Travel and Dialysis

Summer naturally seems to be a time to think about vacationing and traveling. However, many people who have recently received a kidney failure diagnosis are hesitant about it. Perhaps they are concerned about venturing away from their home dialysis center, or maybe they simply believe that there are very few travel opportunities for people with their condition. In this three-part series, experienced travelers share their expertise and offer some travel advice for people on dialysis.

Part One: What Are the Options Part Two: Planning Your Vacation Part Three: Last Minute Tips

Part One: What Are the Options

Many people who receive a kidney failure diagnosis assume that vacation and travel will be impossible for them because of their dialysis treatments. Thankfully, that simply isn’t so. In fact, it’s possible to visit exotic and faraway countries, go on a cruise, take a road trip to see family and friends, or choose almost any other travel option that was available prior to the diagnosis. It just takes a bit of planning. The first step is to check with your doctor to make sure you are in stable health. Then you can proceed to make the necessary arrangements.

The key to traveling safely while on dialysis is to plan well in advance of your trip.

Travelling on Peritoneal Dialysis
Travelling on peritoneal dialysis is relatively easy. That’s one of the convenient things about this form of dialysis. Exchanges can be performed almost anywhere that is clean.

Cruise traveler Mike

Travelling on Hemodialysis
Although there are more hemodialysis units available for visitors to virtually every popular tourist destination worldwide than ever before, most units run on tight schedules with limited space. To ensure you get on their schedule, make your arrangements four to six months ahead. Try to plan your vacation around the fewest number of dialysis units as possible so the arrangements will be easier to make. Your home dialysis unit may be provide some advice about making booking your dialysis appointments while away, but it’s up to you to actually make them.

With experience comes confidence. Eve, a seasoned traveler who has been dialyzing for two years, puts it this way:

“In order to travel, I opted for home hemodialysis a year ago. This forced me to acquire more knowledge and to get out of my comfort zone, but now I am completely autonomous. This gives me far greater confidence while traveling, because I have all the necessary knowledge to do my own treatments.”

Cruises Vacations
A few companies offer cruises especially for people on hemodialysis. They have fully equipped hemodialysis units on board, staffed with qualified medical and nursing personnel. Even though these cruises are usually expensive, they offer a unique chance to travel. The point of departure is usually an American city, although many Alaskan cruises leave from Vancouver. Cruises are also available in the Mediterranean, Baltic Sea, Southeast Asia and other areas.

Mike is an avid cruise vacation enthusiast who has been on 23 cruises so far and is who currently preparing his fourth since beginning dialysis. He notes that it’s also possible to schedule your treatments while visiting ports-of-call, assuming they are frequent enough to meet you dialysis needs. “I’ve looked at dialysis at sea and it seems very interesting,” says Mike, “but I prefer to do dialysis at the ports-of-call. This way I get to get off the ship and do a little sight-seeing, even if it's in the taxi to and from the hospitals.”

With a clear picture of where you want to go and what you want to do on your next trip, you’re now ready to start planning it. Read Part Two of our Travel & Dialysis – Tips from Fellow Travelers series for some useful advice on preparing for your vacation.

Part Two: Planning Your Vacation

In part one of this series, we pointed out that just about any vacation or travel option is available to people who require dialysis treatments, all it takes is a bit of careful planning.

World traveler Eve
World traveler Eve

Start Planning Early
Scheduling your dialysis appointments is very important. In order to avoid any unpleasant surprises, it’s best to start making your dialysis appointments as far ahead of time as possible. “I start preparing about 3 to 4 months beforehand,” says cruise aficionado Mike. “This is what I've always done even before becoming a dialysis patient.” The caveat, however, is that you may need to devote more time to the planning process.

Finding Dialysis Units at Your Destination
Mike, also recommends taking the time to research carefully. “I extensively use the internet to find hospitals with a hemodialysis unit. I call them and have a pleasant chat with the nurse in charge. In some provinces I have to contact the health authority instead and then write a nice letter or fax requesting treatment and specifying the date and times I will be in a particular city.”

