On the Road with RA

Patient Expert

We have finally reached the official start of summer, and I couldn't be happier Summer for me means sunshine, sandals and best of all, vacation. Though I don't have any crazy multi-week adventure trips planned for this summer, I do have plenty of travel both near and far coming up, which means that in addition to finding hotels, figuring out where to have dinner and what sites to see, I also need to make plans to ensure my rheumatoid arthritis has as smooth a ride as possible.

My jaunts this summer will include traveling by car, train and a few long-distance plane rides, each of which pose different challenges.   Here are a few tips and survival strategies for taking your RA on the road:

Be a portable pharmacy:

Make sure you get any and all prescriptions filled before you take off so that have more than you'll need when you head out the door.     If you are going to be flying, make sure you keep your meds in your carry on so they can be accessed easily. It's also a good idea to make sure you have your prescriptions or travel cards on you for any injectable medications. In practice, I've never even been questioned or glanced at when I've traveled with mine, but better safe than sorry. Check with your airline before you fly to make sure you've got anything they might need to get your meds on board.

If your meds needs to be kept cold, make sure you have your cold pack ready to go and a game plan already worked out if you are going to have to re-up on ice along the way.   Many drug companies provide complimentary travel packs, including travel-size sharps disposable containers, for such occasions.   If you are on a med that requires refrigeration, but don't have a nifty little travel pack, contact the makers of your meds to see if you can get one! Remember to pack plenty of other supplies such as alcohol swabs, gauze pads, bandages and anything else your medication requires.

Other meds to pack are your 'in case of' meds.   Before each big trip I take, I meet with my rheumatologist to make sure I'm prepared with any additional medications in case I get a cold, an infection or anything else while I'm away. I also keep some basic first aid supplies on me and a thermometer in case a fever pops up.

And, though I don't normally take any steroids for my RA, when I travel, I arm myself with a prescription for one in case the stress of traveling, particularly on long flights, aggravates my RA to the point where I need some extra help.   Talk to your rheumatologist before you pack your bags to make sure you'll have everything on hand along the way!
Move it:

Taking a road trip?   Make sure you have plenty of stops along the way so that you can get out, walk and stretch to avoid getting stiff and swollen. Make sure your car is outfitted with padding and supports as needed to make an extended ride as comfortable as possible.

Put your RA on the itinerary:

Have an ambitious agenda planned for your vacation? That may be fine, but make sure you build in time to rest, particularly if you are traveling to a different time zone.   My days in South America and the Middle East were pretty packed, but I made sure I took advantage of down time to put my feet up and rest, and in between trips to the pyramid and wandering around the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, I spent a good few days lounging on the beach and by the pool giving my body a much needed vacation of its own.

Up in the Air:

Try and fly direct if you can and minimize the stress and hassle of multiple flights.   If you do have to connect, make sure you give yourself plenty of time between flights.   Though you don't want to be sitting around in an airport for hours, you don't want to be rushed getting to the next gate in time to board a flight, especially if you've got luggage with you.

Speaking of which, learn how to pack efficiently.   Don't bog down your bags with things you don't really need, or things you could easily pick up at your destination.   Even though it costs more, checking bags so you don't have to deal with the strain of carrying or rolling them around might be worth it.   If you do have unwieldy luggage - and let's face it, depending on how your RA is behaving, a bag filled with air might feel unwieldy- ask for help if you need it from a friend, a stranger or even the airline itself ahead of time. If you're lucky, you might even get to ride on one of those cool airport jeeps past all the other weary jetsetters hoofing it to the other terminal on foot.

Dress comfortably- you'll have to take your shoes off at security, so make sure you wear a pair that can be easily slipped on and off.   If you haven't already gotten a pair of stylish pressure socks, get some- they really help me a lot and keep my ankles and knees from swelling when I'm a mile high. Ditto on a travel pillow, ear plugs and eye mask- anything to make the plane feel more like a spa (not that it ever really will as long as you're flying coach).

Be sure to book an aisle seat so that you can easily get up and walk around during a long flight or stretch your legs quickly if a sudden jolt of pain hits you mid-flight.

Drench and Drink:
If you are going to be in the sun, remember to lather up on the sunscreen as many medications for RA can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. Wear a hat. Drink water. Lots and lots of it, and avoid alcohol (at least until you've landed. . .)

Be Flexible:

Rheumatoid arthritis is an unpredictable disease. No matter how well you plan and prepare, something might happen to derail you along the way.   Instead of beating yourself up and feeling extra miserable on top of feeling RA miserable, let yourself off the hook and understand that there are things about our diseases and our bodies we can't predict or control. . . and then figure out a plan B and try to make the best out of it- after all, you are on vacation!

Sara is an avid traveler. You can read about her travels on her blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.