Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
The Travel Hangover

The Travel Hangover

Those of us living with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) are familiar with the interplay of activity, rest, and pain levels. Lack of exercise can increase RA/RD symptoms, but so too can overexertion. There’s a delicate balance at play, and the ideal middle ground has fuzzy boundaries that change based on any number of factors including stress, sleep quality, weather, and nutrition, to name just a few. When the parameters of the activity “sweet spot” are constantly fluctuating, it can be extremely challenging to be on target.

Being off-target and getting too little or too much exercise can lead to increased RA/RD symptoms. Sometimes, this is in the form of a full-blown flare. Other times, there’s what I’ve coined an “activity hangover.” This is a mild increase of RA/RD symptoms that typically follows overexertion. Less severe than a full-blown flare, an “activity hangover” involves pain, fatigue and inflammation are not debilitating, but certainly more significant than prior to the activity.

I’ve long recognized my activity hangovers, but I’ve realized there’s a special brand of activity hangover that comes with the multiple stressors involved in traveling: the “travel hangover.”

Travel usually involves multiple flare triggers. Trips often involve physical activity in multiple forms: sightseeing; special activities such as hiking or snorkeling; and increased walking when traveling without a car. On the flip side, travelling also involves a lot of sitting, which, ironically, can be just as problematic as overexertion. Much of this sitting takes place in seats that are uncomfortable for long stretches and may involve lots of jostles and bumps along the way.  Furthermore, travel impacts sleep via time changes, sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings, and not being on a regular schedule. Nutrition can be affected by the availability of fresh and healthy foods and lack of access to a kitchen. Even the change in climate of a different locale can impact RA/RD symptoms, not to mention the air pressure changes of airplane travel and the inflammation it can cause.

The travel triggers

This summer I travelled internationally, and I experienced all of these triggers. Miraculously, during our 17 days of travel, I did not have a full-blown flare. Some days were better than others, the last few days involved a little limping and the need for extra rest, but for the most part my body withstood the demands of travel incredibly well. Always grateful for a good day, I kept telling my husband and kids of the gratitude I felt that my body wasn’t in a lot of pain and that I was able to participate in so many fun activities.

It was a truly wonderful trip, spent reuniting with relatives, seeing unfamiliar parts of the world, sharing other cultures with my children, and remembering that humans come up with all different ways to structure their worlds. I am so glad I took that trip.

The activity hangover to end all activity hangovers

At the same time, three weeks since returning home my body is still paying a price. This travel hangover has been an activity hangover to end all activity hangovers.

I’ve experienced extreme muscle tightness; back, neck, and hip pain; increased inflammation; and a deep, persistent fatigue. While there have been a couple of days where I could not carry out my normal activities, for the most part the severity of these symptoms has not been as severe as what I consider a “full-blown flare.” Yet, day after day after day of increased pain, inflammation, and fatigue certainly takes a toll.

Before this trip, I was aware that travel can cause an activity hangover, but somehow I didn’t foresee that a big trip would cause a big activity hangover. I am storing this knowledge away so that the next time we take an extended travel, I will keep my calendar as open as possible for the weeks afterward. This travel hangover has led me to spend most of my weekends resting. While this has felt nourishing to my fatigued body, it has necessitated some cancellations. Next time, I will work to remember that RA/RD continually carries a cost. When it comes to traveling, that cost is an expectation of immediate normalcy in the face of a travel hangover.

Do you experience travel hangovers? Have you found any tips or strategies that help reduce your activity hangover after a trip?

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

Comments

  • karilccc
    7 months ago

    Great article. My first read on this site. (Newly diagnosed over the course of the last year) Traveling is my “hobby” and one that is always difficult – has been before my diagnosis – lots of limping, pain meds, always trying ‘new’ comfortable shoes for upcoming trips, etc, etc, etc — the things we do to try to cope with pain! What I find hard to explain to others is the ‘travel hangover’ — the guilt perhaps? Or just lack of an ability to explain why I was able to travel for 10 days to Central America, but, now I can’t even get out of bed. Is it something I did to myself? Ie. would I be better off not traveling and thus not hurting myself by pushing myself so hard that I end up bed-ridden for a while? And, how do we deal with the questions about why we can be perceived as somewhat selfish – able to muster up ways to deal with the pain when it comes to traveling – less able to do so when it comes to helping drive a friend, or help with a move, or host a party….. etc, etc… Lots to think about!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hey karilccc,

    I’m so glad you found our site! I’ve been diagnosed for 18 years, and the emotions of that first year are still so vivid for me. It’s such confusing, scary news to make sense of. Please know that we are here if you ever want to post comments, questions, or experiences to articles, in our forums (https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/forums/), or on our Facebook page or Facebook messages. Living with RA can feel isolating, but there are so many of us who know what it feels like to face the challenges that you are facing, and we are listening.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts that you have about travel hangovers and others’ expectations. These thoughts are so common to people with RA, as it’s hard enough to balance all the busy aspects of life without a chronic illness, and with RA life can have times that are unmanageable. Sometimes, we just can’t do it all.

    I’ve been contending with that guilt you speak of on and off for 18 years. I am finally starting to get a little better at letting go of the guilt and instead recognizing my strength. Most of this has been through changing the messages I give to myself, but I also am more honest with others. With my most recent travel hangover, I told friends and family that the trip was amazing but that it really took a toll on my body, and was a price I had to pay for the travels. I also am telling myself that I deserve some joy in my life. I need to fill up my reserves for the times when life is extra hard. So there were many things I wanted to do but couldn’t after my trip, but I deserve the joy the trip brought me. And you do, too. You deserve joy.

