I recently went on a trip to Alaska via cruise ship. Not only was it the first cruise I have ever been on, it happened after blood clots in my leg and lung several years ago. For people with clots, or people who are taking anticoagulants – also known as blood thinners – there are often special considerations to to consider when planning a vacation. These include things like travel arrangements, medication management, food (for some blood thinners), and access to emergency medical care. If you’re considering cruising after clots, here is everything you need to know to have a safe and wonderful trip.
It takes a lot of physical and emotional energy for me to plan a big vacation, and I spent several weeks getting ready to go. I researched a lot about cruising, talked to friends and family who have gone on trips, and called the cruise line with a myriad of questions on multiple occasions (that’s okay, they are prepared to answer your questions). I noticed that a lot of information about cruising with disabilities does exist, and while I don’t consider myself disabled, I do have special medical considerations that other people may not have. Despite this information being readily available, I still wasn’t sure what to expect, or how it would go, so I am sharing my experiences specifically to help people who have had a blood clot, or who take anticoagulants, plan and enjoy a cruise – because you can.
For me, cruising was an unusual kind of vacation, and one that I was not sure I would enjoy. I was nervous – definitely – because I felt like I would be far removed from medical care or supplies, if needed. In addition to that, Alaska feels really far away – and it is. It is also not easy get to from where I live in the Midwest (it was a full day of travel on the way there, and over a day of travel on the way back). Other thoughts plagued me too: What if there were no vegetables on board or what if they didn’t have vegetarian options for lunch? What if I got seasick? What if I just got sick?
Still, I couldn’t resist the call of such a wild, inviting, beautiful place. I have always longed to visit Alaska, so when the opportunity arose, I committed to going. The cruise I was on went from Vancouver (Canada) to Anchorage along Alaska’s Inside Passage, which is a popular coastal route for ships and boats along a network of waterways which weave through the islands on the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. It is home to Glacier Bay and an abundance of wildlife, marine life, waterfalls, and native plants. If you’re worried about being “at sea” for too long without access to shore – medical care, emergency care, pharmacies, or just solid ground – consider booking a cruise that is shorter and has daily (or near daily) ports. I felt infinitely better with this itinerary for my first cruise, rather than spending multiple days at sea.
Traveling after blood clots can take some planning, and perhaps even some slight modifications, but you can do it. If you want to go cruising after clots, here are my tips to help you prepare.
Cruising After Clots: What You Need to Know
- Talk with your doctor. First, make sure it is recommended for you to travel, and travel via cruise ship. If you know it is okay with your doctor that you travel, and you are still nervous, make an appointment prior to your trip to discuss your concerns and what you can do about them.
- If you take warfarin, make sure your INR is in range. I usually get my INR checked a few days before I leave, in case adjustments have to be made.
- Refill your prescriptions and get a print-out of your medications from your pharmacist. There is nothing more troubling than being on vacation and having to find a pharmacy to refill medications you already take daily. While you are refilling your scripts, ask your pharmacist to print out a list of your current medications to take with you.
- Know where you are going. If you are worried about needing access to medical care or a pharmacy while you are gone, do a little bit of research to find out what ports/cities will have these facilities available to you.
- Prepare your Passport and travel documents. If you’re traveling through countries, have your Passport updated and ready to go. If you prefer, print flight tickets the night before. Also, print out your flight and ship itineraries, along with important phone numbers, and take them with you in your carry-on in case you need to make last minute changes.
- Consider insurance and trip protection. If you would be in a serious accident and need to be evacuated from the ship or a rural area, it will be very expensive. Consider an affordable medical evaluation plan like MedJet Assist. Also, if you have the option to purchase trip protection in the event that you need to cancel your cruise due to injury or illness, it might be a wise investment.
- Pack your medications (anticoagulants and others) to take with you on your person for the trip. Do not put your medications in your checked luggage – either at the airport or while using the ship’s luggage service. I found myself separated from my luggage on several occasions throughout the trip, but I carried all of my medication – for the whole trip – in my carry-on bag, which I kept with me at all times. The only time I did not take my medication with me in my carry-on bag was when we left the ship for daily excursions, then I left my medication in my room.
- Dress for your destination and dress in layers. Be comfortable and take clothes that you would normally wear. For example, consider packing jeans/shorts, tops/shirts, a dress (or nice slacks and top/dress shirt) for formal nights (if you are participating – you do not have to); sweaters or sweatshirts, jacket, rain jacket/poncho/umbrella, scarf or wrap, swimsuit, sunscreen, toiletries, comfortable shoes for walking, shoes for relaxing (slippers, sandals), socks, special wear for any excursions you will be taking (hiking boots, insect spray, etc.).
- Bring or buy a reusable water bottle. I buy a liter of water once I am through airport security (save the bottle). You can drink the water from the ship, so I refilled my water bottle that I bought at the airport each time I left the ship. Be prepared to spend between $2-$4 per bottle on board if you want to buy bottled water to carry with you.
- Bring a backpack or hands-free bag with you. It can double as your carry-on and daily excursion/tour pack.
