Your Lonely Planet may not have a section on travel and IC (intermittent catheterization), but that doesn’t make it any less important. Travel can be a daunting undertaking at the best of times, making it even more intimidating when you add in factors such as disability and specific needs regarding bladder and bowel management. Fortunately, there are a number of things to prepare for in order to set yourself up for success. Below are a few key areas to consider before embarking on your next travel adventure.
What can you wear to simplify the catheterization process when operating in unfamiliar territory. If an accident does happen, are you prepared to deal with it?
- Wear something loose and comfortable if you need to sit for a long time in an uncomfortable and narrow airplane seat. Pants or tight leggings can be tricky to get on and off when it comes time to catheterize.
- Choose something with dark colours in case of leaks.
- Select clothing which is easy to open or change. If you are a woman you might prefer a skirt, which is easier to pull up. While it’s never easy to talk about, accidents happen and a plane is one of the last places that you’d want to be when dealing with them so plan for the worst case scenario so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises that you’re unprepared to deal with.
- Choose clothing with pockets for catheters or keep a bag with supplies close by.
- Choose a hotel with a washing machine or laundry service in case you should need it.
Who are you traveling with and how much personal SCI-related information are you comfortable sharing?
- If you travel with your family, they may know about SCI and some of the complicating factors when it comes to bladder management. That might not be the case if you travel with a friend or colleague. Consider if it is better to tell your traveling companion about your situation – you might need their understanding, flexibility or even help during the trip and generally people want to assist you when possible, they just need some instruction as to how they can best do so. It may be easier to tell them in advance instead of in the middle of a difficult situation.
Food and Drinks
Making appropriate dietary adjustments to combat the physical effects that a change in environment often has on the body can make or break a trip when living with SCI.
- Often a change in environment and routine affects our digestion. Avoid constipation and dehydration, which can worsen your bladder problems. Make sure to drink enough water (avoid too much caffeine and sweet drinks) and try to eat food which is high in fiber, such as green vegetables, berries, and grains.
- If you are not sure about the quality of the drinking water, buy bottled water. We have sensitive stomachs, tap water is convenient, but it’s not worth risking the introduction of foreign bacteria!
- You may also need to be careful with ice, fruits and vegetables, as well as brushing your teeth, depending on where you are traveling. All of these items have the potential to possess that same bacteria that you’d find in the tap water.
Sometimes a wheelchair accessible washroom can be hard to find when traveling, so a good rule to live by is to use them when you find them, and be prepared to improvise when you can’t!
- If you travel by plane, request an aisle seat near the restrooms when you book your flight. Most airlines will have an aisle chair on board, and the flight attendants can assist you in transferring onto it and pushing you into the small airplane washroom.
- Check out all the places you want to visit — restaurants, shops, theaters, museums or landmarks — to see if they have restrooms. This may be especially useful if you need one that is wheelchair accessible. You can find them on the internet or give them a call if you are in doubt.
- Also check if it is common to pay a fee for using restrooms and make sure to have small change in local currency on you.
- Learn the word for “restroom” in the local language. Make sure you can pronounce it correctly, or carry a piece of paper with the word written on it. You can also use the WheelMate app for smartphones to locate the nearest public restroom.
- If you have a disability, it might be possible to get a card you can show at restaurants, shops or other businesses if you urgently need to use their restrooms without being a customer. This can be helpful for you when there are no public restrooms near you. Ask your healthcare provider or your local association about it.
Living with SCI can be unpredictable at times, but the best way to eliminate unforeseen circumstances is to make a schedule and stick to it.
- Plan your visits to the bathroom. If you travel by airplane, catheterize as close to boarding as possible. Plan all other bathroom visits during your stay allowing time before or after an event. Set a watch or phone alarm, if you worry that you might forget when it is time.
The security process is a little different for individuals that use a wheelchair. We can’t wheel through their detectors, so we typically have to have a full pat down. This process does not need to be complicated or embarrassing, the agent performing the pat down will ask if you have any sore or sensitive areas, or medical equipment – this is your opportunity to discreetly disclose any sort of devices or incontinence pads that they might feel when performing the search.
- Show a travel certificate or a letter from your healthcare provider that documents your medical requirements.
- Ask for a private screening by the security staff if you feel uncomfortable having a pat down performed in public.
- You can download a travel certificate here.
Be prepared. This is the simplest way to avoid embarrassing situations when living with SCI. When it comes to bladder management, that means having all of the necessary medical equipment, as well as any additional supplies you might need should unforeseen circumstances arise.
- Pack a small bag with all the things you need for catheterization or in case you have an “accident”.
Have your own catheter travel tips? Share them with us in the comment section below!
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Note: Content sponsored by Coloplast. These are general guidelines meant to help you with typical questions. You should follow the specific instructions provided by your healthcare provider and the intermittent catheterization solution you are using.