Going on Holiday - a guide if you have spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus

For many of us, holidays are a time to travel and explore new places. Travelling when you have spina bifida or hydrocephalus might need a little more preparation, but for most people it will be possible to get away for a great trip!


For a first trip abroad, or if your health means being within easy travel of certain facilities, such as a neurosurgical centre, pick the country you want to visit, then search the internet for 'neurosurgery’ (paediatric if you need something for your child) in the various regions. It will then be easier to pick a resort within a couple of hour’s travel, if you need to. For example, Spain's large coastal cities all have neurosurgical centres. Long cruises might be fine if your condition is stable, but can be difficult to get off if you become ill. For that reason, it may be difficult or very expensive to find suitable insurance for cruises.


Flying in a regular commercial jet is fine for most people with shunts. If you were told years ago not to fly, it's worth asking your neurosurgeon again as things have changed. Some people will have been told by their neurosurgeon not to fly, for specific reasons, so do check if this applies to you.

Flying in a small, unpressurised plane may not be wise for people with shunts.


Do make sure your insurance covers you for your existing conditions, and you give them accurate information about appointments or confirmed future investigations. If you are under the care of several consultants, check whether your insurer wants to know the total number of appointments, or how often you see each one. Small errors can be costly in the event of a claim.

When travelling in Europe it is wise to take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) card with you. The GHIC replaces the EHIC now the UK has left the EU. When your EHIC expires, you can get a GHIC from the NHS website

Although the EHIC and GHIC are important, don't rely on them solely, you still need insurance. The cards alone won't guarantee access to the right facilities, or that staff will speak your language, and won't help with the extra costs of getting home if you can't get your flight, or accommodation costs for family members who may have to remain with you. For this reason, always insure all your party on one policy, even if this is more expensive than separate policies.

Check that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to do on holiday. Try the mainstream insurance companies first, but if you have difficulties, Shine have a suggested list of specialist providers.

Getting ready to go

You might want to ask your hospital for a copy of your most recent scan on a USB memory stick, so if you need a scan on holiday, they can compare it to your last one. Get any prescriptions you will need ahead of time, with spares, just in case, and a copy of your prescription, in case you need to show why you are travelling with certain medicines.

Signing up to Shine Health Direct might help you get these things ready. Split your tablets and other health essentials between your hand luggage and your hold luggage, in case one is mislaid. If you have liquid medicine, put some in a 100ml bottle, clearly labelled, and place it in a clear plastic bag (supplied at the airport) to have in your hand luggage.

Pack some headache tablets, and tablets such as Imodium for upset stomachs. If you use intermittent catheterisation, all-in-one kits with bags can be convenient, as well as hand cleanser and extra wipes.

At the airport

The magnetic security wands have been reported on odd occasions to reset certain programmeable valves, although this is very uncommon. Let the airport security staff know that you need to follow the same precautions as people with heart pacemakers, and take your shunt alert card with you. The whole body scanners, which use X-Rays or millimeter Waves, should have no effect on your shunt.

On holiday

If it's very hot, be sure to drink plenty of water - bottled water is best if you are abroad. Our information sheet on foot care has good advice for holidays too. Most importantly, have fun!

Some useful links for further information:
Accessible holiday providers:

Need more help?

If you need to speak with one of Shine’s specialist advisers about spina bifida or hydrocephalus, call us on 01733 555988 or click here to email us.

Our office hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. We aim to respond to all enquiries as quickly as possible!

Reviewed: 23/11/21

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