Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Pack your RA and go!

Pack Your RA and Go!

I love to travel and one of my goals since my RA diagnosis is to have RA slow me down as little as possible. I have learned to adapt a bit to make my life on the road easier. With the onset of the holiday travel season, I thought I’d share some of these tips. Most of my travel these days is by plane, but most of these can be applied to other forms of travel as well:

  • Travel light. Heavy luggage is a friend to no one, especially those of us with aching joints who are prone to fatigue. When selecting a wardrobe, pick a base color (I usually go with black) and then accessorize. This allows you to take fewer clothes and shoes, making your luggage lighter. For an upcoming three-day trip, I am wearing a pair of black jeans on the plane and packing a pair of nicer black slacks. I’ll wear the black slacks each day of the conference, but change out tops and jackets for a new look each day. I’ll wear casual black shoes and pack one pair of nicer black shoes in my bag. This is a lot fewer clothes than packing full outfits and matching shoes for each of the three days of the conference (plus travel outfits). On a two-week trip to Europe next spring, I am planning on taking one roll-a-board and one tote.
  • Select RA-friendly luggage. Luggage is an expensive investment, so you should be sure and purchase luggage that will make it easier to travel with RA. Look for bags with padded handles which are easier to handle with sore hands. A good combination is a roll-aboard bag (that rolls so you don’t have to carry it) with a matching smaller bag or tote that will “stack” on the roll-aboard so you don’t have to carry it. This allows you to roll all of your luggage, saving strain on your aching joints.
  • Think about checking your bags. I hate checking luggage, not only for security issues, but because I like to roll off the airplane and on to whatever adventure is waiting. However, with bad shoulders, I find it difficult to put my luggage in the overhead bin. So if my husband isn’t traveling with me to help, I have started checking my bag. (Unfortunately, the days of gentlemen helping ladies with their bags seem to be long gone, so I have given up on counting on these acts of kindness.)
  • If you’re flying, pick your seat carefully. Get the best seat with the most leg room that you can afford. A first class seat on the aisle is about as good as it gets, but not many people can afford that privilege. However many airlines offer seats with extra leg room for an additional charge and, if you can afford it, those seats are worth it. At the very least, try to select an aisle seat so that you can easily get up and stretch during the flight.
  • Stay hydrated. Some drugs taken by RA patients can cause dry mouth. Dehydration not only increases this problem, it can increase fatigue and, if hydration is not addressed, the fluid in joints can also decrease, causing stiffness (as if we needed any more of this). If you’re flying, you can’t take bottled water through security. You can either buy bottled water once you’re through security or take a refillable water bottle with you and fill it up once you’re inside the terminal.
  • Traveling with refrigerated medications. Mariah Leach did an excellent article last year on traveling with drugs that need to be kept cool (like most biologics). ( You should segregate your medications in a separate, insulated bag or pouch for screening. I suggest using baggies of ice instead of the gel/ice packs for two reasons. First, while the gel packs are supposed to be allowed through security, I have heard of occasions where they were considered “liquids” and not allowed. The other thing is that they eventually “lose their cool” and can’t be refrozen in transit. My suggestion is to put a baggie of ice in your insulated bag for the trip to the airport. Dispose of this bag of ice before going through security. Once through security, head to the nearest food vendor and ask them to refill your baggie, explaining that you need it for medication. Most of them are happy to do this for free. If the ice melts while on the plane, you can ask the flight attendant for a refill.
  • Take proactive steps against exposure to illness. As we became painfully aware during the recent Ebola outbreak, you come into contact with all kinds of people and all kinds of germs while traveling. This is especially serious for people with suppressed immune systems. Always carry hand sanitizer with you. If flying, put a small bottle in your three-ounce bag where it’s easily accessible. And don’t just carry it, use it. I also carry a disposable surgical-type mask in my tote. It may look funny, but if I’m sitting close to someone who obviously has a cold or other contagious illness, I put safety first and wear it.

All this being said, my number one tip is to move at a pace that is comfortable for you. Airports especially seem to be high stress zones with people scurrying between gates. Remember that you don’t have to keep that pace or be that frantic. Allow a little extra time to get to the airport and get through the airport. Stress can trigger flares, so low-stress travel is the best preventative medicine.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Eebtool
    3 years ago

    On the hydration part of this, keeping well hydrated every day is important for us all.

    Just how does being well hydrated compared to being less hydrated, or even dehydrated affect overall health both for the younger and older persons who have RA?

    I know that there are a few ways we can check hydration level for our self. As a runner, be it a slow runner, I use the what is known as, well to be blunt about it, the pee color test. I do not know if that is the best way, but it is sure an easy way.

    Do you know some other ways for people to check if they are properly hydrated?

