How I Travel With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Patient Expert

"How do you do it?"

I get that question a lot, especially from my mother, when I tell her about my upcoming travel itineraries. Then, as though she's saying it for the first time each time, she'll say "the youth is wasted on the young," as though I don't appreciate being young and full of stamina. But, when you have arthritis, "young" doesn't necessarily equate to having a lot of stamina. So keeping a game plan when traveling is essential, and someone to remind me (nag?) about that game plan gives me a chance to constantly refine it.

My travels take me everywhere, most often to talk to groups of doctors, patients, families and others about arthritis, on behalf of the CreakyJoints community. I'm kind of like a (very hairy) mouthpiece for arthritis - always trying to raise awareness and draw attention to our collective needs.

As a result of my hectic schedule, I find myself taking trains, planes and automobiles virtually every week, sometimes multiple times in the span of a few days. And this can take a real toll on the body, especially during early mornings or late nights, not to mention in the confines of modern day commercial aircraft.

I take particular issue with airports in this country. Why are they so darn big? Have you ever visited a major U.S. city that didn't have an airport three times the necessary size? This means it can be - literally - over a mile from curb to gate, and when you're hauling carry-on bags (dare we check bags and surrender them to the airlines?), it can tax your already achy joints and make the trip quite painful.

I've gotten a routine down to ease the pain, so to speak, and it includes making sure I get lots of sleep the night before, asking for help (there's no shame in riding that cart) (it'll actually make you feel like airport royalty) and sitting whenever and wherever possible. I also recently ditched the shoulder-strap bags for the carry-on with wheels, and this has helped a lot.

Stretching has gotten me through most trips, and it's something I should be doing more often. I'm the guy that everyone awkwardly stares at, while I stretch in the middle of the aisle of an airplane. On one occasion was I wearing a shirt which exposed my stomach during one of those wonderful, intense stretches. It mostly drew attention from the old lady sitting in the aisle seat who wouldn't stop staring. After a moment I paused my stretch and told her that if she'd like to keep looking, it'll cost her a dollar. That settled that.

I also need to eat healthy when I travel. It's a must. "Feel good food" keeps me going. On morning flights I stare at the bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches and salivate, though I settle for a yogurt and fruit. It kind of sucks to forfeit the deliciousness that is greasy breakfast food, but I learned a long time ago that in some roundabout way, the stomach is connected to the joints, and to take care of one is to take care of the other.

Along the way I have met lots of people who have shared really good ideas about what they do to cope with a long flight, a bad travel schedule or just being on-the-go with arthritis, and I'm always up for more suggestions. To ask the question made famous by my mother, "how do YOU do it?"