Packing tips for disabled travellers

Planning your packing for travel

When packing for travel, there’s a pretty standard list of things you need. Let’s start with clothes, sponge bag, and any chargers or technology.

Because I stayed at the fabulous MICs Sant Jordi in Barcelona (who offered a 5% discount when I said I was going to write about my trip) I had access to a washing machine. Therefore, my companion packed for 9 days in a medium hiking rucksack. I didn’t, because I had to bring a wide range of medical supplies. This took up an awful lot of space.

I attempted to ship these supplies to myself in Spain to avoid having to carry them. However, this failed because I didn’t have a pharmaceutical import licence (thanks Brexit). After that, I had to create the world’s most organised packing spreadsheet, to make sure I had everything I needed. More than that, because I was stopping for a single night in Paris, I had to pack such that I could retrieve what I needed in Paris without unpacking the whole of my (very overstuffed) suitcase.

One of the main things I also had to work out was how much of everything to bring. If something went wrong, I needed to be sure that I had enough supplies of the things I needed. However, I also had to pack in a way that could be transported by two intrepid people.

What to pack


I packed 5 days of clothes – so I had to do laundry once – but only once. I was aware that my feet would swell in the heat, so brought a few shoe options.

The usual advice for packing applied:

  • Bring things that are interchangeable and go well together
  • Look at the weather forecast and usual weather for the season
  • Think about what’s comfortable (especially if you’re spending longer in your chair than usual)
  • Prepare for any special activities

On this trip, I wanted to go to the monastery at Montserrat. Because I didn’t know if there would be clothing rules, I wanted long trousers and shirts that would cover my shoulders. I also wanted to swim, so I needed swimming shorts and a vest.


Toiletries are one of those things everyone packs, but that don’t necessarily need to be awarded limited suitcase space. If you’re able to buy the basics on the go, it will clear a bit of room in your case. However, if you have space, bring your favourites.

Medication and medical supplies

Working out what medication and medical supplies I needed to bring was one of the rather harder bits. I couldn’t overload my suitcase, but nor could I risk being left without things that were absolutely critical.

Regular medication

After lot of thinking, I decided to bring enough supplies that if my trip were extended by two days unexpectedly and due to cancellations, I would be all prepared and completely fine. 

This meant thinking about bringing – for a 9 day trip – 11 days worth of:

  • Prescription medication (pre-dispensed into dosette box)
  • Prescription medicine (not pre-dispensed, in original boxes)
  • Pills and supplements (which we dispense into boxes weekly)
  • Inhalers, puffs, and sprays
  • Patches
  • Injections, needles, and syringes
  • Dressings

I then have some medications it would be very dangerous for me to be without, so I brought an extra 3 days of those. I calculated that by that point I would surely have made it back to England. If I hadn’t, there would be something significant enough wrong that I’d have needed medical care anyway.

Additional medication

The risk, of course, is that I would need one of my additional medications, and not be able to get it easily. Some of my pain medications are controlled and not used daily, so deciding on these while packing for travel was harder. I need to carry migraine medications, antibiotics, emergency injections etc. Here, I decided on a double-redundancy system – I would take enough for two doses/incidents etc. This meant that if I’d taken the first one, I would then have to replace it somehow.

Many of these are already in the bag of essentials I always carry on my chair, but I made sure I had enough of absolutely everything there.

I was very careful about carrying duplicates when I packed my bag. I wanted to have everything I would need with me, but then only planned excess, not “just in case” extras. 

Medical supplies
Consumable medical supplies

For my consumable medical supplies, I made the same decision – I packed enough that I would be completely happy for an extra two days. This meant thinking about:

  • Syringes for medication
  • Giving sets
  • Feed canisters
  • Dissolving vitamins
  • Tube feed
  • Protein supplements
  • Bowel management supplies
  • Catheter night bags
  • Bladder washouts

With all of these, I figured that if I was stuck abroad for more than two extra days I needed to have enough of the things that were most crucial. Many other things could be sourced in an emergency.

