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Must have items for travelling with a Chronic Illness: Carry On Edition

For many people the thought of being trapped in a small seat while up in the air for hours on end can be a bit off-putting. Add in a chronic illness and the dread of flying only intensifies. Unfortunately, flying is often a necessary evil if you want to travel and if you're from Canada like me, you pretty much need to fly to travel anywhere be it domestic or international.


That being said, I've put together a list of the must-have items that fill my carry-on bag that help me stay comfortable while flying.



Reusable water bottle: When you make that final bathroom break prior to boarding make sure to fill up your reusable water bottle. This way you always have access to something to drink without having to wait if you need to take any medication enroute or if you just get thirsty. Although we’re all trying to avoid having to use the onboard washrooms, staying hydrated is an important part of fighting extra post-flight flares and fatigue.


*Tip* I save space in my bag by bringing a reusable bottle that can clip with a carabiner to the outside of my bag or my wheelchair!


Old school hot water bottle or ice pack (or both): If you deal with any kind of chronic pain you probably have serious separation anxiety anytime you have to leave your ice pack (or heat pack) behind - I know I do. At home I usually depend on reusable gel ice packs and microwaveable heat packs but these can be tricky to travel with when you’re on route as your ice pack will thaw and you likely won’t have easy access to a microwave. So here is where we take it back a few decades and call in the old school reinforcements: a refillable ice pack and a hot water bottle.


Both are easy to carry with you and help you reduce weight and space as you only need to fill them as needed plus both ice and hot water are common commodities even when at cruising altitude. This tip can extend into your trip as ice and hot water are available in nearly all hotels and cafes when you’ve arrived at your destination.


Emergency and Daily Meds: Now this one might seem obvious but it's important so I thought I would include it anyway. It's always important to travel with ALL of your prescription medications (and any over the counter meds you require daily or frequently) in your carry on. It makes sure you have access if any baggage mishaps occur but also that you have access during the flight if you need them. Make sure you bring enough for your entire trip plus a few extra days in case of any unforeseen delays (when travelling in 2021 I’ve been bringing an extra 2 weeks of meds in case of a quarantine).



*Tip* If you have a disability or medical condition and have to travel with medical equipment or medications you are entitled to bring an additional carry on bag for these items that doesn’t count towards your carry on limits. So you can have both a carry-on, personal item AND your medical bag. Just make sure your medical bag is only carrying medical supplies if you want to take advantage of this extra bag.



Noise Cancelling Headphones (plus a relaxing or happy playlist): Once you’ve flown with noise cancelling headphones you’ll never go back. The difference it makes is worth every penny and the space in your carry on. I prefer an over-ear option as I personally find it more comfortable but I know there are some good in-ear options with ANC(active noise cancelling) that have come out in the past few years. Pair this with a good playlist to either pump you up for your destination or help you calm down and relax if you’ve got a long flight or flying makes you anxious.


*If you are bringing your own headphones make sure to bring an adapter that will fit with the inflight entertainment system if you want to watch any shows - you can easily purchase one off amazon*


Bleach Wipes: Even during pre-pandemic travelling bleach wipes were my constant companion due to my allergies and weak immune system but now they’re even more important for everyone. Although airlines do their best to keep everything clean, it's best to give it another wipe down to be extra careful. If you have allergies or an illness that requires you to wipe down and sanitize your seat you are generally able to pre-board to do so - just ask when you arrive at your gate and explain that you need some extra time to wipe and clean down your seat because of your allergies or illness and most airlines will happily accommodate you.


Big Scarf: I always wear a big blanket scarf - even in the summer - so that when I am on board I can use it as a blanket to keep warm. If I am headed to a beach or warm weather destination I bring a lightweight option that can also double as a beach coverup once I arrive and if I'm headed somewhere colder I bring a thick warm blanket scarf that I can use to stay warm after the plane ride too.


Travel Pillow: I ALWAYS bring a travel pillow - even if it's only a short flight. I just find the additional comfort it provides me is worth carrying it around. I have pretty weak muscles due to my mitochondrial disease so although I don’t need a neck collar at this point having a firmer travel pillow helps me keep my head up and supported when I have to be upright on the plane for hours and makes me so much comfortable. I prefer a memory foam option that has a button front closure so that I can clip the pillow onto the outside of my bag when I'm not using it so it doesn't take up valuable space.


Compression Socks: Compression socks have become a pretty common flying hack and that's because they really can make a huge difference. Compression socks come in a variety of compression options so you can pick ones that offer the best support and comfort for you. They not only help in the prevention of blood clots while flying but they all help combat the dreaded swelling that sometimes happens during a long flight.



So there you have it! The things that have earned a permanent spot in my carry on bag. I won’t say they make flying perfectly comfortable but they do help a lot. Plus I just like to remind myself that the discomfort of flying is the segway to a beautiful adventure - plus when you get to your destination it makes it even more exciting.


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm Kelcie - a lifelong traveller learning to navigate the world with a new set of wheels. Follow along while I explore new places and discover just how accessible the great big world really is. 

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