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How to Safely Travel After a Cancer Diagnosis

Living Well

May 15, 2024

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Photography by KARRASTOCK/Stocksy United

Photography by KARRASTOCK/Stocksy United

by Beth Ann Mayer


Medically Reviewed by:

Teresa Hagan Thomas PHD, BA, RN


by Beth Ann Mayer


Medically Reviewed by:

Teresa Hagan Thomas PHD, BA, RN


A cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean you can’t travel. Shared decision-making, careful planning, and being aware of local emergency medical care facilities can help make travel safe.

A cancer diagnosis can come with a whole new rule book and lifestyle, from additional trips to the doctor to managing symptoms and medications.

Traveling may be the last — or first — thing on your mind. You may want to get away or feel too exhausted to think about it right now.

Regardless of your position, it’s a good idea to have a working knowledge of how to travel safely during cancer treatment. Read on to learn more.

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Is it safe to travel with cancer?

“We want to keep life for [people with cancer] as normal as possible,” says Alexis ​Contessa, OCN, a clinical nurse with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “That includes seeing friends and family, maintaining those relationships while undergoing treatment, and celebrating important milestones.”

The goal is to empower people to weigh the risks and benefits of a vacation. Sometimes, the former will outweigh the latter.

Like so many aspects of life with cancer, the answer is that “it depends.”

“It is usually safe to travel,” says Rebecca Crane-Okada, AOCN, an advanced oncology certified nurse. However, she notes there are factors to consider.

These include:

  • the destination
  • availability of medical help at the destination
  • distance, means, and duration of travel
  • specifics of diagnosis
  • the types of treatments being received
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Timing your travel during treatment

Is there a best time to travel with cancer? What about a not-so-safe time? Once again, the answer is “it depends.”

“Your body usually has strength and a recovered immune system the week before your next treatment,” says Jessica Trevino Jones, MD, a breast oncologist.

On the flip side, traveling right after therapy isn’t always the safest idea.

“Some therapies decrease your immune system, and the first week is usually the least safe to travel,” Jones says.

Crane-Okada agrees that the best time to travel is often right before the next round of chemotherapy. However, that will not be the case for every person.

“Some treatments may be given weekly, and it’s less clear when one can or should travel,” Crane-Okada says. “It would also not be wise to travel soon after starting a new medication when you don’t know how it may affect you. Recovering from surgery might place additional restrictions on movement but not delay travel.”

Considering your travel location

Where to? A far-flung Caribbean locale? Your childhood bedroom? Your destination may factor into your healthcare professional’s advice.

You can do some legwork and research before speaking with your doctor to help you decide together whether a specific location is safe for your current condition.

Things to keep in mind include:

  • access to and cost of medical care at your destination
  • current infectious disease outbreaks at your destination
  • how crowded your destination will be
  • whether you’ll have access to needed medications
  • whether you’ll have access to foods that agree with your digestive system

“Check travel destination areas for infectious disease outbreaks and any travel restrictions for entering or leaving the area,” Crane-Okada says. “Plan ahead and avoid areas of higher risk.”

Contessa suggests checking the CDC website for up-to-date recommendations.

“Typically, vacation sites will report the incidence of infections like COVID-19,” Contessa says. “If you’re immunocompromised, avoid places that put you at high risk, like a crowded mall or a sold-out concert arena. You should never feel ashamed to protect yourself with a mask, either.”

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Questions to ask your healthcare team

Asking specific questions can help you determine the best route for your travel plans.

Am I immunocompromised?

Understanding how your cancer treatment affects your immune system is especially beneficial when trip-planning.

“Not every cancer treatment will put your immune system at risk,” Contessa says. “It’s important to know your personal immune status so you can take the proper precautions.”

Is it safe for me to go on these dates? If you don’t think so, what timeframe do you suggest for this trip?

While the week before your next round of treatment is often recommended, the guidance is ultimately person-specific — even season-specific.

“For some, there may not be a good time to travel, but there may be a time that poses the least amount of risk,” Contessa says. “Sometimes, it depends on the season as well. For instance, the cold-weather months pose a bigger risk as cases of influenza and other viral infections increase from September to May. The idea of safety can be variable.”

Will I need vaccines before travel?

Your destination and immune status may play a role in this answer.

