After Years of International Travel, the Next Stops Are in America

A columnist finds it's possible to keep traveling with chronic illness

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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How many times have you heard someone start a story with “before the pandemic”? It has become a common refrain for the past two-plus years. While my idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and a pandemic don’t make good bedfellows, they joined forces to eliminate one of our passions, travel.

Before the pandemic, my wife, Susan, and I both traveled. We worked hard, and our professional lives required frequent business travel, so much so that there were several years when I was a United Airlines Premier 1K traveler.

We worked so we could take vacations. There was always a vacation on the horizon. It was a general rule in our house that when a vacation was ending, planning for the next vacation was underway.

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We have places to go

We’ve been fortunate to travel the globe to visit exciting new places, where we experience history, different languages, different customs, and different cultures. Soon after my diagnosis in January 2017, Susan and I sat down to refresh our travel bucket list. With my prognosis of two to five years left, suddenly it felt as if we were on a timer. There were places we wanted to explore together, so off we went.

There was a sense of urgency.

Through my professional and personal travel, I’d traveled to six continents. The one remaining was Antarctica. We made it our priority to travel to the southernmost continent on the planet. After traveling to Buenos Aires, Argentina, we sailed around the southern tip of South America to the interior of Antarctica.

traveling with chronic illness | Pulmonary Fibrosis News | photo of the faces of Sam and Susan, in fog and with water behind them.

Susan and I were in Antarctica in 2018. (Photo by Sam Kirton)

Susan had never been to Asia. That became our next item to check off the bucket list. We sailed from Japan, circling the island nation and then to multiple ports in South Korea. When we returned home following this cruise together, we’d visited all seven continents.

My condition was progressing

During each of our successive adventures, travel was becoming harder for me. By the fall of 2019, I was on oxygen. Researching oxygen support for traveling was akin to assembling furniture while blindfolded. Each carrier had its own specific requirements. This was further complicated by the requirements of the origin and arrival countries.

Packing for a trip became a whole new experience as we began to figure out how to safely transport oxygen tanks and my home oxygen concentrator on regional trips. Our globe-trotting days aboard long-haul flights were transitioning to places we could reach by car, usually in a single day.

We made the best of every single trip. Then the world paused in March 2020 as cases of COVID-19 began appearing around the world at an alarming rate.

We stayed home and took precautions to ensure I remained free of COVID-19. In summer of 2022, we began to travel again, making regional car trips.

Our next step

Now we’re going to discover America at ground level. We’ll travel to Chicago, where we’ll board Amtrak’s California Zephyr. Leaving Chicago, we’ll travel by train to Emeryville, California, a community just outside San Francisco.

Amtrak offered a contained sleeper compartment, complete with a private bathroom with a shower. More importantly, it provides us the ability to isolate if we feel it becomes necessary. There’s an opportunity to sit in a more open car, offering panoramic views of the journey, or we can simply take in some beautiful scenery as we travel across America.

We’ll spend several days in a rental car discovering Monterey Bay and Yosemite National Park before returning to San Francisco to board the eastbound California Zephyr.

All aboard

This is the next step to being able to range farther in our travels. I don’t know when we may try a long-haul flight or even take another cruise. For now, this will help scratch our travel itch. I’ll write my columns during this trip, so I invite you to come along. “All aboard” will be two words we’ll hear on this trip, and we’ll know we are doing all we can to make every breath count.

I’ll try to answer questions about this trip if you ask them in the comments.

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.


Jeannie Lloyd avatar

Jeannie Lloyd

I also love to travel. I had a 21 ft camper and drove to and slept in all of the lower 48 states.
I now have IPF since June 2020. I would enjoy reading about ur trips. Thank u for sharing them .

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi Jeannie,

Thanks for reading the column and your comments. It sounds like you are living your best life in spite of IPF. That is awesome.

Sam ...

Randall Thornton avatar

Randall Thornton

Good afternoon Sam. Just reading your article on traveling.You have been very lucky to have been able to do the traveling. I have never been around the world, but have done lots of traveling around the US. Pretty much every state except the east coast. Now, I am home ward bound. I was diagnoise in March of 2020 with IPF. I have been on oxygen 24/7 every since. Started out at 4lm and now up to 8lm. I have only one lung due to the fact that by the time it was discovered, one lung was shot. Because of my high oxygen need, my doctor says I have to stay at or lower then where I am now. So traveling around the mountains of Colorado is pretty much out of the question. I am glad for you and your wife that you have been able to do the traveling. Have a fun life.

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton


Thanks for reading my column and for your note. We are fortunate to travel as much as we have. I know prior to my transplant we stayed close to home. Some of that decision was based on COVID and my increasing need for supplemental oxygen.

Sam ...

Philip Ryan avatar

Philip Ryan

Traveling in the US can be rewarding. BUT with those of us with IPF there are special challenges. The biggest for me is traveling to and through the Sierras. By train or car, you're going up to 7,000 feet, and it can be a challenge if you're on supplemental oxygen. My sister lives in Carson City, Nevada, which is at 5,000 feet. It's pure hell visiting her.

It also takes special arrangements with my oxygen company for them to supply concentrators for me if I plan to go there and stay in a motel or hotel.

If you have IPF and are planning on visiting a mountainous region, it's very important to plan accordingly.

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi Philip,

Thanks for reading my column. You make some good points in your note. IPF and the pandemic's onset kept us home for more than 2 years. Following my transplant, we continued to stay close to home. Only recently we have increased our travel radius and then we only traveled by car.

Amtrak does have a policy on oxygen aboard trains. Planning any road trip is the key to success for PF patients both pre and post-transplant.

Sam ...


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