From spring break to summertime, travel season is upon us. While jet-setting or road-tripping may invoke excitement in many folks, it can also be stressful or painful for people living with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
While the stress and occasional discomfort of traveling can be a burden to people with arthritis, there are things that can be done to make travel (whether for business or pleasure) a little easier and less stressful.
While some tips are obvious — such as taking breaks and standing or stretching when needed — others may surprise even the most frequent flyer.
Planning ahead is key
If you’re traveling by air, get to the airport early. Be prepared for long lines.
This may mean renting a scooter or wheelchair, or traveling while accompanied by a cane.
If you have mobility issues or physical limitations from your RA, you may want to inquire about boarding the airplane earlier so that you have more time to get situated.
You may even request a flight attendant help you with your carry-on bags.
Some airlines offer seats with extra leg room if you have a bad knee to contend with or need extra space for any other reason
If you have an identification card for people with disabilities, bringing it with you in your wallet may be helpful.
Sometimes calling the airline in advance to request early boarding, a wheelchair, or extra legroom is a good idea, too.
How to deal with medications
Traveling with medications or a joint implant can also be stressful at times. But it doesn’t have to be.
If you bring meds in a carry-on bag, be sure they’re in their original prescription bottles, showing your name and the name of the drug. If this isn’t possible, a note from your doctor or a list of the medications and what they’re for is helpful.
If your medication needs to be refrigerated, you should be allowed to bring a cooler or a bag with ice packs on the plane. Be sure to explain to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents that it’s a medication that needs to be kept cold.
The same goes for syringes. Explain that they’re medically necessary and what they’re for.
Allot extra time in case this turns into a hassle.
If you have a knee, hip, or other joint replacement, ask to go through the full-body X-ray machine. If your orthopedic surgeon gave you a card identifying you as a joint replacement recipient, have it handy. However, you won’t need to show it in most cases.
Don’t be embarrassed. TSA agents are used to dealing with people who have joint implants and other medical devices.
What’s important to pack
Packing wisely is also key when traveling, whether by land, air, or sea.
A neck pillow or lumbar cushion may be a good idea. It may also be prudent to bring wrist braces, knee braces, ace bandages, elastic therapeutic tape, or other items used to alleviate pain or discomfort.
Don’t forget medications and any medical devices or assistive items you may need on your trip.
Sunblock is always a good idea, especially if your RA medication makes you photosensitive.
Some people with RA who are immunocompromised also travel with masks to prevent the exposure to germs, particularly on an airplane or cruise ship.
Avoid the stress
Experts recommend keeping stress in check while traveling. Stress can be a flare-up trigger for people with RA.
In a recent press release issued in advance of National Arthritis Awareness Month, rheumatologist Dr. Grace Wright recommended the following tips for traveling with RA:
- Keep moving regularly to help avoid joint stiffness while on the road.
- Take a lightweight bag with spinning wheels.
- Check your bags.
- Bring heat and cold wraps.
- Stay hydrated.
The Arthritis Foundation also recommends choosing a hotel that has a pool, hot tub, and sauna when possible, and also calling ahead to check the resort’s accessibility options and accommodations for guests with disabilities, if applicable.
Choose meals carefully if any foods trigger flare-ups for you. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help when you need it.
It’s also wise to know where the nearest hospital and pharmacy are to where you’re staying on your trip.
Planning activities ahead of time and choosing activities and exclusions that work with your body and its limitations is crucial. Balance relaxing time with fun and adventure, and try to stay mindful and enjoy the moment.
Vacations are nice — but vacations without pain are even better.