- Portable cell phone charger. I like being able to call or use my cell phone at any time and never want to be caught in an emergency situation with a dead cell phone. You can order my favorite portable charger, and other favorite travel accessories, here.
- Over-the-counter bleeding products. Bandages and sponges to control or stop bleeding are a part of my travel gear, no matter where I go. While they are not a substitute for professional medical care, they can help with minor injuries, or in controlling bleeding until you are able to access professional medical care. You can view and purchase the products that I use and recommend here.
- Take time (zones) into consideration. Depending on where you are going, you may need to adjust the time of day/night you take your medication. Ask your doctor about this ahead of time, and make a schedule to do so, if needed. I chose to take my medications at the same time I do at home, so I set an alarm to remind me due to the time difference in Alaska (it is four hours behind my home time zone).
- Pack the prescription bottles. I took my prescriptions in the original bottles and took my pill case with me too. Once I was onboard, I filled my pill box as I normally do.
- Be mindful how changes may impact your medication. I take warfarin, so a lot of things can interfere with my medication (food, alcohol, other medications, hydration, etc.). If you take warfarin too, be mindful of what can raise or lower your INR and avoid those changes, or talk to your doctor about how to best manage them. There is more information below about food and alcohol on cruise ships.
- If you take warfarin, don’t panic about the food. I was worried about how my diet may be impacted on a cruise, since I take warfarin. I had access (daily) to the foods I normally eat (vegetables and vegetarian options included) through the cafeteria dining option. I also had a lot of extra options too. My encouragement to you is to eat as you normally would, and also try a few new things if you are so inclined. I tried escargot (it was salty) and Baked Alaska for desert (not a fan).
- Know your limits with alcohol. It can be really easy to eat – and drink – a lot on cruise ships. I do not drink a lot of alcohol, so I did not purchase a package for alcoholic beverages. I did enjoy an Irish Coffee on the deck in Glacier Bay, which I knew I could handle without difficulty. Alcohol can interfere with blood thinners, so know your tolerance.
- Consistency is key. With warfarin, and some other medications, it is important to be as consistent as possible in your food and drink choices. I didn’t find it difficult to be consistent on the cruise due to the wide variety of food that was available to me.
- Take your own hand sanitizer. Ask anyone who knows me personally, and they will tell you it is not a secret that I don’t like germs. I was pleased t learn that the ship’s crew does not like germs either. Hand washing and sanitizer stations were readily available. I also brought my own – just in case.
- Visit the on board infirmary/hospital upon your arrival. It is a good idea to know where it is in relation to your room, just in case you need it. You can also check the ship’s website ahead of time to see what kind of services they offer there (most are staffed with a physician to do basic medical care or to address emergencies until you can get to shore). Doing that gave me a lot of comfort and peace of mind.
- Be prepared for sea sickness. I knew I was sensitive to motion, but I did not know if the ship would bother me. It did, and I was sick numerous times throughout. I wore SeaBands, which are non-medicine bands to help with motion sickness. They did help. You can view and purchase the ones I used here. If you aren’t sure what will work for you, talk to your doctor ahead of time about your options (bands, patches, medication). If you don’t know if you get seasick, be prepared and take something with you, just in case.
- Know what to do in the event of an emergency. The cruise line/ship will help you with this on your first day. I was surprised to learn that cruise ships take safety very seriously and prepares you for any type of disaster that may occur by requiring you to attend a safety session (called muster) where you learn about life vests and boats, sanitation, the hospital/infirmary, evacuation, fire, etc. If you’re worried about being “at sea,” you can take a cruise that hugs the coast (like I did) or that has minimal days at sea without visiting a port.
- Do what you are comfortable with – and have fun. I did participate in several shore excursions in Alaska, within my comfort zone (whale watching, boat tour of the Fjords, and a wildlife hike). Shore trips and excursions range from very easy to very extreme. Do what you are most comfortable with, and if you choose to participate in extreme activities, follow all safety precautions that are given to you.
- If you take warfarin, make sure your INR is in range. I usually get my INR checked a day or two after I return home from a vacation.
- Plan a day or two of rest. Traveling after the cruise was long and stressful – more so than other vacations I have been on – and I was very tired when I returned home. I think this is because the flight or drive is traveling, then the cruise is traveling, so it can feel like a lot of going and no stopping to decompress. I had to get back into the routine of what I do, eat, drink, etc. I was also very seasick when I arrived home (more so than when I was on the ship). If you can, build a day or more of rest into the end of your vacation (either at your final port or at home) to get yourself back on track and rest.
I don’t want anyone to be afraid to travel after blood clots. If I can share any resources to help you get out and do the things you have dreamed about, that is what I am going to do. With that in mind, here are my gifts to you:
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,
Reader Writes In: Have you been on a cruise? Have you been cruising after clots? Where did you go? What are your top travel tips for cruising?Share in the comments below.
- My Travel and Blood Clots Resources
- I can’t do that on blood thinners… can I?
- How to enjoy travel after blood clots
- How to make flying with disabilities less stressful
- Join the BCRN Private Discussion Group on Facebook for more travel information