Whether you are planning to travel overseas, take a road trip into the country or fly interstate, it pays to be prepared.
We have collected information and advice from reputable websites, health professionals and fellow travellers to provide you with a solid foundation of things to consider for your next adventure.
Review the smarttraveller website before heading to your destination. It provides extensive insight into countries, local areas, and things to consider before you leave and while you are away.
Planning your holiday
Where you are going matters. Most people travelling with CF will be taking medications or may need emergency care. Talk to your CF Clinic team about where and when you plan to go away.
Things to consider
- Is the country you are travelling to knowledgeable about CF?
- Do you know the location of any CF clinics or the nearest hospital?
- Does the country require permits for medication or restrict some medications?
- Do you need a power adaptor for a nebuliser?
- How do you time your medication to deal with the time zone change?
- Have you booked accommodation with air conditioning?
- Do flights regularly depart or are there limitations?
- Be mindful that not all areas of the globe have CF clinics or sophisticated knowledge of CF. As mentioned above, speak to your CF team first.
Air quality can impact your lungs. Be mindful of environmental factors in different regions, such as possible pollution, allergens, dust storms and smoke.
Daily updates on air quality can be found here.
Clean running water to wash, drink and bathe in is preferable. Remote areas with limited access to running water should be avoided.
Remember to always drink from bottled water. Use it to clean your teeth and wash your fruit and vegetables, and avoid having ice blocks in your drinks.
Keep clear of stagnant and unclean water holes and rivers.
People with CF can enjoy most of the same activities as anyone else. There are some activities, however, that should be carefully considered, including:
bungee jumping – changes in pressure in the lungs during a jump can cause pneumothorax (when air leaks into the space between the lungs and chest wall). Pneumothorax can interfere with breathing
scuba diving – changes in pressure in the lungs during a dive can also cause pneumothorax, which can cause a collapsed lung
spas and saunas – it is best to avoid using these as bacteria thrive in warm environments.
If you have questions about whether an activity you are planning while travelling is safe, talk to your CF team.
Find out where the nearest CF specialists in the areas you are travelling. Take a list of their locations with you. Also discuss with your CF team whether you need a referral to one of these clinics, in case you need to seek treatment while travelling.
Talk to your doctor about any vaccinations you may need. Begin this process well in advance of your departure date and carry confirmation of having had them with you.
Some airlines require a medical clearance form to be completed by your specialist before your departure date. They will also need to write out a pharmacy medication list for you to take on board your flight and to keep on your person during your trip.
Others share their travelling experiences
Reciprocal Health Care Agreements
Australia has Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCAs) with a handful of countries. This means they have pre-agreed upon medical treatments and services for Australian citizens to assist them in the case of a medical emergency. Each agreement differs, even in some cases, within the same country (such as the UK), so it’s important to get a good understanding of what could be covered under the agreement.
The Australian Government has RHCAs with the governments of the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Malta, Italy, Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand.
RHCAs are for essential medical treatment only and do not replace the need for travel insurance. This may include an admission for CF if a specialist decides that treatment is required to prevent your condition getting seriously worse and you are too unwell to travel back to Australia.
RHCAs will also not cover the cost of outpatient medications, so it is important to take enough medication to cover the trip and any emergencies. Make sure you talk to your CF clinic about the likelihood of treatment for CF under the RHCA where you are going.
It is important you tell medical staff in the country you are visiting that you want to be treated under the RHCA with Australia.
You will need to provide local authorities with:
- Your Australian passport, or another valid passport, which shows you are a permanent Australian resident.
- A valid Medicare card – if you do not have a valid Medicare card or your card will expire while you are away, visit a DHS Service Centre before you travel overseas for a new card.
For more information on RHCAs, call the Travelling with PBS medicine enquiry line on 1800 500 147.
In 2016, the UK established the Hidden Disabilities program which is now being rolled out in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
Wearing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower discreetly indicates to people around the wearer including staff, colleagues and health professionals that a person may need additional support, help or a little more time. Since the programs launch in 2016, it has now been adopted globally by a number of major airports and venues, and by many supermarkets, railway and coach stations, leisure facilities, and emergency services in the UK.
Pack an extra supply of essential medication into your carry-on luggage, in case your bags are delayed, lost or damaged.
When taking medications out of Australia, follow these simple steps
Talk to your doctor or travel medicine specialist about any medicines or medical devices you are taking with you. This includes over-the-counter and complementary medications. Make sure you only take them for your personal use.
If you or your doctor have any doubts about what you can take to your destination, you should contact the embassy or consulate of the countries you are visiting. Some medications widely available in Australia, like those containing codeine, require permission to bring into other countries. Carry a letter from your doctor detailing any prescription medications you are taking with you.
The letter should include:
- the name of the medication
- how much you are taking
- that it is for your personal use.
The Department of Human Services provides a template letter you can give to your doctor to complete.
Take your medications in the original packaging so they can be easily identified.
Take enough medication for your trip
You should always take enough of your medication for the trip, plus some extra in case of a delay or unexpected circumstances. It can be hard to get replacement medicines overseas for a range of reasons.
Things to consider:
- your prescription may not be valid overseas.
- doctors and other medical professionals may not speak your language.
- your medication may be restricted in other countries.
- your medication may be unavailable, particularly in rural areas and less developed countries.
- many medications have different names, which can make travelling stressful if you become unwell.
If you are going to be away for an extended period of time, you should talk to your doctor about options for accessing medication or medical devices overseas.
Keeping medications cool
Some medications require refrigeration, so this will need to be factored into your planning process. Not all airlines will allow you to store your medications in their refrigerators. As an alternative, take a cooler bag with two ice packs (for long flights). Use one pack to keep the medications cool and ask if they can keep the other ice pack chilled until required. Then swap them over. Another option is to use the FRIO cooling cases.
Customs and medications
Limits on the amount of medication you can take to another country range from one to three months, and potentially not at all. Some countries may cover certain medications but not others, and some may even be over the counter that would require a prescription in Australia.
Remember that some medications prescribed in Australia may be restricted or banned in other countries. Be careful if you need to travel with:
- medications containing codeine
- strong pain relievers prescribed by a pain specialist or hospital
- prescribed medications of addiction
- controlled drugs – ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Check on government websites for information on their border controls. To review the Australian regulations on medications and medical devices when leaving the country, refer to Department of Health Leaving Australia.
Most people with CF, including those with minimal or moderate lung disease, are able to fly without any problems. Others, however, need oxygen on the flight, and some people are not able to fly at all.
Air pressure changes may impact your lungs. This is because air pressure and oxygen concentration at high altitudes are lower than on the ground. This can make it more difficult for people with decreased lung function to breathe and you may require oxygen while you are flying. If you do require oxygen, contact the airline you are flying with or refer to their websites for information relating to ‘medical assistance, special needs or flying with medical conditions’.
- talk to your respiratory specialist – you may need an altitude test.
- plan by reviewing airline policy, flight schedules and available oxygen supply.
- book your ticket and travel insurance.
- send a signed Medical Clearance Form to the airline two weeks prior to your flight.
- organise oxygen unless it is supplied by the airline.
Check with the airline if you may need to take oxygen or use their oxygen before you book your tickets – different airlines and planes have different requirements. Check the fine print!