Incontinence, airplanes and buses are not the friendliest of traveling companions, but worrying about managing your bladder while traveling should not limit where you go. Depending on the country you’re going to—and on how you’re getting there—you may have an easier or harder time. But with a bit of planning and this handy travel advice, you can avoid uncomfortable situations to make the most of your trips.
If you’re unfamiliar with the catheter types and vendors at your destination, or are taking an extended getaway, you can call your catheter dealer in advance and order supplies to be delivered to your destination address.
Ask your doctor or nurse for relevant medical contacts at your destination.
Nervous about traveling to an unknown place? Knowing who to contact for medical issues can help put your mind at ease and help you bypass those “lost in translation” moments in case of a medical situation or emergency. You can also find out ahead of time whether your medications exist under different names abroad.
Get a doctor’s note.
A couple of weeks before an international trip, ask your doctor for a written statement indicating you will be traveling with medical supplies, to avoid problems with customs. Although many of us will never have issues at the customs gate, it’s always good to play it safe. And, remember to keep your medications in their original bottles.
Carry a copy of your prescription and your doctor’s phone number.
In case you have any questions while in transit or abroad, having this information easily accessible can be a great help to you and your travel companion, as well as to foreign pharmacists.
Get to the airport or station with time to spare.
You’ll likely be first to board and the last to get off the plane or bus, so you’ll want to get to the airport or station early enough to use the bathroom before boarding. (If you have previous plane or bus travel experience, you’ll know those miniscule bathrooms are not exactly your friend).
Catheterize before boarding.
This is always easier, but if you need to cath mid-flight, aisle chairs are provided aboard longer hauls. Many newer and refurbished wide-body jets (the ones with two aisles) have an accessible toilet large enough to fit the aisle chair inside, making it possible for you to transfer. Try to confirm ahead of time that your plane will carry an aisle chair. Although flights over a couple of hours are mandated by law to carry aisle chairs, mentioning the chair while checking in can help flight crew ensure it’s on board.
Need to cath on board?
If you can’t access the airplane bathroom, the flight crew are there to support you and can provide you with privacy—either a curtain or blanket—to perform a catheter exchange in your seat. If you can manage the transfer, think about requesting a window seat at check in. This will prevent people from crawling over you every time they need to stretch their legs, chase their runaway toddlers, or use the washroom themselves. (And, the wall of the plane provides a nice point of balance to lean against.) However, privacy can and will be provided to you in any seat.
Try a different type of catheter.
If you’re flying a long distance, think about using a catheter that includes a bag, or ask your doctor or supplier about an indwelling catheter. These days, catheters come in all shapes and sizes. Those with bags can be very handy for travelling in places where you can’t find an accessible or sterile washroom. Coloplast offers a great program that allows you to try out different types.
Consider a layover.
If you’re traveling a long distance and absolutely need to use the airport restroom, you may want to schedule a stop that allows you to get off the plane. Remember, transfers can be quite cumbersome, especially if you have several bags, or are required to re-check luggage. Make sure you leave yourself enough time between flights—you’ll be the last one to get off of the plane which can use up a lot of layover time.
Do the math: always try to take enough catheters, necessary supplies and extra medications.
(And, for the sake of sterilization and nosy customs officers, try to leave these in their original packaging.) We’ve heard horror stories of depleted catheter supplies and a complete lack of pharmacies. Not changing your catheter for days, although an epic travel tale, can actually be very dangerous. It’s better to take a few extras than be caught short.
Find the contact information for a catheter supplier at your destination.
If you plan to be away for a long time or if (surprise, surprise) your baggage is arriving later than you are, a local catheter dealer can be a literal lifesaver. A number of suppliers can also FedEx a catheter supply directly to your hotel.
Keep a three-day catheter supply in your carry on—on the way there and on the way home.
In case your bags get lost, or just temporarily misplaced, you’ll be happy to have catheters on-hand while you make other arrangements. The same goes for your return flight. It may seem unnecessary as you probably have an extra stock at home. But on the rare occasion you miss a connection and are stuck, sometimes overnight, without your checked baggage, you’ll thank yourself for packing the extra stock.
Remember, flights are dehydrating. Even though going to the washroom can be a pain, and drinking anything may seem counter-intuitive, it’s important to say yes to that glass of water when it comes around.
Stick to your bladder and bowel routines.
When traveling long distances or to new places, keeping things regular will help you stay healthy and prevent any unexpected mid-trip surprises. Drinking water will also help to keep you regular.
Ask around before you go.
Often, the best advice on how to travel with catheters, and where to get them in a specific city or country, comes from Peers who have been there themselves. Contact your local SCI BC Peer Coordinator to see if they know someone with specific tips, or post your questions on our Spinal Cord Injury BC Facebook page. You can also reference our Accessible Travel guide and videos online. Still stumped? Our toll-free Infoline can offer contact numbers and tips to help alleviate any concerns before your big getaway.
Catheters can be expensive but you may be eligible for coverage. If you are not already covered, Coloplast can help.