Great Adventures: Traveling with Medical Conditions

For people living with special medical needs traveling can be challenging, but with lots of thoughtful planning, the globe can be your playground.  Here are some travel tips to help make your trip a success.

Traveling with Extra Meds and Supplies

The first step in planning your trip is to make sure you have enough medications and supplies to last the duration of your stay.

This entails coordinating with your doctor to obtain a letter of medical necessity to ensure your insurance provider authorizes you to fill your prescriptions as well as purchase medical devices ahead of time.

The process of obtaining an adequate supply of medications and supplies can be time consuming, plan to contact your doctor and your insurance provider at least one to two months prior to your travel date.

“The most important thing patients need to know is that they need to start this process early,” said Dr. John Sinnott of the USF Health Department of Internal Medicine. “We are here to serve our patient’s needs and to help them facilitate the planning process for healthy, safe travel experience.”

For durable medical supplies such as a diabetes pump, contact your pump supplier or vendor for a backup pump, most companies will work with you for a fee.

Security Stress

Be sure to pack enough patience, and perseverance as it may take more time to go through airport security.

Plan to spend extra time going through security, and know what to expect:

  • Before going through security screening, it’s best to inform the security officer of any special medical needs. For example, if you are wearing a medical device such as an insulin pump and prefer not to go through the body scanner, you can ask the officer for a pat down.
  • Let the security agent know that your bag contains your medications or devices, as you are more likely to be detained during the procedure.
  • Coolers with ice carrying medications are subject to screening.
  • Be prepared to have your medical items and hands swabbed for explosives.
Packing it Up

If traveling with a substantial amount of supplies, and medications, some countries may require a letter of necessity or a medical certificate from your doctor to explain that these are  your medical supplies, and not illicit drugs or devices.

  • If traveling abroad carry a letter from your doctor in the language of your host country.
  • Pack treatment instructions about your medical condition in case of an emergency and include an emergency contact.
  • Remember to pack the prescription labels if you are consolidating your medications and supplies into containers.
  • Never pack your medications and supplies in checked luggage. If your checked bags are lost or stolen or a connecting flight is missed, replacing medications and supplies could put your health at risk.
  • Small coolers with ice or ice pouches for medications are allowed on the planes and most carriers do not count them as your carry on.
  • Certain medications can be affected by pressure and temperatures. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist on best practices when traveling with medications and devices.

“It is critical to maintain certain medications within stated temperature ranges to maintain their effectiveness. For example, insulin is sensitive to changes in temperature and should be carried with the passenger, avoiding likely temperature extremes seen in cargo holds,” said Dr. Henry Rodriguez of the Diabetes and Endocrinology Center at USF Health.

Wheelchairs and Portable Oxygen Devices

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation wheelchairs take precedence over baggage in the flight’s storage compartments.

If wheelchairs are accompanied with a battery pack, the pack must be packaged in hazardous waste packaging.  Speak with your airline personnel as they will usually provide the packing materials at no charge.

Passengers in need of storage space for medical devices take priority in the plane’s storage areas.

Portable oxygen and oxygen concentrators are allowed on flights as long as the devices are FAA approved.

Enough Travel Insurance
  • Generally, if traveling in the United States, your insurance provider will cover emergency medicine, but always check your insurance coverage before travel.
  • When traveling abroad check with your host country to see if additional insurance coverage needs to be purchased.
  • As a student traveling abroad check with your college or institution to verify if additional insurance coverage is needed for an extended stay.
Accommodations for Service Animals

When traveling with your service animal, it’s important to notify airport personnel, as your service dog/animal will need to go through the screening process. You may be asked to show a notification card.

If traveling to a country outside the United States, it is best to research their guidelines for service animals.  The laws in the United States do not apply overseas.

For more information regarding health and travel visit the, Centers for Disease Control.

To book an appointment at USF Health call 813 974-2201, or to reach Pharmacy Plus call 813 974-0133


USF Health Making Life Better


Written by Ercilia Colón

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