Travel Tips for Rheumatoid Arthritis
‘Tis the season. The start of holiday celebrations, for gathering with family and friends and that means traveling. Whether you're driving to the other end of the city, taking the train to the next state or flying across the country, at some point in the next six weeks or so, you'll be going somewhere. Staying comfortable during your trip is an important part of arriving at your destination feeling as good as possible so you can enjoy the festivities.
In the Driver's Seat
If you're doing the driving, there are a number of things you can do to be more comfortable:
• Adjust the seat to fit your body, e.g., if your hips hurt, adjust the back and the seat so you don't sit in a 90° angle
• If sitting for long stretches of time hurts your back, try an Obus Forme back cushion for better support
• Place a pillow or cushion on the seat to ease the pressure on your hips
Gripping the steering wheel can be really hard on your hands and fingers, but your local automobile supply store may be able to help. Check out their steering wheel coverings for something that adds width and texture for an easier grip. You may roll your eyes at the idea of having a furry sheepskin covering for your steering wheel, but not only is it easier to grip, it's also warmer which can help keep your joints from stiffening up. Your hands will thank you.
If your joints are more seriously affected by your RA, you may want to consider modifications to your vehicle. If your car is a stick shift, try to trade it in for an automatic with cruise control and a remote control lock (much easier to operate than a key). You may also want to look into adaptive equipment for your vehicle, such as hand controls which can make it easier on your body to drive. If you need a lot of modifications, most of the big automakers have funding programs to help people with disabilities find an accessible vehicle (for an example, see GM's website). Ask your doctor for referral to an occupational therapist or contact your local supplier for disability-related equipment (often found in the Yellow Pages under handicapped equipment).
Take the Scenic Route
Barreling down the highway for hours is tiring and guaranteed to leave you feeling as if your body is curled into a permanent sitting position. Cut a long trip into smaller sections and consider taking the scenic route, so you can make frequent stops for refreshments, bathroom breaks, stretching your legs and pulling over to the side of the road to admire the landscape.
Another way of taking it easy on your way to a holiday celebration is to let other people do most of the work. Consider carpooling, taking a bus, the train or flying, if you can. When traveling as a passenger, bring pillows and cushions to arrange yourself comfortably. Backpacks can also be remarkably helpful in getting comfortable, as they can double as a support for your legs.
When you have special needs, traveling can require more advanced planning, but it's very doable. Greyhound and Amtrak (enter disability in their search field) have information about traveling with a disability that can make the process easier for you and the Flying with a Disability website has all the information you need to know. I've traveled extensively with a wheelchair and my best piece of advice is to show up early and triplecheck all arrangements. Most companies are very competent in arranging for travelers with special needs, but every now and again, there's a hiccup and having the extra time to wrangle personnel and equipment can be very important to your peace of mind.
OK, that's a very blunt way of putting it, but medication isn't just your friend in your daily life, it is a very good friend when you travel. Staying ahead in the race with your pain is crucial to your comfort, so take your pain meds as prescribed, at regular intervals to make sure you always have medication in your system. Have a chat with your doctor before you leave so you know what to do about breakthrough pain and you may want to consider asking for an emergency prescription for prednisone should you have a flare while you're away. For more on traveling with meds, see Sara Nash's post about traveling and RA, as well as Karen Lee Richards' post on traveling with medication.
Traveling with chronic pain, medication and all the other accoutrements that come with RA can bring some extra challenges into your life, but once you have a plan, there's no reason to stay at home. Whether you travel for the holidays or vacation, remember above all else to have a great time.
You can read more of Lene's writing on The Seated View.