hygiene, maintain appropriate physical distancing, and wear masks when indoors or close to others. These measures help reduce the risk of transmitting not only COVID‑19 but also other viruses that may put individuals with medical conditions at a heightened risk for more serious infection. As you begin to plan your trip, pack extra masks and portable hand sanitizer.

Considerations for Planning a Trip with Your Child with a Medical Condition

We all have different medical requirements, personal preferences, and comfort needs. This is true for your child with a medical condition, too. Like any aspect of trip planning, preparing for access to daily or emergency medical care will help ensure a successful trip. Here are some key tips to keep in mind:

First, Check with the Doctor

If your child has complex medical needs, start your trip planning by scheduling an appointment with his or her pediatrician and any relevant specialists. Many families find it helpful to have a physician’s letter that describes your child’s condition and needs in case of emergency. Pediatricians who coordinate care for children with complex medical needs are accustomed to preparing these letters. Be sure to ask the doctor for the letter with plenty of time before your departure date. During your visit with the pediatrician, confirm all prescriptions are current and accurate and discuss whether you may need a separate prescription for a short-term supply of medication specifically intended for this trip.

It is also wise for you, the parent and primary caregiver, to confirm that everyone in the family is healthy enough to travel and heed the doctor’s advice and precautions to ensure a safe and happy trip.

Know Your Insurance Coverage

It is always advisable to call your health insurance company to inquire about coverage when you travel.

In some circumstances, coverage is limited, comes with restrictions, or has requirements for services rendered. Keep a record of your call including the time, date, and the name of the contact at the company with details of coverage provided to you. If you do have to use your medical insurance, follow the instructions you were given to access your policy. A call for information to the company may reveal some little-known benefits or restrictions that will inform your decisions when you are on the road.

Look into traveler’s insurance. Some plans include options for additional coverage for emergency visits or other short-term health coverage (among other benefits) to supplement your primary insurance coverage.

Research Medical Care and Support Available at Your Destination

Identify the name and contact information for hospitals, urgent care clinics, and specialists at your destination site. Some hotels, theme parks, and resorts have physicians on staff or call for visitors. A call to the venue will help you understand what the options are in case of an emergency. No one wants to use these services, but it is helpful and reassuring to know up front if they exist and what the terms of use are. Keep this information along with copies of your insurance card, photo identification, and medical supply company contact information (if necessary) in a folder or binder. Place these items in sheet protectors for durability. Finally, add electronic versions (or photos of the printed ones) to a folder you can access easily from your phone or tablet.

Consider Food Allergies

Are food allergies a concern for your child or family? The good news is that many people share the same food sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies that require daily monitoring. Some food sensitivities, like gluten intolerance, are widely accommodated at most restaurants. Have a printed list to give to a server or chef if multiple foods need to be avoided.

Your child’s pediatrician or your primary care physician can help you create an allergy prevention plan as well as an allergy intervention plan for times when prevention is unsuccessful. A thorough plan will include both symbol-supported and translated lists of allergens. Also, it’s important to keep travel partners or companions in the loop about both prevention and intervention plans, especially if there will be occasions during the travel in which your child is not physically with you. (Parents and caregivers need a break sometimes, too!)

Questions to Consider

  • Does your allergy plan include a medical bracelet?
  • Are there over-the-counter medications to pack?
  • Does the doctor want to include prescription medications or injections?
  • Are there any special instructions for medical personnel if all other plans cannot calm the reaction?

Pre-Pack Medications

Pack all prescription and over-the-counter medications your child needs, along with those of any other family member. You may wish to add additional labels to medications for convenience, especially if a child’s medications are divided into weekly pill containers, for example.

Bring a printed list of any prescription drugs your child is taking, along with a copy of each prescription. Have these documents scanned and stored electronically so you can access them from your phone or tablet if needed.

If possible, travel with slightly more prescription medication or supplies than you need for the length of the trip in case of unexpected changes in plans. If extra medication is not possible for some reason, many chain pharmacies in the U.S. can transfer prescriptions to other locations. A quick call to your pharmacy before departure can help you understand the options.

Call Ahead When Flying with Oxygen

Flying with oxygen requires a bit of planning; there are requirements for the oxygen as well as battery life for an oxygen concentrator on an airplane. All of these rules are for passenger safety, of course. Check with the airline and with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the most updated requirements.

Pack Extras

Packing extras is a best practice for traveling with children. (Any child.) Bring extra snacks, diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, etc. What special items does your child require? What brings comfort and security to them? Think through everything from a bedtime lovey, leak-proof water bottle, preferred pureed foods, beloved security item or fidget toy, sunscreen that doesn’t burn the eyes, or a sleep-friendly essential oil—whatever it is, bring it, and then bring a little extra. “Better safe than sorry” is your mantra here.

Use Symbol-Based Communication Supports Specific to Your Travel Needs

With heightened awareness of travelers’ diverse needs, accessing medical care during travel is easier today than in years past, but there are ways to make it even better. It will certainly be helpful to print and use personal communication supports from SymbolStix PRIMEâ„¢ as part of your medical support package for you or your child. Encourage your child to get involved using symbol-supported materials as well!

Try creating some text and symbol-supported communication boards about your specific medical concerns in case of a medical event. Symbols could make emergency communication easier in a difficult situation far from home, especially when language barriers might be an issue. Again, remember to communicate with travel partners about your plans for daily or emergency medical care.

Traveling with a family member who has a medical concern can be stressful at times. But, it is a worthwhile pursuit. Everyone needs a vacation sometimes. Take the time up front to ensure you and others in your group have a thorough plan for daily and emergency care. With planning, a flexible attitude, and a heart for adventure, your family and your child can have a great trip!

What’s Next

The next article in our travel series, Travel and Physical Access, will focus on steps you can take to plan ahead to ensure physical access at your destination!

About the Author

n2y’s staff works closely with educators, in‑house experts, and program developers to share the latest topics and timely thought leadership from the field. It’s our goal to help keep you informed and ready to serve your students!