For Canadian destinations, travelers can get a directory of dialysis centers that accept visitors online at Local renal units and Kidney Foundation offices can also provide directories listing hemodialysis units virtually anywhere you want to go around the world.

Reflecting on how she prepared for her last trip abroad, experienced international traveler Eve says she did some considerable research online, on sites like, and “I contacted centers by email. Be patient because the replies can take a long time to come.”

She admits that at first, she was a bit reticent about visiting unfamiliar dialysis centres. “It’s very important to me that the hemodialysis machines and methods used are as hygienic as they are here,” she continues. “However, I’m increasingly reassured. I believe that the majority of methods are similar all over the world, especially in large cities. There are some places that recycle filters, which isn’t done here. In those cases, you can carry some with you in your carry-on luggage.” It’s a good idea to find out about the center’s practices when making your appointments.

Involve Your Healthcare Team in Your Planning
Your doctor or members of your healthcare team should be involved in your preparations before finalizing any travel arrangements. Both your home dialysis unit and the unit you will be visiting need to do a lot of work to help you have your vacation. Mike explains: “The center to where I want to travel faxes a 'travel package' to my home center usually requesting a recent chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram, the results of my most recent blood tests, and an MRSA nose swab test and another swab test to test for things like c-difficile.  They also require a letter from a nephrologist with a brief summary of my condition.”

In Part Three of the Travel & Dialysis – Tips from Fellow Travelers series, we’ll get some last minute advice to help ensure that everything goes smoothly during your vacation.

Part Three: Last Minute Tips

Your departure date is now fast approaching. In addition to packing your bags, there are some other tasks to be completed to get ready.
Medications and Supplies
Make sure you have enough medications with you for the length of the trip (plus some extra in case there are travel delays). Be sure to carry a list of your medications with you. If you will be going through customs, it’s also a good idea, to carry a letter from your doctor stating you need to travel with these medications (and syringes, if you use them). Keep medications in their original containers or boxes with the pharmacy label so that security personnel can verify what is in the containers. Carry your medication with you in your carry-on bag just in case your luggage is misplaced or delayed.

Eve, who has traveled to Portugal and Spain, notes the following about the local treatment centers she experienced. “In the countries that I visited, at least, there were no prepared or pre-packaged supplies the way we are used to here.” Therefore, she now brings some of her own supplies, such as alcohol swabs, chlorhexidine swabs, and needles.

More Tips for Visiting Other Hemodialysis Clinics
A few days before your departure, confirm your hemodialysis schedule. Contact each unit again a day or two before your first appointment with them and give them a phone number where you can be reached in case they need to reschedule your treatment.

Dialysis centers are often very busy places. Show them respect and courtesy. Be sure to arrive on time to avoid delays that will affect the people who dialyze there regularly.

Mike, who has received dialysis treatments in eight different centers while traveling over the last two and a half years, suggests going even further: “Write a thank you note to the nurse and staff of that center to express your appreciation (or send a gift like an edible fruit arrangement after the treatment).”

For more information about travel and dialysis, consult The Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Living With Kidney Failure patient manual, contact your local Kidney Foundation office, or speak with your kidney social worker or your local dialysis clinic.

Taking a trip while on dialysis may take a bit more preparation work, but what you get in return is priceless. “My advice is don't be scared to travel,” offers Mike to anyone who might feel overwhelmed about going on a trip for the first time since starting dialysis. “It's the feeling of freedom that I can see the world and continue living a full life that makes it desirable.”

Note: Suggestions made in this article may not be suitable for everyone. Please consult your doctor or members of your healthcare team before planning your travel.

The Kidney Foundation of Canada is not responsible for the content displayed on external websites. Hyperlinks or references to organizations, companies or individuals does not constitute an endorsement of any information, product or service you may receive from such sources. The Kidney Foundation of Canada does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.
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