Living in a city with fairly reliable and accessible public transportation means that we don’t have a car. However, a few times throughout the year we rent a car and take road trips to visit family. My husband Richard does the driving since I never learned to drive. (Maybe some day!)
I like the variety in renting cars and trying out different vehicles. We have learned some lessons through experience that may be helpful for other folks with rheumatoid arthritis to plan car trips.
Tips for planning a car trip for those with RA
- Determine your car parameters. It took a little experimenting, but we discovered that the smallest kind of car doesn’t work for us because often the trunk space is too small for my manual wheelchair. When we travel by car we take my manual so that Richard can wheel me around (usually I get around in a heavy motorized wheelchair). Another factor is that a car can’t be too tall as I cannot climb up! So Richard checks out the cars and picks out one that falls between these limitations.
- Pack layers. Typically, I get cold much easier than Richard does. When we travel I want him to be comfortable at the wheel, so I usually dress warmer so that the temperature is at a good level for him. I will put on an extra hoodie, long pants, or a jacket so that I will be warmer as he is usually feeling better at a cooler temperature.
- Plan your medication. I always keep my medication near me in my purse. I do this so I can take it easily at the appointed times. But I also pack extra prednisone so that if I am feeling badly, I can take a little extra. I also find that traveling (even just sitting in the car) can be exhausting, which makes my joints extra achy. Usually, I try to take a little extra prednisone right before hitting the road.
- Adjust seating for maximum comfort. When renting a car, the settings for the seating can be all out of sorts depending on the previous renter. So I always take a few minutes to sit and adjust the settings for my comfort. Because I am short, often my feet may dangle and not rest on the floor. My husband will help me put something under them to keep my legs in a better position. I also will need to adjust the neck and back. My goal is to have the seat as supportive as possible to minimize the strain and exhaustion on my joints.
- Take breaks. Our road trips typically range between three and six hours. Much further and we will usually travel by air. On the one hand, I’d rather keep going and get to our destination, since driving can tire out my joints. But in reality, I need to stop for a rest or two at least to stretch a little (or use the restroom). We have certain spots we will stop, perhaps even grab a snack or a drink.
One of the great things about traveling by car is that it gives you flexibility on timing and pace. We tend to like leaving fairly early in the morning when there is less traffic and then be able to take breaks as we need. However, I know the night before I will need solid rest and to be gentle with myself during the rigors of travel.
I’m not always good at being kind to my joints by getting rest before a trip, but I often do crash after a stint in the car because I am just too tired to stay awake! In any case, I have found that some planning ahead can help make car travel a little easier.
When was your last flare?