10 Tips for Traveling with Medication When You Have RA

by Lene Andersen, MSW Patient Advocate

Many of us have an itch to see the world and even if you don’t, you may have to travel anyway. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) goes where you go, so you may need to bring medication to help you stay as healthy as possible on your trip. Here is what you need to know in terms of traveling with medication, especially Biologics, which can be high-maintenance.

Woman discussing medication with her doctor.

Before you leave: preparing your medications part one

Talk to your doctor about how to adjust medication schedules if you have to cross several time zones. Plan to take more medication than you need in case of delays. You should also find out if you can get early refills or if it's possible to refill your prescription at your destination. If your medication makes you sensitive to the sun, stock up on a sunblock with a high SPF.

Beach emergency kit with medical supplies.

Before you leave: preparing your medications part two

Hopefully all will go well on your trip, but it’s a good idea to be extra cautious when you have a chronic illness. Consider asking your doctor for an "emergency travel kit" of medications. This can include antibiotics and a prednisone dose pack in case of infection or an unexpected flare, as well as anti-diarrhea medication. You should also always get travel insurance. Should you get sick or have an accident while away, this can save you a lot of money.

Travel vaccination on a map of Africa.

Before you leave: vaccinations

Traveling to some areas of the world requires certain vaccinations. Make sure you talk to your doctor about whether they may affect your RA. If you are on an immunosuppressant, it’s important to not get a live vaccine and it’s recommended that you don’t get certain vaccinations at all, such as polio and yellow fever. If you’re immunosuppressed and choose to travel to a place where yellow-fever vaccine is usually required, you will need a waiver.

Woman going through an airport security check.

Keep them close

Pack your medication in your carry-on luggage so it will be safe in your hands if your suitcase gets lost. Keep your meds and supplies in a separate transparent bag to make them easier to inspect. You can request visual inspection of your meds instead of an X-ray. They may also be tested for explosives. Bringing medical documentation about your condition or the TSA notification card can make screening easier. If you have questions about the screening, call the Transportation Security Administration via TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227.

Blank prescription.

Carry supporting documents

Keep prescription medication in the original container and make sure the name on the label matches the name on your boarding pass. Ask your doctor for a letter explaining the medications prescribed. If your medication is injectable, the letter should explain that the syringes are required for medical reasons. It's also a good idea to carry letters (on letterhead) with the name, location and contact information of your doctor and your pharmacist should there be questions at checkpoints.

Woman taking pills out of a medicine bag.

Storing medication, part one

Always keep all of your medication in a cool, dry, and dark place. If you are traveling with opioids, you need to make sure that they are stored safely in such a way that others, such as hotel staff, cannot access them. Talk to your doctor about traveling with opioids and whether you need a license. If you take medical marijuana, be aware that it may be illegal in some countries and better left at home. If in doubt, check with your doctor or the embassy of the country you’re traveling to.

Ice packs stored in an insulated bag.

Storing medication, part two

If you're traveling with a biologic that needs to be refrigerated, use a small insulated travel cooler (your medication’s support program may give you one for free). For longer trips, ask the flight attendant for additional ice packs to maintain a cool temperature. If your hotel room does not have a fridge, ask the front desk if it's possible to get a small fridge for the room. Call the support programs for the medication you're on for more information.

Medical mask.

Managing infection risk

If you're concerned about infection risk in the confined space of an airplane, speak to your doctor about what precautions you can take. These may include carrying hand sanitizer and a mask, some of which can be fashionable. If your seatmate looks at you funny, explain that you're on a medication that lowers your immune system and that you're wearing the mask to protect yourself from the germs floating about the cabin.

Health clinic in a foreign country.

Care away from home

If you're away for an extended period of time, speak to your doctor about ensuring continuity of care. Consider contacting the consulate or embassy for the country to which you're traveling and speak to them regarding finding a doctor who can provide you with the prescriptions you need. If you're going to a developing nation, these conversations may be even more important, as there may be challenges in getting the medications you need.

Travel planning on a map.

Planning ahead to save headaches

Traveling with medication requires some extra precautions to make sure that you're safe and will be able to keep your medication with you, but it's worth the effort. Being able to continue to treat your RA will help it stay out of the way so you can enjoy your trip without worries.

Lene  Andersen, MSW
Meet Our Writer
Lene Andersen, MSW

Lene Andersen is an author, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. Lene (pronounced Lena) has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was four years old and uses her experience to help others with chronic illness. She has written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Lene serves on HealthCentral's Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral on Facebook page, facebook.com/rahealthcentral. She is also one of HealthCentral's Live Bold, Live Now heroes — watch her incredible journey of living with RA.