Traveling with a Catheter: Everything You Need to Know
Traveling with catheters for the first time can be intimidating. But with the right preparation, you can safely and confidently catheterize anywhere. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know from choosing the best travel catheter to our top tips for a smooth trip.
What is a travel catheter?
Although travel catheter isn’t an official type of catheter, there are a variety of urinary catheters designed to make traveling easier. Ultimately, the best travel catheter is the one you feel most comfortable using and carrying around.
What is the best catheter for travel?
When you’re evaluating catheter options for travel, you might want to consider the following features, as they make some catheters more ideal for travel than others.
The term “pocket catheter” or compact catheters are intermittent catheters that are small and discreet. Traditional catheters are typically found in long, straight packages which makes them difficult to pack. Pocket catheters on the other hand are curved, coiled, or packaged in a way that makes them easier to pack, as they take up less space. Additionally,compact catheters can prevent the risk of damaging or acquiring kinks while being transported.
For women, female catheters are also great travel catheters as they are only 6-8 inches long, making them naturally more compact than a full-length catheter which is 16 inches long.
Catheters can be non-lubricated, pre-lubricated (coated with a lubrication), or hydrophilic coated. Uncoated catheters are not that recommended for travel as they require additional lubricant which adds another step to your self-cathing routine. For some, hydrophilic coated catheters can also be difficult to travel with as they contain a liquid solution making them bulkier and messier.
Pre-lubricated catheters can make traveling easier because they eliminate the need for additional lubricants, and their lubrication doesn’t drip. This also decreases the risk of infection as they require less additional handling and reduces the number of supplies you need to carry with you while traveling.
3. Closed system
Closed system catheters consist of a pre-lubricated catheter enclosed within its own collection bag. Most closed system catheters also come with an introducer tip, which protects the catheter from bacteria that frequently cause UTIs. Additionally, many closed system catheter kits are available that come pre-packaged with additional supplies like gloves, swabs, and a privacy cloth.
This type of catheter is ideal because its application method allows you to never have to touch the catheter itself, decreasing the risk of infection. It also provides an already fitted collection bag which makes it preferred by many wheelchair users and others who drain into a collection bag rather than directly into a toilet. On the flip side, closed system catheters are much bigger and bulkier, so if you feel like you can travel without all the additional supplies, you might opt for leaner options.
Is there an alternative to traveling with intermittent catheters?
If you’re looking for an alternative to intermittent catheters, some travelers opt for an indwelling catheter, also known as a foley catheter. They eliminate the need to constantly self-catheterize and can be left in your body for days and even weeks at a time.
Indwelling catheters are either fitted with a valve that can be opened and closed when needed or are connected to a drainage bag at all times. Many users wear a leg bag that attaches to your leg and can be concealed under your clothes. Consult with your doctor for more information on this option.
However, if you choose to stick to intermittent catheters, it’s important to make sure you’re properly prepared with the right supplies and information. Below you can find our list of travel tips to consider before your trip, while in transit, and once you reach your destination.
Before You Travel
The best way to reduce the stress of traveling with catheters is to plan ahead. By preparing the right information and supplies well before your trip, you’ll reduce the risk of anything going wrong.
1. Keep important information handy
Having the right information on hand will help you know exactly who to call with any questions and avoid any unnecessary complications on your trip.
- Your doctor’s contact information
Make sure to have your doctor’s contact information on hand in case you need to contact them at any point during your trip.
Travel Certificates can be obtained from your catheter provider and explain in different languages why you’re carrying catheters. It also includes a section requesting any staff to be discreet when handling your catheters.
Although you are permitted to travel with catheters, a Travel Certificate and/or Medical Note can help avoid excessive questioning or problems from customs officers or the TSA
When flying, TSA regulations state that all liquids must be 3.4 oz or less and fit in one clear quart-size plastic bag. If you use hydrophilic catheters or you need lubricant that exceeds these limits, a medical note from your doctor may allow you to bypass these restrictions by qualifying them as medical supplies./p>
Talk to your healthcare provider to identify a hospital or clinic at your destination that you can visit in case of an emergency.