When it came to catheter supplies, I wanted to swim in the sea, so I brought an extra change of valves and bag for that reason.

I would normally have also counted incontinence pads in this list, but they were so bulky I decided just to carry enough for 48 hours and then buy some in Barcelona when I arrived.

While shipping these supplies didn’t work, next time I would look into doing a medical supplies order online that could deliver to where I was staying. Much of this isn’t possible to buy over the counter, but there are also things that are – such as pads, and needles. I also want to look into buying baby bottles that can be connected to my tube feed. These can be sterilised and might be less bulky than packing canisters.

Other personal care items

It’s important not to forget other personal care items – my packing for travel also included:

  • Wipes
  • Disposal bags
  • Masks
  • Gloves
  • Lateral flow tests

Then there’s the non-consumable medical supplies:

  • A spare ventilator mask and tubing
  • A change of PEG tube
  • A stoma-saver
  • A catheter
  • A catheter unblocker

I always carry a bag on the back of my chair with key medication in – but also a range of other supplies, and it’s trips like this that that’s really useful on, even if it’s not really part of my packing for travel because I always have it.

Some of the things I carry here as well as medication are:

  • A copy of my key medical history, current medications, specialist contact details etc – which I always have translated into the local language
  • Medical tape
  • Silicon dressings
  • Kliniderm dressing
  • Allen keys
  • Superglue
  • Duct tape
  • Safety pins
  • Wet wipes
  • Plastic straws
  • Carabiners
  • Velcro cable ties
  • Bungee cord
  • Tissues
  • Spare catheter bag
  • Corstop stoma plug
  • Phone cable to charge off my wheelchair

It’s important for me to know if I’m brewing an infection as I’ve had quite nasty kidney and chest infections in the past, so there were also extra medical things I packed such as:

  • SpO2 monitor
  • Thermometer
  • Urine test strips 
  • A specific neck and head pillow that I really rely on for positioning in bed

Something else to consider is managing your electrical devices. Overnight I have a ventilator plugged in, its batteries, a feed pump charger and my wheelchair, as well as my mobile phone, portable charger, and laptop. That’s a lot of devices and to manage that, I bring an English extension lead and a single adaptor, rather than trying to plug everything in separately.

Keeping track

Packing for travel is a real challenge, and even more so when the people packing and unpacking might be different – and when it’s a multi-site trip with lots of bags.

The main way I managed this was with packing cubes, and a spreadsheet. 

The spreadsheet contained a series of columns. I used drop-down menus so I could easily filter the spreadsheet, and so I could trace exactly what I’d packed, what I’d packed it in, where it was, and when I would need it. This meant that if I required something, I could easily direct people to find it.

I then had a range of packing cubes in various colours and sizes, which meant that it would be really easy to direct people to where something lived – as long as I kept really good track of this.

If I knew I would need some of an item on my first night (in Paris) and the rest later in the trip (in Barcelona) I listed it twice and packed it separately.

Packing spreadsheet

The columns in the spreadsheet were:

  • Item
  • Item type
  • Quantity needed per day
  • Additional needed
  • Total quantity (‘n’ of days x quantity per day x additional)
  • Packing date (advance or on the day)
  • Location required (whether I needed it on transport, at an intermediate stop, or at my final destination)
  • Packing cube (I used a set of colour-coded packing cubes in a range of sizes, so every item’s location could easily be described)
  • Packing cube location (which bag the cube was going into)
  • Packed (whether it was packed)
  • Returning home (whether I was going to be using it up or bringing it back, to help me calculate suitcase space for purchases)

You can see and download a version of this spreadsheet for yourself here

This sounds like a complicated system, but it was worth every minute I put into sorting it out. It meant that there was never a moment of panic, wondering if I’d forgotten something crucial. Everything had its place, and somehow everything fitted.

It even meant that on the way home there was plenty of room for shopping in my case.

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