Ten Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Take Your Next Trip
Living with rheumatoid arthritis can seem like one challenge after another, which is why it's important to consciously decide it isn't going to hijack your joy along with your life. One great way to find joy in life is by exploring, but travel can take so much energy and how much fun can you have when you are in pain AND tired?
That's why, when I travel, I plan ahead and focus on being as comfortable and well rested as I can so that when I get where I need to be I can have the best experience possible. Whether I'm traveling by plane, train, or automobile, I always think about how best to manage the trip with as little pain, stress, and energy as I possibly can.
Before I became so organized I did what I seem to do best- learn the hard way! I had more than a couple of trips that left me flaring, bone tired, and/or ill with the latest flu. After a family vacation where I had little to no sleep every night because the walls were so thin I could hear every conversation my siblings were having, from six am to at 11:30 at night, and I found myself wanting to scream at them instead of joining the party, I decided something had to change.
My "RA & Travel" list of questions to ask myself
Before I travel now I ask myself the following ten questions and then plan accordingly. The last thing any one of us needs is to take a vacation and end up feeling worse, not better.
- How much energy you have? I know this is a hard question to answer but I often commit to things without really thinking about this. Answering this question honestly to yourself by paying attention to your energy level as you go through the day, will help you to plan a trip that is fun, but not stressful. Energy levels can plummet quickly when you live with RA and bouncing back can take time so you want to make sure that as you are planning your vacation, you also plan to pace yourself according to energy you have at your disposal.
- Do you have special dietary needs? Before I take a trip I plan my snacks and food for the road because I know whether it is a roadside restaurant, or an airport snack bar, my options will be too limited. I also pack my supplements and keep them handy.
- What would make you feel more comfortable during your trip?When my husband and I travel you would think we had quadruplets. Luckily he can be my sherpa, and if I travel solo I compromise a bit but still I carry my must haves for comfort. Ideally I carry a microwavable heating pad but if that is too much I'll improvise and use my aluminum water bottle. Extra ziplock bags can become ice packs and ice is usually easy to find while traveling so they are always in my bag. Eye shades, comfortable shoes, my pillow, ace bandages, assorted wraps depending on what is swelling at the time, and my supplement/medications are all usually my traveling companions. And they can almost guarantee me a good time!
- How available to help are your travel companions or the people you are visiting? This may or may not be a touchy question to ask yourself but is important to be honest. The reality is that some people are more empathetic than others and if you are with people who have a limited understanding of your situation or a lack of interest in knowing fully, you don't want to start the conversation while on vacation. It's better to break them in slowly during social visits, not during an extended time together where there is no escape. It's best to be very up front with the people you will be vacationing with about your needs before you embark on your trip, even family members.
- What are the must do's on your list? What would you be most disappointed about if you missed out? Focus on those activities and let the rest be gravy. I've learned the hard way that if I stretch myself too far trying to do it all I enjoy nothing.
- If you are traveling for work or with a rigid schedule can you plan rest days after the trip? If so, do it, your body will thank you.
- Is your trip flexible enough that you can plan it around your medication schedule? If you take a medication that is monthly or weekly and you know you have certain side effects at certain times like I do, it's best to time your vacation around these things so that your vacation time can be about enjoyment and not recovery.
- How mobile are you these days? If the answer is not very, now is the time to humble yourself and ask for a wheelchair in the airport, and/or at your destination, see what the options are for motorized scooters or wheelchairs. The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality, found at this website: http://sath.org, is a great resource for people with limited mobility.
- Can you be flexible about when you travel? If so, consider your sleep needs and don't book travel too early in the day. Also, consider mid-week air travel. Not only is it cheaper, but it is less busy. Speaking of flexible, put yourself in a flexible mood when you travel because it is rarely smooth and stressing unnecessarily will only serve to increase your pain and anxiety; not a way to start a nice vacation.
- Is there a chance you may need to cancel because of your health? Travel insurance is something I just started using, and I recommend reading the fine print carefully about restrictions because the insurance company will use every excuse not to pay you. But, that being said, the insurance can give you peace of mind and be very useful in the right circumstances (like overseas emergency medical care if your insurance won't pay out of the country like mine.) https://www.insuremytrip.com is a great resource for purchasing travel insurance.
I hope that this list helps you to enjoy your upcoming vacations to the fullest!
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?