Chronic Pain and Travel: Tips for Success

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Travel for those living with chronic pain can be challenging, but worth it if we plan well. The following tips are general and specific for making travel less stressful.

General considerations

  • Know your obstacles.
  • Plan a realistic itinerary.
  • Allow plenty of time.
  • Make a list early. Part of my travel plan is to put items I intend to pack in my “vA-cA staging area” (the guest bedroom). This gives me time to relax before the big day.
  • Keep a small, lightweight, hands-free bag with essentials handy and check your main bag if traveling by air.
  • Ask, “How accessible are handicapped accommodations?”
  • Pack for all temperatures and environmental fluctuations. I get cold easily, so I pack clothing that is easy to layer. With careful coordination, I can make many outfits from fewer articles of clothing and lessen the load.
  • Make your bed as close to your bed at home as possible. Ask for extra pillows or blankets. (I always check the closet when I first arrive for these).
  • Use earplugs and a sleep mask.
  • Stay as close to your usual routine as possible, but also adjust with the local time to avoid jetlag.
  • Throw in an extra pair of reading and sunglasses from the dollar store so if you lose them, you don’t mind so much. A book light comes in handy and serves as a light that is easy to access when your unfamiliar hotel room is dark.

Medical-related

  • Carry a medical letter, a medical history summary that includes diagnoses with physician’s contact information. This letter is handy and often available from your doctor. Ask if they might have such a thing.
  • Carry your medications with you and follow the tips for traveling with medications.
  • If you need a wheelchair, arrange to have one available. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning, making connections, and more.
  • Pack disposable ice or heat packs, but as with external and implantable devices, topical pain relievers, prosthetics, service animals, etc., check security guidelines and procedures ahead of time if flying.
  • Carry your insurance cards and identification.

In the air, over the rails, and on the road

  • Take advantage of rest stops. Move about and stretch every chance you get. Google has a map of rest stops across the U.S.
  • If you are confined to an airplane seat, keep blood and lymph moving by flexing and relaxing your joints every 20 to 30 minutes. Support socks are helpful for circulation too.
  • Avoid alcohol and stay hydrated. Dehydration stresses the body as a whole.
  • Carry a healthy snack bag with fresh fruit and non-perishable foods, like protein bars, in case of a delay.
  • Protect your health. I wear a scarf when traveling by plane so I can stay warm. It also dubs as a mask to ward off germs that circulate through the cabin.
  • Dress for comfort in loose non-restrictive clothing and a pair of comfortable fail-safe shoes.
  • Support your arms and neck. I carry a blow-up neck pillow to support my neck and low back and a tennis ball in a tube sock to self-massage my neck and back muscles for the plane. I also have soft pillow arm supports attached to a soft low back support for the car.
  • Take something to keep you occupied. My favorite: Sudoku.
  • Make sure your plane, train, or bus is on time before leaving home – sign up for notification when offered.
  • If traveling by car, make sure it is road ready.
  • Check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) passenger support if you have questions regarding how to prepare for traveling by air.
  • If traveling by train or bus, be sure to review individual policies regarding your needs.

Travel comes with challenges for everyone, but especially those of us who live with conditions that cause chronic pain. But, if we respect our limitations and listen to what our body tells us, we can enjoy our time away from home.

See more helpful articles:

Chronic Pain and Travel Planning

Chronic Pain and Travel: Creating an Effective Travel Plan

Tips for Making Travel Less Stressful