Tips for Successful Outings with COPD

Tips for Successful Outings with COPD

I do most of my traveling by car. A short trip or a long trip, I'm always prepared or I try to be, but even the best laid plans can go wrong. When preparing to go out I think of the old saying "if anything can go wrong it will" and I prepare accordingly.


If you're planning to go out, even if only to the grocery store, you need to be prepared and the preparations start in the home and with your car. The things anyone with COPD, (not only those on oxygen), should have on them when leaving the house are the following:

  1. First, your rescue inhaler and any medication you are taking on a scheduled basis. If you are scheduled to take a medication every four hours, if something should happen and you're out longer than expected you may need to take that medication, so it's always best to have an extra dose with you.
  2. Second, an information sheet, this paper should contain the following information: your name, address, and phone number; all medications you're taking, their strength, and how often you take them; a list of your doctors and their phone numbers; emergency contact number (like a relative or close friends); your insurance information; and all of the conditions you're being treated for. Last and in red letters if possible, all medications you're allergic to and procedures you do not want done. On the bottom of my sheet in big red letters I have written "do not resuscitate." I also carry a copy of the North Carolina DNR form signed by my doctor. If you always have the sheet on you when traveling, if anything should happen, it saves you from all those annoying questions when you're trying to get your breath. When you're short of breath and anxious it's a lot easier to just hand a piece of paper with all needed info on it so all you have to do is concentrate on catching your breath. I also keep a copy of my info sheet on my refrigerator in case it's needed at the house.
  3. You should always carry a fully charged cell phone. You may think it's silly that I mentioned this but there are a few of us out there that don't use cell phones every day. I myself only use my cell phone when I'm out. I keep it in my purse if I'm going shopping. I check in the morning, if I need to I put it on the charger while I get dressed, so it's ready to go when I am. If I'm taking a longer trip I bring along a charger that I can plug into my van's cigarette lighter or extra port. When you have COPD and can't walk very far, if you break down, or need help for any reason a cell phone is a must-have.
  4. A surgical face mask and hand sanitizers are good to have also. Both come in handy if you have to pump gas, wipe down shopping carts, they offer protection against infections & outside irritants, like fumes if you get stuck in traffic.

Car maintenance

Now that you have everything you need to go out let's take a look at your car. Whether shopping for groceries or taking a trip around the world, it all starts with the car. Unlike someone without a disability, those of us with COPD - particularly if you're on oxygen - there is no way if your car breaks down you can get out and fix it. So it's very important that you keep up with the maintenance on your vehicle. Things like, an oil and filters changed, tuned up, tire rotation, if you hear a funny noise or having any problems take your car in for a checkup ASAP, better be safe than sorry! And make sure you have a good AC for those hot summer days. Since I do most of my traveling in my van, I have a diagnostic test done once a year. I feel it is worth the $50 to make sure nothing major is wrong that could break down when I'm 500 miles from home. I also carry a tire inflator, battery cables, a GPS system, and I never let the gas go below a 1/4 tank.

Auto clubs

The last thing I would advise anyone who travels by car to have is an auto club, you never know when you might have need of the service they provide. I have had to used mine several times over the years. When I lived in New Mexico I had the auto club send someone to unlock my truck after I locked the keys inside. It was one time that my COPD and being on oxygen worked to my advantage. I told them the type of truck I had and to look for the women wearing oxygen, sitting on a shopping scooter and having a really hard time breathing in the heat. Within 10 minutes, a serviceman was there to open my truck. In Michigan (one of the few times I was in someone else's vehicle), my granddaughter ran out of gas five miles from the nearest station. My auto club covers any vehicle I'm in, not just my own. So I called and had them send someone with gas.

When I moved to North Carolina, I had to have my van inspected in order to get plates. Now since I bought my van, the engine light periodically goes on. There is nothing wrong with the engine I've had it checked out, but for some reason that light just won't stay off. Now, in North Carolina if the engine light's on you won't pass inspection. I learned that if you take the cable off battery for a few minutes and then put it back on, the engine light goes off. It will stay off for a few weeks or a month before it comes back on. So that's what I did to pass inspection. However when my grandson hooked the battery back up, he didn't tighten the cables enough and my van died in the middle of traffic. A police officer had pushed my van into the parking lot of a restaurant nearby to get it out of traffic. That's when having an auto club comes in really handy. I called my auto club, told them where I was, and that I needed a tow. When the tow company called and said sorry but it would be at least an hour before they could get to me, I said no problem I'll be having lunch inside the air-conditioned restaurant. I had the van towed to my house - my son-in-law is a mechanic and was waiting for us. He took one look, tightened the battery cable and the van started right up. Had we known that's all it was, Susan would've tightened the cable. Instead, Susan and I enjoyed a lovely lunch while we waited for the tow truck - turning what could have been a negative into a positive. I had three different mishaps in three different states, and my auto club saved the day.

Your outing or trip will be a lot more pleasant if you start off right by making sure you have the things you need from your home, having a vehicle in tip top shape, and an auto club for those unexpected mishaps.

Not driving? 

Just because you don't drive, or have a relative/friend to take you where you need/want to go, don't let that keep you housebound. Check in your area for a service such as Dial-a-Ride. They have door-to-door pick up and drop off, accommodate oxygen, walkers, wheelchairs, and offer many other services to the disabled or seniors, for a low price--some as low as $1 a ride. Their only drawback is you may have to wait to be picked up, so advanced notice is advised. For Dial-a-Ride listed by state info, see this link.

May all your outings be the type that makes you look forward to the next one. Breathe deep and easy.

Interested in more articles on COPD and traveling? Check out this series!

On Oxygen and On the Go - Part 1: The Burden of Portable Oxygen

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 4: Let's Hit the Road

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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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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