What traveling abroad for the first time since my transplant was like

How I took precautions on the flight and cruise ship to protect my health

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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In last week’s column, I wrote about the preparations required for my first international vacation since 2019. Since I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in January 2017 and received a bilateral lung transplant in July 2021, many aspects of my life have changed.

The most significant nonmedical change I experienced was being unable to travel freely, especially internationally. That changed last week in a big way.

Traveling to the Netherlands

My wife, Susan, and I flew directly from Washington Dulles International Airport, in Virginia, to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, in the Netherlands. Given the money we’d saved by not traveling abroad in recent years, we opted to fly in business class, which served two purposes. First, the seat lay flat, allowing me to avoid edema by elevating my legs. Second, the seat afforded me more space during the flight. That was important because my post-transplant medication makes me more susceptible to illness.

Even with the additional space, I was more comfortable masking on the flight, as well as in the airports and among crowds. I didn’t feel that I stood out. While clearing immigration and customs in the Amsterdam airport, most people seemed to be masked. In contrast, while traveling in the United States in recent years, multiple random people felt it necessary to share their unsolicited opinion on my decision to wear a mask.

Susan and I arrived in Amsterdam two days before our river cruise was slated to begin. We had plenty of time to get adjusted to the time change and walk around the city. We agreed that if I became uncomfortable in any setting, I’d simply leave. Thankfully, I rarely felt the need to exercise that option.

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Aboard the ship

Our cruise ship, the AmaLucia, typically carries 156 passengers and about 50 crew members. For this trip, only 95 passengers were on board, which meant the ship wasn’t crowded and felt spacious. Our cabin provided us ample room to observe the sights along the ship’s route. Because this cruise was by river, we were seldom far from land.

Additionally, the crew dealt with my dietary restrictions without hesitation. One challenge for post-transplant, immune-suppressed patients is that salad greens and other vegetables must be cleaned in a certain way to ensure they’re safe for us to consume. I felt I could ask the chef to do that, and it’d get done. That’s how accommodating the crew was during our trip.

Dining on the ship didn’t feel crowded at all. We were able to request a table for two at each meal without any issues.

During excursions from the ship that required transportation, we typically took a motor coach. Its size depended on the number of people on the tour. We were also given audio devices to ensure everyone could hear the guide. That allowed me to be on the fringe of the group and still experience the tour.

I was always able to find a spot on the ship that wasn’t crowded. The common areas were open, and the ship was always being cleaned. I could easily find a quiet spot inside, and on nicer days, I could sit on the upper deck and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

Embrace the chance

This first international trip since 2019 did cause some anxiety for Susan and me. We both anticipated that, though, so I was deliberate about paying attention and avoiding situations that would make me uncomfortable.

Would I take the trip again? Absolutely.

This experience demonstrated to me that it’s OK to take a chance, as long as I’m being mindful of potentially risky situations. Would other post-transplant IPF patients need to take the same precautions I took? Perhaps, but don’t forget that each of us is unique. Consult your care team and make plans for extracting yourself from any bad situations that may arise.

Sharing my first experience traveling abroad since my transplant is how I can make every breath count.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Nancy Lehman avatar

Nancy Lehman

Sounds like you had your ducks in a row before the trip. I have IPF and have had it since 2017. I am now at one of the later stage of it..Happy to hear you and Susan had fun.

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Thanks for reading my column and your comments. I do feel like we planned the trip well which made both Susan and me more comfortable. I would love for you to share more about your journey. I was diagnosed in January 2017 so I would be interested to hear how you are doing.
Sam ...

Karen Carns avatar

Karen Carns

Great to hear about a successful trip and loved the pictures that you have sent, so far!! Woo Hoo to another trip in your future!


Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Karen and Jim,
Thanks for reading my column and your comments. I know the hard part now is where next. When you gaze at tulips as far as the eye can see it is going to be hard to top. This was a dream trip for Susan and her dream came true.

Sam ...

Debbie Klein avatar

Debbie Klein

I am so happy you and Susan traveled without significant issues! The pictures were beautiful and I look forward to seeing Amsterdam myself in the fall!

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Thanks for reading my column. We should talk before your trip.

Sam ...

Joy Kristin Lenters avatar

Joy Kristin Lenters

Sam, I am just five months out from my lung transplant. Any thought of traveling for the last five years has seemed ridiculous. Your post gave me anticipation that I might be able to travel in a few years! Thank you for naming your cruise line—they look fabulous and are such a great alternative to Viking or Tauck! Who knew?

Fond regards,

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi Joy,

Thanks for reading my column and for your comments. Work with your care team to identify when they might allow you to travel and how they might allow you to travel. We travelled domestically after the first year. We took an Amtrak trip from Chicago to San Francisco in order to visit Yosemite. We had sleeper accommodations for the trip. The crew served meals in our compartment. We were able to control our environment to meet our needs. Bottom line... plan the trip.

Sam ...


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