Stepping Out With 'The New You': A Cancer Survivor's Guide to Travel

Patient Expert

Once you’ve been through cancer, you need to embrace a new normal. You probably have physical issues you've never had before; your mental acuity and emotional strength may have been affected, as well. How does all of this affect that long-planned cruise you’re finally going on — or even a simple weekend trip to the city? Exploring someplace unfamiliar — or even a favorite haunt, not recently visited — may come with new and unknown or forgotten challenges to your mobility. Here are five key tips to pack in your mental bag as you head out.

Traveling somewhere you’ve never been

If you’re traveling someplace new, read up on it ahead of time. Going to the Grand Canyon? What’s the path to the edge like? Is it steep, paved, rocky? How about that boat tour of the Wisconsin Dells? Do you sit or stand? Is the boat crowded? How do you board? The internet is a great way to check out your trip, visually, before going. Simply Google your destination, and see what comes up.

Heading to a familiar vacation spot

Think back to last year, and any challenges you faced. Perhaps you put your foot through a rotten board in the wooden dock stretching out into the lake. Or the pavers on the path proved slippery when wet. Or brush has started to obscure the trail through the dunes, making walking tough. In this case, simple awareness is your best prevention.


Air travel is never a pleasure, and with shrinking airplane seats and expanding security lines, it can be a real challenge when you’re recovering from cancer. Here are some tips to make that plane trip a bit less painful:

  • A week before your trip, start a running list of flying must-haves: paper ticket/boarding pass (or know where they are on your smartphone), photo ID, debit/credit card/cash, slip-on shoes, meds, tablet with earphones, phone charger. If you’re suffering from chemo-brain, lists are your best friend.

  • Don’t carry your big carry-on: check it through. Lifting a heavy bag over your head and pulling it through long airport concourses puts you at risk for lymphedema. I know, you hate to spend the extra $25 or $50, but for the sake of your health — check it.

  • Speaking of lymphedema, if you’ve experienced it in the past (even the distant past), wear your elastic sleeve. Because, why not? How you look as you fly is the least of your worries.

  • Cancer has a way of making your emotions raw, and you may be feeling fragile right now. Do everything you can to maintain your inner peace in the face of long lines, rude fellow passengers, and exhaustion. Close your eyes and listen to your breath; stay hydrated; make a “calm” playlist. Arriving at your destination frustrated and in tears isn’t helping you or anyone else.

  • Play the cancer card; it might help. Sometimes telling the gate agent you’re just recovering from chemo earns you a spot in the early boarding group. Or a flight attendant may help you switch seats if you’re squashed between two over-sized fellow passengers.

Taking a cruise

Most of the same tips for air travel apply to ocean or river cruises. In addition, understand that water travel may make you nauseous, even if you’ve never had that issue in the past. Ask your oncologist ahead of time about appropriate drugs; or try anti-nausea wrist bands, which work very well for many people.

Hitting the beach

Fun in the sun requires some preparation when you’re a cancer survivor.

  • If you’ve had chemo or radiation, your skin may be more sensitive than usual; wear a hat that covers your ears, and apply strong sunscreen to every patch of skin that’s exposed. Hang out under a beach umbrella when you can.

  • Sunglasses are a good idea as well; your eyes may still be burning and watering from chemo, and bright sun doesn’t help.

  • You’ve probably lost some strength going through treatment; just because you could swim out to the float last summer doesn’t mean it’s a given now. Find your new limits, and always swim with a buddy.

See more helpful articles:

Tips for Making Travel Less Stressful

Ear Discomfort and Airplane Travel

10 Tips for Better Sleep While Traveling

Fast FAQS: Lymphedema Prevention

Surviving Chemotherapy