[Editor’s Note:  Michele is a frequent Patient Power contributor.  If you would like to learn more about Michele’s journey with CLL, click on any of the links below.]


Do you frequently get sick while traveling?  Have you stopped taking trips, because you fear you may catch something? With the cold and flu season upon us, I want to help you avoid them, so you can enjoy voyages and vacations. 

Chances are that if you are a patient visiting this site, you are immunocompromised as cancer and its treatments impair or weaken the immune system.

To those of us who are immunocompromised, traveling can be concerning.  Many opt to stay home. I confess that for a period of time, I was in the homebody camp but now venture far away again thanks to practicing health protection travel strategies that help me remain free from colds and flu.

How many of you reading this, prior to being diagnosed, were continually catching small things, such as colds, but blaming it on various life circumstances?  I thought my demanding job, travel schedule and resulting sleep deprivation caused an eternal state of being run down, thus causing me to contract whatever was going around.  If someone at the opposite end of a meeting or plane sneezed, wheezed or coughed, I’d catch whatever they shared.

Since learning I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) I have often wondered if my job and resulting lack of sleep helped bring it on; or if the onslaught of my CLL caused me to have a compromised immune system.  It’s the old chicken-and-egg situation, and whichever came first doesn’t matter.  Being vigilant about not getting sick does.

My first oncologist merely told me my diagnosis by acronym and to avoid crowds, such as at airports and on cruise ships.  My own research defined CLL, explaining I was immunocompromised and needed to stay away from large gatherings due to their higher germ concentration.  Talk about a challenging situation.  I was working in the cruise ship industry globally, and frequently on planes and ships.

Like many of you, when learning my diagnosis, I made many life changes but was not willing to give up all.  Travel for both business and pleasure was one of my hold-ons. Following a month-long sinus infection and a few too many enduring colds when returning from journeys, I knew it was time to make more changes.  The choices were clear:  either place myself on a travel moratorium or make traveling safer.  

I chose safer traveling. 

Follow this basic premise:

Control the cleanliness of any touch points in your personal travel environment.  If you can’t control it, don’t let your skin touch it.   Ensure your hands stay germ-free and avoid anyone visibly contagious.  


1. Always Have These Basics on Hand

If you haven’t already, adopt antiseptic gel/spray and wipes as your new best friends.  Always carry gloves and a scarf for just in case situations, and if currently under treatment or/and severely immunocompromised, a surgical mask. Seem like 50 Shades of a Germaphobe?  As mother always said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  So I always travel with my Preventative First Aid Kit (see photo of contents).

I will also share my travel strategies across various travel modalities for anyone immunocompromised to help you avoid catching anything easily contracted while on your journeys.  

Cars, trains and automobiles, subways, buses and cruise ship, taxis, Ubers, Lyfts, commuter ferries, Segways, rental bicycles and rickshaws—all shared modes of transportation carry common passengers: the compounded germs of their commuters.  Just say “no to those germs” by avoiding contact with them.  Here’s an easy how-to. 

2. Public Transportation, Taxis, Uber, Lyft

Many take public transportation such as crowded city buses, commuter rails or subways—breeding grounds for viral and bacterial diseases, such as the common cold and flus.  If your schedule allows, travel during non-peak times to avoid peak crowds.  If you are currently receiving treatment, and/or your blood tests show you are extremely immunocompromised, please wear a surgical mask. 

If at all possible, instead take a taxi, Uber or Lyft.   

michele scarfAnytime your hands need to open, grab, touch or sign something is when you need to put something between your skin and the other item. With any type of transportation, stay healthy by wearing gloves, or placing a handkerchief or thick paper towel, or if you don’t have one, your sleeve or scarf, over your palm to prevent your skin from coming in contact with door handles, inside and out, poles, or any other surfaces.  In addition, if paying with cash and receiving change and/or tokens, or if paying with a credit card and using a pen or stylus, immediately use an antiseptic generously on your hands or surgical gloves.  Please note that if you are wearing any other type of gloves they need to be cleaned.

3. Airplanes, Trains, Buses and Passenger Ferries

Be vigilant about what you’re touching from the moment you leave your home.  The more vigilant you are, the healthier you will be. With all types of travel, if you are currently receiving treatment, and/or your tests show you are extremely immunocompromised, please wear a surgical mask. 

If self-checking in and using a touch screen terminal, upon finishing your task, use your antiseptic on hands. 

When you need to hand over your identification to anyone at check-in, TSA security check, and if needed, the gate, remember to wipe off your ID and hands with antiseptic wipes.

If you’re a tech-savvy type and using an electronic boarding pass, you’ll need to hand over your phone when checking in (if checking luggage), when proceeding through security, and when boarding the aircraft, train or bus.  Think of all of those other hands touching the device that you nuzzle to your ear and place next to your mouth.  Use antiseptic wipes to clean off your phone and hands after each time you share your phone 

Don’t be the first to board.  The longer you’re onboard, the longer time people have to walk by you with all their germs wafting through the air.  If possible, grab a window seat, so you are a bit removed from the aisle traffic. 

You’re finally onboard!

-       When you first sit in your seat: Clean off armrests, video and audio controls, lights and call buttons, drop down table and seat pocket, (trust me, they’re probably filthy), with antiseptic wipes. 

-       If getting a beverage, remember flight attendants/café stewards touch many surfaces all day.  Wipe down the cup/glass you receive as a just in case measure.

-       Need to use the restroom?  Try and have a tissue in hand, or if desperate your scarf, when opening, closing and locking the door.  Once inside don’t use your hands to touch the toilet seat, use a paper towel to flush the toilet and turn water faucets on and off, as well as to pump the soap.  When departing, use a towel to unlock, open and close the door.  (If you need an airport restroom, follow the same protocol.)

4. Car Travel

Even if you control your travel environment by driving, you still need to practice healthier travel strategies.  For example, if you need to fill up at a self-service gas station, ensure you have a paper towel or scarf, or something, between your hand and the gas pump.  Don’t use the pump’s touch screen without something between it and your fingertips.  If you must touch it, use antiseptic immediately.

Using a rental car?  Wipe down the keys, doors, steering wheel and console with antiseptic wipes.

You breathe a sigh of relief.  You’ve arrived at your destination and are ready to enjoy yourself.  As soon as you hand over your car to the hotel’s valet, you relinquish your germ-free zone.  Others are now touching your keys, door handles, seat controls, mirrors, radio and steering wheel.  By now you know the drill—apply anti-bacterial to all touch points when retrieving your vehicle.

Have your own travel strategies?  Please join the conversation by sharing them by commenting. 

Happy trails!

Michele Nadeem-Baker

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.