“Certain countries have higher risks for diseases that you may need extra protection for,” Contessa says. People “on treatments such as monoclonal antibodies (mABs) will not have great responses to vaccines and will be at higher risk.”

What if I have an emergency?

Crane-Okada suggests asking your doctor whether or not you should call them first.

“Your provider may prefer you ask them if something concerns you that you don’t understand so as to best guide you,” she says.

Contessa stresses the importance of knowing where your resources are located.

“You should call your oncologist’s office to make them aware of the situation, but you may not always be able to rely on them to help while traveling. Easy access to medical care may be one of your deciding factors when figuring out where to travel,” she says.

Is there a specific type of transportation that’s safest?

Depending on your situation, a healthcare professional may recommend driving rather than flying.

“If your cancer or cancer treatment deems you at high risk for blood clots or infections, that may be a factor in deciding how you travel and the length of time it takes to get there,” Contessa says. “It’s important to see if there are any precautions or recommendations for your specific mode of transportation.”

How to prepare for your trip

After getting the green light from your doctor, you’ll want to make an itinerary and packing list — and check them twice.

Get organized

Keep note of:

  • planned activities and locations
  • travel schedules and documents
  • leaving time for rest, regular meals, and hydration

You may want to bring a binder or clear plastic folder to keep everything organized.

Keep travel companions informed

There are also some logistics to consider to help you stay safe, well, and able to access care if you need it.

“The people you are traveling with should be aware of what to do for you in case of an emergency,” Contessa says. “Those around you should know how to help in case you aren’t able to tell them. Friends and family should know where you are going (dates/arrival times/location) just for your general safety.”

You can plan ahead and take preventive measures in case of unforeseen medical needs.

To do so:

  • Contact the airline, ship, or train to plan for any necessary assistance when you arrive.
  • Prepare a list of medications, allergies, diagnoses, your healthcare team’s names and contact information, and an emergency contact.
  • Call your insurance to see how they manage claims for care outside of the U.S.
  • Record contact information for healthcare facilities at your destination(s).
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What to pack for your trip

As for packing, keep emergency and regular medications on hand. It’s best to keep them in your carry-on for easy access.

“Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes are always good to have on hand,” Contessa adds. “If you’re at higher risk or are on active treatment, a mask would also be a consideration.”

Other things to bring include:

  • comfortable shoes
  • sunscreen
  • protective sun hat
  • layers for changing weather or hormonal patterns
  • special lotions, creams, and gels you have been advised to use
  • reusable water bottle
  • journal (optional)

Remember, specialty items may be difficult to find at your destination. It’s OK to be on the safe side and pack it anyway.

How to adjust when you arrive at your destination

Staying safe is part of enjoying yourself once you’re at your destination. One of the best ways to keep healthy is through hygiene practices.

“Washing your hands well is the number one way to prevent infections, whether you have cancer or are on active treatment,” Contessa says.

If a medical emergency arises, use the contact list you created during pre-trip planning.

“If you’re traveling within the United States, urgent care centers or emergency rooms are the safest locations to go to if you feel unwell,” Jones says. ”If you’re traveling outside of the United States, hospitals within the region often have staff that speak English [if you need] and training to manage the side effects of cancer therapy.”

Safety tips aside, Crane-Okada wants people with cancer to give themselves permission to have a fun and relaxing vacation.

Some tips include:

  • keep a travel or reflection journal
  • eat regularly and hydrate throughout the day
  • allow yourself time to rest, including built-in time to adjust to jetlag and take naps
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How to adjust when you get back home

After your trip, try to tune into your body.

“Be sure to tell your doctor of your travel before your next treatment and any new symptoms such as cough, rash, diarrhea, or fever,” Jones says.

Crane-Okada suggests leaving some time to transition back to life at home and take stock of your recent journey.

“Allow yourself time to re-integrate,” she suggests. “Reflect on the experience.”

If you’re feeling inspired, you may want to take Crane-Okada’s advice.

“Plan your next trip,” she says.


People with cancer can generally travel. However, “how,” “when,” and “where” may affect your healthcare team’s guidance.

For instance, the week before chemotherapy is often the safest time to travel. However, people receiving weekly therapies may require more nuanced advice.

Ultimately, the choice to travel is personal and is best made using shared, informed decision-making with a care team.

Medically reviewed on May 15, 2024

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About the author

Beth Ann Mayer

Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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