Vacationing with Fibromyalgia: 10 Tips to Make Traveling Less Painful and More Fun
For many of us, summertime means vacation time. Vacation is supposed to be a time when we get away from all the stresses of daily life, relax and just have fun. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of traveling with fibromyalgia is that often, just getting to our destination is so stressful and exhausting, we spend most of our vacation in bed, trying to recover enough strength to make the trip home.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. With a little pre-planning, your vacation can still be the enjoyable experience you want it to be.
1. Choose your destination wisely.
When choosing a destination for your vacation, keep your physical limitations in mind. If heat and humidity make you miserable, going to Florida in mid-August is probably not a good idea. Or if you have difficulty climbing stairs, don’t plan a tour of historic homes that feature high porches and multiple floors. Try to pick a location with weather and activities that won’t add to your discomfort.
2. Make a packing list early.
Begin making your packing list at least a couple of weeks before you’re scheduled to leave. That will give you plenty of time to remember and add items that you initially forgot. Pack everything except last-minute items a day ahead of time so you’re not rushing around getting stressed right before you walk out the door. Write down a list of those things that can’t be packed until the last minute and put the list with your luggage so you can double check to make sure you have everything you need.
3. Reduce the stress of air travel.
When traveling by air, tell the airline you are disabled when you make the reservation. Request a bulkhead aisle seat (first seat in coach). This is the easiest seat to get in and out of and has the most leg room. Allow yourself extra layover time when changing planes so that, even if the flight is running a little late, you will be able to make your connecting flight without rushing. Even if you don’t normally use a wheelchair, request that one be waiting for you curbside and at the gate of each stop on your trip. Save your energy for sightseeing and other fun activities. Get your ticket and boarding pass ahead of time to minimize the number of times you have to stand in line.
Use luggage with wheels, check most of your bags and only carry on what you absolutely have to have during your flight. Lugging heavy bags through airports will leave you exhausted before you ever arrive at your destination. However, be sure to keep all of your medications in their original prescription bottles with you. In the event your luggage is lost, you will still have the medicine you need. For more tips on traveling with pain medication, see "Travel Tips for Your Pain Medication."
4. Take breaks on road trips.
When traveling by car, plan to stop for a few minutes every hour or two - especially if you’re doing the driving. Get out of the car, stretch and walk around a little. Staying in any one position too long will cause you to become stiff and increase your pain. Plan your seating strategy ahead of time. If there is room in the car, make a bed in the backseat so you can lie down when necessary. Try out a variety of sitting positions and figure out how many pillows you’ll need to take to keep yourself as comfortable as possible.
5. Plan a realistic itinerary.
Just getting to your destination can be exhausting so don’t plan to do much on the day you arrive. Give yourself time to settle in, rest and have a nice dinner. Be sure to schedule rest breaks into your itinerary. If possible, allow yourself time for a nap each day. Or at least take time to just sit quietly and sip your favorite beverage so your body can rest and revive itself.
6. Request necessary accommodations.
Call the hotel/motel you’ll be staying at directly rather than using their 800 number so you can ask questions about the facility and make specific requests. For example, request a room that is on the main floor or near an elevator to minimize the distance you have to drag yourself and your luggage. And be sure to specify any special accommodations you might need, such as a room that is wheelchair accessible, has shower grab bars, etc.
7. Make your bed as comfortable as possible.
If the bed in your hotel/motel is uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to ask for as many additional pillows as you need to create your own "nest." You might also think about going to a nearby discount store and buying a foam "egg crate" mattress pad. The added comfort is worth the few dollars it costs, and because it is so inexpensive, you won’t feel too bad leaving it behind when you go home.
8. Forget your pride and ride at theme parks and tourist attractions.
Most theme parks and large tourist attractions are well prepared to accommodate people with disabilities. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your comfort and fun. Even if you never use a wheelchair in your daily life, consider renting a wheelchair or scooter at theme parks - unless you can handle walking for miles and standing for hours without pain. An added bonus: at most attractions if you are in a wheelchair, you and those accompanying you can go right in without waiting in line. A wheelchair or scooter will allow you to do a lot more and suffer a lot less.
9. Come to an understanding with your traveling companions before the trip.
In the early stages of planning your trip, sit down with your family or travel companion(s) and make sure they understand ahead of time that you may not be able to do everything they want to do. The most stressful part of a trip can be trying to meet someone else’s expectations. Before you leave home, come to an agreement on how to handle the times you need to rest. Do you mind if they go somewhere without you one day? Are they willing to let you rest when you need to without making you feel guilty? Discuss possible scenarios and how you will handle them. Knowing you are free to say, "I’m really tired so I think I’ll skip Water World this afternoon," allows you to relax and enjoy yourself.
10. Plan a day to rest from your vacation.
If possible, plan an extra day to rest after you return home before going back to the daily grind. Although vacations are enjoyable, they can also be tiring.
Vacations are meant to be fun. A little time spent planning ahead can make your vacation a pleasure rather than a pain!
Co-Founder of the National Fibromyalgia Assn.