Preparing for Travel With Lymphedema

Vatican, Rome Italy

I count myself fortunate to be able to travel with my husband and friends. Now that I have lymphedema in my left arm due to breast cancer treatment I have to take some extra time and considerations when preparing for travel.

I do make sure my compression garments are up to date. This means that if my garments are almost six months old, it is time to make an appointment for a fitting for new sleeves. Garments loose their effectiveness around six months. Compression loss is due to wear and break down of materials in the fabric. I do consider color in the choice of my garments. One of our recent trips was rafting down the Colorado River for a week so I chose black to minimize the appearance of dirt. I actually liked the look of black so much that I will start ordering more black sleeves!

My Jovi Pak night garment is washed right before the trip since it may not be handy to launder it while on a trip. Even though I have the slim line version of Jovi Pak it still takes up a fair amount of room in my suitcase. Putting it in one of those compression packing bags can reduce it to a manageable size. Recently I made a purchase of a Jobst Relax garment because of its relative petite size and breathability. I use it for travel and hot nights when at home. The drawback is that it does not have finger compression so I wear an old compression glove underneath to prevent finger swelling in the morning.

I like to schedule an appointment with my therapist for manual lymphatic drainage right before my trip. It feels good to get my arm in optimal condition for upcoming situations that are stressful such as air travel. It’s also an opportune time to talk with my therapist about any concerns I may have and for her to provide information about care of my arm during travel.

I also make sure my antibiotics are current. Short trips or long I take along a bottle of antibiotics just in case I develop cellulitis. Insect repellent goes in my suitcase. One never knows when you may encounter biting bugs. Sunscreen is a must too. Though I’m rarely out of my sleeve I like to put on sunscreen on those occasions my arm is naked. A sunburn can aggregate lymphedema. This seems like a good time to inject an experience for “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  I swam in the Mediterranean without my sleeve (I did have on sunscreen).  As I was swimming I noted beautiful tiny jellyfish floating around me. Fortunately, I did not get stung but my husband and a friend did. I shudder to think what could have happened to my left arm if I got stung! My sleeve may not have protected me completely but I’m sure it would’ve helped.

To keep my garments clean I pack a small bottle of mild detergent. In the evenings I wash out my sleeves and gloves in the sink, roll them in a dry towel and hang them to dry. Some friends inspired me to bring along some string and small clothes pins for drying clothes though I just found out there are traveling clothes line where you do not need pins . By mornings my garments and I are ready to go!

I do travel lightly and use a rolling suitcase. On most trips, even ones in Europe for three weeks, I get by with a carry-on. I don’t want to carry heavy luggage and promote swelling in my left arm. With or without lymphedema, it is so freeing to travel with just one suitcase. Rick Steves and other travel sites can give you valuable information on traveling lightly.

I do have a new consideration when traveling. I now own a pneumatic compression pump. I did take it on an airline trip to California. It packed easily in a carry-on suitcase. My travel friend had an extra complementary check-in so I checked in my other carry-on size suitcase and carried on my pump. Because of cost, need, and fear of breakage, I always want to keep my pump  with me. In September I am traveling out of country. TSA regulations allow medical devices to be carried on in addition to regular carry-on. Because I don’t want any snafus when I’m traveling, I will contact TSA and my airline prior to my trip to make sure this is the situation.  Also on my list is to purchase a plug adaptor.

The packing is just a start to traveling. There is tons of information on the web regarding traveling with lymphedema. The following are sites that I thought contained valuable information for packing and traveling:

This is a UK site but it still has lots of pertinent information.

An article by Joachim Zuther, Lymphedema Specialist.


Wishing you happy travels!

Karen Gillespie

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