Traveling can be an adventure, bringing you to new cities, new cultures, and new people. It expands your life, offers you the opportunity to widen your culinary horizons, and let’s not forget the masses of photos that can keep you company during rough times. Whether you’re traveling for pleasure or business, RA will come along and can make the trip a pain, both literally and metaphorically. Planning ahead can prevent RA from interfering with the success of your travels.
Packing and Planning
Packing light is a must. Trust me, you won’t need half of what you want to bring. I write a list of everything I want to pack and then I ruthlessly cut it in half. Even that usually ends up being too much.
When you plan your trip, being fairly detailed will help you accommodate your body’s need for rest. If you’re traveling by car, take frequent rest stops to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Changing to a different position can do wonders for cramped muscles and joints. Instead of driving straight through, consider breaking a long trip into two and staying in a motel for the night.
You want to get the most out of your time away and including planned rest periods in your schedule can help you do just that. Your RA will thank you and you will enjoy yourself more.
Are you going to a country that requires you to get any sort of vaccination before traveling? If you are on an immunosuppressant medication for your RA, it’s important that you talk to your doctor about infection prevention and how vaccinations may interact with your RA or your medication. For instance, if you are immunosuppressed, yellow fever vaccination is contraindicated. If you’re traveling to an area that has yellow fever, make sure you don’t travel at high peak activity for this condition. You should also carry a yellow fever vaccination waiver letter. In addition, make sure that any vaccination you receive is not a live vaccine.
Planning for a trip also includes preparing your medication. It may be a good idea for you to talk to your doctor about getting a "just in case" prescription for a prednisone burst and also antibiotics, if you get frequent infections of a particular type. This can help you control a flare while you’re traveling, as well as deal with an infection.
Put your medication in a carry-on bag. If your suitcase goes missing, you won’t be without your meds.
Traveling with medication is a bit more complicated than it used to be. Know what’s allowed for air travel with medication. It is recommended that you bring supporting identification from your doctor regarding your meds, as well as storing them in the original container with a label that has the name of your doctor and your pharmacy.
If you’re traveling with medication that needs to be refrigerated, you can use cold packs or contact the support program for your medication to see if the company provides travel packs. Make sure to book a hotel room with a fridge.
Crossing time zones? Start shifting your medication schedule several days before your trip. This can make the adjustment to the different time easier on your body.
Dealing with Fatigue and Jet Lag
Jet lag can sideswipe even the healthiest person, but when you live with the chronic fatigue of RA, it can be an extra challenge. Just as you might wish to adjust your medication schedule ahead of time, you can also begin to adjust your sleep schedule. Go to bed a little earlier or later every night, depending on whether you will travel ahead or behind your regular time. Try to sleep on the plane. The flight attendant will be able to give you extra pillows or blankets to get comfortable. If you have trouble sleeping on planes, talk to your doctor about taking half a Gravol tablet. It’ll knock you out.
Once you reach your destination, follow the plans you made and honor your scheduled rest breaks. Go to bed early the first few evenings to deal with the fatigue you may be experiencing from the trip. Alternate high-energy activities with ones that are lower key to make sure you don’t run out of spoons (i.e., energy).
Pain Management While Traveling
Managing pain while you travel is much like managing pain at home. It involves listening to your body and respecting its requests for medication and rest. It’s likely that you may need more frequent doses of pain medication or somewhat stronger meds to stay ahead of the pain. Before you leave for your trip, ask your doctor for advice.
Pain management on the trip can also include advocating for yourself. For instance, if the bed in your room is not comfortable, ask at the hotel for another one. Some hotels have Tempurpedic mattresses, which may be more comfortable.
By planning your trip as discussed in this post, you can take care of your RA while traveling and thereby manage your pain. You may also want to bring a bit of extra equipment in addition to your medication. Consider bringing a collapsible cane to use on days that involve a lot of walking or toward the end of your trip when you may be more tired. It can make the difference between being holed up in the hotel and still getting out to see the sights.
Traveling with RA doesn’t have to be a pain, but it does help to have a good, detailed plan before you start. Knowing you have the tools, medication, and information you need to deal with potential challenges will help you relax and enjoy your trip.
Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.