  • Carla Kienast author
    3 years ago

    Actually the “pee color” as well as the “pee volume” test are both good early indicators of how hydrated you are. I have Sjogren’s which causes dryness, so I don’t need a lot of other indicators to know when I’m running low. Beyond the “pee” tests, other early indicators include dry mouth, headache, sluggishness and, in some people, confusion. With a chronic disease and treatments that suppress the immune system, being properly hydrated is especially important. We need that level of water in our bodies to help our kidneys function, to help us ward of germs, and help keep our bodies comfortable on long journeys. Thanks for the response!

  • mel b
    5 years ago

    dont 4get FREE
    servicez frm
    ALL airlinez:))

  • Connie Rifenburg
    5 years ago

    I would add one additional travel tip that has worked wonders for me. First, I’m not a salesperson for any of these products. That said; I will call them by name because I have used them specifically. #1. Airborne. (supposedly invented by a school teacher who kept getting colds). I take it as a precautionary whenever I’m in places with crowds or children. #2. Herbalife Best Defense. This is really my favorite. They are an effervescent tablet dropped in water (I like it cold) but others drink it like tea. My daughter-in-law started me on these for a xmas present, and I was amazed at how well they worked. I can take them as preventative (immune booster) or again, when I’m traveling on a plane, or other group travel. #3. Zicam. Zicam had some bad press regarding the use of zinc a while back, and my sister who used the q-tip- in-the-nose style, was disappointed when they removed it from the market. I notice it is back on the market now, I don’t know if they changed the medication, or the bad press was really just that, and so they were once again allowed to sell it. I used it prior to using Airborne and Herbalife. It worked as a preventative when I was going to be in large crowds, but I do feel as though I had minor side effects from it, (but my sister didn’t) so given a choice, I would chose the other two.

    I have used a product like this (are there others?) for the past 4-5 years and I sincerely believe they have helped me fortify my lousy immune system so that I’m not a walking target for every childs’ germs or adult coughs.

    Other people, not immune suppressed, may think we over-react to being in circumstances with large groups of people or small quarters with a few people. Grocery carts, elevator buttons, door nobs, or even restaurants, are all carriers of some serious germs for those of us on steroids or other immunosuppressants. But I’m not willing to spend time in a hospital with a serious URI because someone else thinks I’m over-reacting.

    I just recently was placed in that situation with a nephew’s wedding. My sister’s son was getting married in a unique setting of a hunt club with several hundred people attending, flying in from all over. The family stayed in cabins surrounding the main lodge for a day before, during and after the wedding. My sister was stressed (as all wedding mothers) and several of the younger members of the wedding party were just getting over colds, etc. I suggested she start on the Herbalife “fizzies” as some protection beforehand.

    She did, and so did I. Can I PROVE it worked? No. But neither of us got sick and enjoyed a wonderful celebration. She is now sold on this product too, simply because she had felt like she was coming down with a cold and after taking it once a day for several days ahead and also during the time of the wedding, her symptoms disappeared.

    So, if any of you have stories where you’ve used OTC immune boosters, I’d love to hear what you have to say. One thing that I was worried about at first, was would it interfere with my other prescription meds. But none of the products I’ve mentioned gave me any side effects, and I’m on a biologic, and 16 other meds. I will also say that the least expensive was Airborne. The most expensive was Herbalife, and Zicam was about in the middle cost wise.

    Like I said, whether you’re traveling or just out and about during the holidays, you might try one of my suggestions and see if it helps you get through the hugging and kissing and extra people in your life during these special times.

    And thanks Carla for your travel trips. I saw myself in some of those situations and your advice was right-on.


  • Wren moderator
    5 years ago

    Carla, what a useful, clear, and well-written article! Having just returned from a cross-country trip by air, I really wish I’d read it before I left. Of course I packed far more than I needed; I haven’t traveled by air or for any appreciable distance for years, and I’d forgotten the light-packing skills I’d acquired as I traveled in Europe way back in the olden days. So I ended up checking one bag, but still carrying way too much weight in the other onto the plane. Live and learn!

    Your other tips are invaluable, as well. I’m one of those who pack the little bottle of antibacterial gel but forget to use it. Heh. I’ll remember next time. And you’ve helped me decide to look into getting better luggage. I’ve been using 25-year-old borrowed suitcases that are heavy even when they’re empty. Yuck. ;D

  • Carla Kienast author
    5 years ago

    Hi Wren: Travel will wear you out even if you don’t have RA (and gray hair!). Hopefully you’ll have more travel adventures in the future (and I can be there, too!).

  • Kelly Mack moderator
    5 years ago

    Love these travel tips Carla! Thanks so much! 🙂

  • Carla Kienast author
    5 years ago

    Thanks, Kelly. Travel can be taxing on anyone, but especially so if you have RA. Wishing you safe, happy, and flare-free holidays.

  • Poll