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). (https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/traveling-with-refrigerated-medications/) 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.