On Oxygen and On The Go - Part 4: Let's Hit The Road
Last updated: September 2020
If you are on supplemental oxygen, getting out for an hour, a day, a week or longer takes a lot of planning if you want it to be successful and stress free. The first thing you need to do is make sure your oxygen equipment is in good working order. If anything doesn't work, get a replacement. If you're going on a long trip, carry extra tubing, cannula, connectors, and washers for your gas tanks regulators if you use gas oxygen. You need to make sure you have the proper amount of oxygen for the length of time you'll be out. If you're only going shopping and you think it's going to take you a couple of hours then make sure you have double that amount of oxygen. If you're planning a long trip you must make arrangements with your oxygen company so you will have oxygen waiting for you when you arrive at your destination.
Traveling by car
If you're traveling by car you need to carry enough oxygen with you to make it to your destination or arrange with the oxygen company to have oxygen available to you along the way. I have traveled across the country several times and all I do is call up my oxygen company, tell them where I'll be, the date I'll be there, and the type oxygen I will need.
When I get to my destination my oxygen is all ready and waiting for me. The company also gives me a list of their affiliates along my route in case I have to stop and get oxygen along the way. The one thing you will need is a prescription from your doctor to carry with you in case you need oxygen en route. I have never had to stop and get any oxygen (I've traveled as much as 1800 miles one way), but it's always good to know I can if I have to. I keep an extra E-tank in my van at all times, even when I was on liquid oxygen I kept the E-tank in my van. That way I always know if for some reason I run out of the oxygen I have brought for the trip, I can get my extra tank (that I keep under the passenger seat), and I have five more hours of oxygen, 17 if I use an on-demand device.
Storing oxygen safely in the vehicle
I know all the literature about oxygen says not to lay tanks down, don't store them in your trunk, or keep them in your car or in cold or hot weather. I'm not advising you to go against these rules. I'm just telling you what I do and what worked for me. I have had that oxygen in my car in the heat of the New Mexico desert where it can go up to 120 degrees, and in the Michigan winter where the temperature can get below zero and I have never had any trouble with my tanks. Along with the extra oxygen tank, (even on short trips), I also keep an extra cannula in the glove compartment.
Prepare in advance
If you're oxygen dependent you should also have a sticker on your car denoting the fact you are traveling with oxygen. That way in case there is an emergency, responders will be aware of the danger if a fire should start. When traveling with oxygen, you need to keep others' safety in mind as well as your own.
When going on a trip I packed my oxygen depending on the length of time I will be away from my main oxygen source. Over the years I have traveled transporting all three main oxygen delivery systems with me. The one consistency has always been the E-tank that I described above. I will describe how I handled each system.
Suggestions per oxygen system
Traveling with liquid is the easiest of the three but takes up more room. You'll need a vehicle big enough to handle a travel size tank, it weighs about 50 pounds, 25 inches and 14 inches in diameter. The one I used lasted four days on 2L. While driving I hooked directly into the large tank, when I had to make stops I use the portable. Which can be refilled from the travel tank the same way you would fill it from your home liquid tank. When staying overnight in a motel or sightseeing away from the vehicle, I had 2 liquid portables that I filled and took in the room, or on my scooter with me. Each lasted about 6 hours which gave me plenty of time to do whatever I needed/wanted.
Old-style travel concentrator
I have traveled with the old-style travel concentrator, it requires electricity or you need to get an adapter so you can plug in to your cigarette lighter or port. They weigh about 25 pounds and are a little smaller than a regular concentrator. When using it I needed to use gas tanks as backups or if I wanted to go out anywhere. I never liked the portable concentrators because the quality of oxygen they put out is not a high enough percentage for me. My breathing was always labored when using them. I have not tried the new portable concentrators they have now that are battery-operated and I don't feel I ever will. But for those of you that can use them I feel they are you best option. They can be plugged into your car, run-on batteries come or electricity. They're small and you only have one unit to carry everywhere. However just like with using any other oxygen system I would carry an E-tank as a backup. Electrical devices have a funny way of breaking down at the most inopportune moments. So like a boy scout: always be prepared.
The last system is the gas tanks which is the system I use now. It is one that requires the most planning in deciding which size tanks you're going to use, and figuring out how many tanks you'll need for the trip. If it's a long trip gas tanks can take up a lot of room. Here's what I do for a short-term or long-term - I do the same thing only on a long trip I take along more tanks. Like I described to you above, I pay no attention to the literature I have read on oxygen. After using it for 17 years I have found that as long as your gas tanks are not rolling around on the floor they can be stored lying down. They can also be stored in the trunk of your car, or a large tool box on your truck, I have done both. Since I found I can use mini tank and an on-demand device, I always leave my E-tank and cart in my van with my extra E-tank under the seat. I used my mini tanks to walk to and from a car, I also use them when I have to leave my car for any reason while traveling. The tank on the cart I had propped behind the driver's seat, it is always full and ready to go I make sure of that.
When I reach my car I turn off the mini tank and go on the E-tank while driving. That way I don't have to worry about using the on-demand device. On demand is good for me when I'm out and about on my scooter or just sitting around in the yard talking, but my oxygen level tends to drop after a while so I have to put it back on full flow. When driving I have to be as alert as possible so I need full flow of oxygen. I know how long each tank is going to last me. When I know it's getting close to running out of time, I'll stop, put on my mini tank, get gas, and change the E-tank. With a full tank of oxygen I'm ready to get back on the road. For my trip to New Jersey next month I'll be taking 2 E-tanks and 3 mini tanks. The combination will give me plenty of oxygen to make the trip up. Even if something should happen, I can put the on-demand device on my E-tank and it will last 17 hours.
When packing gas tanks for a trip make sure you test out your run time in advance. The way you breathe will determine how long an on-demand gas tank will last. For someone like me who is a very slow deep breather, my mini tank will last at least an hour longer than most people. So make sure you do a dry run at home with your gas tanks and on-demand device. When you put one on, take note of the time, when it runs out of oxygen note the time so you know exactly how long it's going to last and how many you'll need for your trip.
Get a carrier for your tanks
One last thing I want to say, because I carry my oxygen the way I do and not advocating you do the same, is that you can get a carrier for your gas tanks from your supplier. When it comes to your liquid portables or portable concentrator, you are advised to secure them with seat belts. The large liquid should be secure so as not to move. No one in the vehicles should smoke when you have oxygen on-board. And lastly, always leave the window partially open for ventilation. After a trip or two you'll develop your own plan and your own way of storing and traveling with oxygen. Have a safe and enjoyable trip! Breathe deep and easy.
Want to read more articles like this? Check out the other parts of this series!
On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 2: Oxygen Embarrassment
On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 3: Oxygen and Anxiety
On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 5: Plane, Train, Bus, or Cruise
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on March 2, 2018, Mary Ultes passed away. Mary was an engaged advocate for the COPD community who strived to help people live fulfilling lives. She is deeply missed.
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