Chronic Pain and Travel: Creating an Effective Travel Plan

by Celeste Cooper, RN Health Professional

In the first part of the three-part series Chronic Pain and Travel, we identified obstacles to travel, like anxiety, a flare of symptoms, unexpected delays, and other considerations, and how they can impact our travel planning. The next step is to think about how to make and execute a specific plan to meet those challenges, a kind of roadmap based on our individual potential road hazards.

Because pain is our constant companion, it requires the same attention and care when we travel, probably more. Expecting the unexpected, such as a delayed flight or a flat tire, makes us better prepared to minimize the consequences.

The goal

We make plans with a goal in mind and when it comes to chronic pain and travel, the goal is the same as it would be for anyone: to have a relaxing and enjoyable experience. However, our plan on how to reach that goal is very individualized, because one of our travel companions is chronic pain.

Planning points

When planning our trip, there are particular points to consider, like keeping to our usual routine as much as possible, arranging hotel accommodations that best meet our needs, making sure we have our usual comfort items, and more. Some of these things we can accomplish in the short-term, while others will be implemented over the long term. Some may be universal, such as choosing our destination wisely or making a packing list early, and others will be particular to each of us, such as planning for a wheelchair or other special accommodations.

The plan

The first step in the plan is to identify what we need to accomplish our objectives. Short-term goals include such things as planning the itinerary, and other goals are longer-term, like arranging with our physician to have the medications we need, or knowing where medical facilities are at our destination.

An organized plan requires us to ask:

  1. Is the objective specific?

  2. Is the plan actionable?

  3. Is the goal attainable?

  4. Is it amendable?

All four elements are necessary to meet our objectives, but it’s quite possible point number three is a priority for those of us with conditions that cause us to experience persistent pain.

It’s easy to be excited about seeing family members or friends again or having a fun time experiencing new things. But our excitement can cloud our judgment. We can’t zip line if we can’t climb stairs without worsening pain.

We should be considerate of our pain source. For instance, when I am experiencing a Migraine attack, the last thing I want to do is travel — anywhere, but I won’t be held hostage or forced into seclusion during the times I feel good. That’s why I have a travel plan that includes making sure I have cool compresses, my TEN’s unit, special sunglasses, my abortive medications, a healthy snack, a way to stay hydrated, and other things I know I will need during an attack.

Having a plan on how to handle situations, such as being upfront with our traveling companion(s) about our limits, is equally important. When we communicate our special needs effectively, we avoid any emotional consequences.

Expect to be flexible

Some goals require constant revision and others are perpetual. Regardless, we have something we want to accomplish — in this case, a successful trip full of opportunities. That means our plans are not set in concrete. They are guidelines.

Pain and its side effects, like less energy, poor sleep, etc., demands that we go with the flow and so should our travel plans. If we are rigid in our thinking and don’t accept that change is inevitable, our plans will fail the attainable test. When symptoms flare, it is more difficult — not impossible — but more difficult to process information we would like. Our goals and our plans need to reflect this temporary intrusion on our mental, emotional, and spiritual being too. The first step in our backup plan is to BE FLEXIBLE.

Be practical

Poor planning can lead to feelings of inadequacy and seriously mess with our emotional balance. But, the good news is that our plan doesn’t have to be elaborate to be practical. If we remember how we plan for our daily needs at home and prepare for them when we travel, we can find all the joy and rewards that the great escape provides us.

Celeste Cooper, RN
Meet Our Writer
Celeste Cooper, RN

Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through Twitter @PainedInkSlayer.