Ways to Have a More Relaxing Vacation With Chronic Pain

Patient Expert
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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 chronic pain 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.

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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.

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Make a packing list early

Begin making your packing list at least two 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.

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Reduce the stress of air travel

Tell the airline you are disabled when you make the reservation. Request a bulkhead aisle seat and 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.

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Keep your medication with you

It is especially important when traveling by air to keep your medications in their original prescription bottles and to keep them with you in your carry-on bag. In the event your luggage is lost, you will still have the medicine you need. For more tips on traveling with pain medication, see “Tips for Traveling with Medication.”

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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. 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.

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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.

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Request necessary accommodations

Call the hotel you’ll be staying at directly rather than using their 800 number, so you can ask questions about the facility and make specific requests. Request a room that is on the main floor or near an elevator to minimize the distance you have to walk. And be sure to specify any special accommodations you might need, such as a room that is wheelchair accessible, has shower grab bars, etc.

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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.

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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.

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Talk with your traveling companions before the trip

In the early stages of planning your trip, sit down with your travel companions 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. Knowing you are free to say: “I’m really tired and need to rest this afternoon,” allows you to relax and enjoy yourself.

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Plan a day to rest from your vacation

If possible, plan an extra day or two to rest after you return home before going back to the daily grind. Although vacations are enjoyable, they can also be tiring.