Summer Travel Tips

Last updated: July 2014

I have the travel bug. Whenever I have saved enough funds and vacation time, I look for opportunities to travel. Rather than fading with age, the lure of travel beckons more.

My husband and I just returned from a wonderful trip to London where we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. It was a lengthy planning process, but for me a lot of the fun of travel is doing research, making plans and anticipating the fun of visiting new (or old) places.

With my rheumatoid arthritis traveling can be a little more complex but, it is certainly do-able. I encourage anyone with RA to travel when they can. Travel helps me to enjoy the world beyond my RA while also providing new, fun experiences.

I enjoy both longer trips (like my recent travels to London) and weekend-type trips. For me, variety in travel increases the fun. Later this summer, I’ll be making a couple more short trips. In many ways, domestic travel is easier because the U.S. is generally more accessible for people with illness or disability.

However, don’t rule out international travel. A surprising number of countries are becoming more accessible. London, for example, was surprisingly accessible. I use a wheelchair due to my RA and we found most of the streets had curb cuts, all the major tourist spots were at least partially accessible, and most notably—every taxi cab was accessible! We toured extensively and even took day trips to visit Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court. Additionally, we went to music and theater performances. Despite having to make extra considerations with my RA, we didn’t miss anything and had a terrific time.

When the travel bug starts to nibble, I first do some research on possible places. What place do we want to see? What type of trip do we want—relaxing or touring? International or domestic? How much time do we have for travel?

After nailing down a location and time period, then the serious research begins. For my comfort, I need to find a hotel with accessible features, such as enough space for my wheelchair. Depending on where we go I prefer to travel in my motorized wheelchair, but when traveling internationally I also bring my manual chair to give us more flexibility. The manual lets us go to places with a couple steps and to older buildings (like historical places).

Transportation is another important research piece. First to reach the destination, then for touring. A lot of the time we fly, so we have the process down to a science. It’s easier for me to sit near the door and since my joints don’t bend well into small spaces, the bulkhead area is best because there’s a little more leg room. If I can’t reserve the seats during online booking, I call the airline and explain my disability to request some help with seating accommodations.

Travel planning involves balancing packing in activities while also managing the special needs dictated by my RA. The schedule needs to include rest and the logistics need to take in account keeping myself as comfortable as possible. That’s why I’m choosy about picking my seat on the plane and finding a hotel where I’ll be comfortable. Without good rest and keeping my joints happy, travel quickly becomes miserable.

Another important detail for me is planning out my medication before travel. I always pack extra, especially pain-related medication, and pack it in my carry-on so that it’s always with me. Since I also take an injectable drug, this involves packing it in an insulated case with a frozen pack to keep it cool during the travel. While making the hotel reservation, I make sure that either the room has a refrigerator or that I can borrow space in theirs.

Due to my immune system suppression from my RA treatments, catching a cold or other illness when traveling has become a greater concern. I am mindful to wash my hands frequently and pack hand sanitizer to use on the plane (or when there’s no sink). It’s no guarantee, but prevention can help to reduce the risk.

Despite my RA and living with mobility challenges, I find travel greatly rewarding. It opens my eyes to different cultures, entertains with surprises and helps me to enjoy the beauties and wonders of our world.

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