For longer trips, it can be helpful to get supplies at your destination so you can limit the number of supplies you have to carry with you. Talk to your supplier to see if they’re able to ship to your new destination or if they can help you identify a new source to buy from while you’re traveling.
2. Build your travel catheter kit
The most important thing to remember when traveling with catheters is to stay clean. Catheterizing in public places increases the risk of infections and other complications so it’s important to be prepared with enough catheters and supplies to help you remain clean wherever you are.
Suggested catheter supplies to pack in your travel kit:
- The essentials:
- Catheters - multiply your daily usage by the number of days you’re traveling for + a few extra days
- Antibacterial wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Plastic bags (for easy disposal)
- You might also consider packing:
- Lubrication (if your catheters aren’t pre-lubricated)
- Dry cloths
- Handheld mirror (for women if you’re new to cathing and are still learning the ropes)
- Extra underwear
- Pads (consider using pads for extra protection even if you don’t typically wear them)
- Collection/drainage/urine bag(if you use one)
- + any additional supplies you like to have
Your travel catheter kit should be easily accessible for trips to the restroom and packed with enough catheters and supplies to get you to your next destination. With your additional supplies, try and pack as many as possible into your carry-on bag in case your checked luggage is lost or delayed.
If you’re taking a longer trip and need to pack supplies in your checked luggage, consider getting travel insurance to protect against lost or damaged catheters.
3. Bring extras
You never want to run out of catheters or worry about not having enough while you're traveling. We recommend bringing 2-3 days worth of extra catheters and supplies on your trip.
4. Phone ahead to your accommodation
Make sure the place you are staying at has a restroom that is easily accessible to you. If you have any additional needs make sure they are able to accommodate those as well.
5. Know where the restrooms are located
Knowing where the restrooms are located will help you plan your self-catheterizing schedule accordingly and help alleviate the stress of finding a bathroom.
6. If you’re flying, contact your airline and the TSA in advance
Contact your airline 72 hours in advance to learn of any specific guidelines for traveling with catheters and any other medical devices. They may also have useful information on how to make your trip smoother. Additionally, it may be possible to request an aisle seat that is closer to the airplane bathroom.
If you want to feel extra reassured, contact TSA before you travel to inform them of your situation. They will provide you with more information on the screening process and how to best get through the security check. It’s also important to keep in mind that you have the right to request a private TSA screening if you prefer.
While You Travel
1. Stay hydrated
While you may be tempted to drink less to avoid needing to self-catheterize, it’s important to stay hydrated to prevent complications. Traveling, especially flying, can be dehydrating so it’s important to make sure you’re consuming enough fluids throughout your trip.
2. Be aware of how temperature affects your products
Although catheters are best stored at room temperature, most catheters are safe to use even after experiencing extreme temperatures for up to 24 hours.
When using catheters that aren’t at room temperature, you may notice a change in how your catheters feel. Catheters stored at warmer temperatures may be more flexible than normal, and those at cooler temperatures tend to be stiffer. If your catheter is too stiff, warming it up with your hands or body can be helpful.
At Your Destination
1. Note the time difference
Remember that your body will take time to adjust to a new time zone and you may initially need to catheterize according to your schedule back at home.
2. Know the water quality
If you are traveling to a place with poor tap water quality, make sure you find safe drinking water so you’re able to stay hydrated.
3. Notice how a change in diet may affect your body
If you’re eating foods that you don’t typically eat at home, your body may react differently and you might need to alter your self-catheterizing schedule.
Find the Right Travel Catheter for You
The best travel catheter for you will depend on your personal preferences, mode of transportation, and destination. Talk to your medical supplier and doctor, do your research ahead of time, and make sure you have enough supplies for your trip. Once you’re prepared with the right information, you’ll be able to confidently travel wherever you choose. Make sure you start your research a few weeks before your trip so that you’ll have enough time to try different options and to modify your next catheter order to include your travel catheter of choice.
If you’re looking to try out a different type of catheter, Better Health carries a selection of intermittent and external catheters that are reimbursable through insurance. Take our product selection quiz to find your best catheter or request free samples through our website.