    Please continue to share whenever you feel inclined, as everything you said really resonates with others living with this disease. It’s a hard disease to live with, but I do find it helps to know I’m not alone.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Tamara

  • Cyd
    9 months ago

    Well I am a huge wimp! I guess I am anyway. My husband & I, generally, are homebodies – he more so than me! However, we now have a granddaughter (9months old) whom, of course, lives with her parents – in Texas. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with her roughly every 2 months. I was scheduled to return home on 8/28, but early on in our visit she got sick so I ended up staying 4 extra days, so my daughter & son-in-law didn’t have to take PTO. I returned home 5 days ago and am STILL “recuperating.”. Granted, I didn’t have 4 extra days of my meds with me, so I rationed what I had and plugged away. The days since returning home have been tough – and the nights even tougher. Pain in my feet, ankles, wrists, hands, back, neck and hips. The fatigue is overwhelming, yet there have been 2 nights when I got absolutely not 1 wink of sleep. God help me! I knew to plan some down time upon my arrival home, but had no idea recovery would take this long!!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    9 months ago

    Hi Cyd,

    I know exactly what you mean! And isn’t it infuriating to be unable to sleep when so completely exhausted? I’ve dealt with that during travel hangovers as well, and it’s very frustrating. And when you add not having enough meds to the mix, that will certainly exacerbate the situation. I do hope you feel better soon! And p.s. – anyone living with RA is not a wimp, as contending with this disease is a daily act of courage! (Of course it’s easy for me to tell other people that, and harder for me to tell myself that – we are so often hard on ourselves!).

    Wishing you all the best,
    Tamara

  • Teresa Hutcheson
    9 months ago

    Great way to describe the feeling that is experienced after traveling. I traveled recently and was not prepared nor expecting the recovery time.

    I was expecting it to be as it was in the past, a few good nights sleep. No, it was days of sleeping and lying still when I was not sleeping. It took a little over a week to recover. It was my bodies healing time and I made no apologies to anyone for being unavailable.

    Travel but be prepared for the hangover. It’s the nature of living with RA.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    9 months ago

    Hi Teresa,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with recent travels and your perspective on it. It is validating to know we’re not alone in our responses to traveling and life with RA in general.

    Gentle hugs,
    Tamara

  • JorgeSamayoa
    9 months ago

    Thank you for the information. I was diagnosed with RA shortly after returning from a trip to Jordan. Although the flight was a 12 hour flight from Chicago to Amman, it all went fine; however, a month after returning home I started experiencing symptoms of RA. Unfortunately I also have a bad back, which will require surgery. The time in Jordan was fabulous, as I camped out with some Jordanian friends all over and got to see and experience a wonderful culture, completely different from mine.
    It took at least two months before I was diagnosed with RA, because I experienced so many symptoms, my primary physician was a bit confused; nonetheless, he referred me to a rheumatologist. I was tested for RA as well as Psoriatic Arthritis. The results were negative. I got to the point that i could not open my mouth to feed myself due to the pain. Forget the feet and hands, going to the bathroom became a challenge, walking or even wiping myself clean was extremely painful. Finally, after several blood draws it was determined that I suffered from RA, my inflammation levels were the highest my rheumatologist had ever seen. I was on high doses of Prednisone, which seemed to help but it also affected my mood and started experiencing mood swings, which I had never experienced before. Finally I was placed on Orencia infusions, which has helped tremendously.
    I guess my question or comment is the following: I am planning on going on a trip to Guatemala next Fall, to climb the highest volcano in Central America but I fear a flare up while I am in Guatemala due to the exertion of climbing and walking. I am 68 years old but have maintained in great shape simply, because I follow a healthy mediterranean diet and exercise as much as I can. Will i be able to conduct the trip I am looking forward to and if so, what precautions should i take. I am not ready to sit and rock away my pain but I am also want to be sensible about it, as I don’t want to experience what I have already experienced. Thank you for your responses.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    9 months ago

    Hey JorgeSamayoa,

    Thank for you sharing your diagnosis story. I was diagnosed after studying abroad, so I could really relate to much of what you said. I also have seronegative RA, meaning that the standard tests don’t indicate that I have RA. However, based on other tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, and physical exams two different rheumatologists have diagnosed me with RA. So it just shows that better tests need to be developed.

    I am so glad that you did arrive at a diagnosis that enabled you to find a treatment option that works for you! I’m on Orencia infusions as well.

    As for your upcoming trip, which sounds incredible, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about it, as s/he may have some suggestions. Our articles are also posted on the rheumatoidarthritis.net Facebook page, and several people commented on this post on Facebook that their doctors put them on prednisone for traveling and that this helps them. Therefore, that may be an option to discuss with your doctor. Of course, you would also want to discuss the side effects you’ve experienced as well, as the cons may outweigh the pros (I can relate to the mood swings and I touch on that here: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/the-predni-zone/). In my experience, when I’ve been on high doses of prednisone the side effects were far more problematic than a short course of a lower dose. You and your doctor can discuss your symptoms and side effects what medical options might work for you while traveling.

    Please continue reaching out any time you feel inclined to share your questions or experiences. And I would love an update about Guatemala when the time comes!

    All the best,
    Tamara

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    9 months ago

    Hey @jorgesamayoa! Thank you so much for reaching out and sharing. I am so sorry your symptoms were so severe at the onset but I’m glad you got a diagnosis!

    Regarding travel, I would say you shouldn’t let your RA deter you from doing what you love but I would highly recommend speaking to your rheumatologist about preventative care/medications and any changes you might need to make before, during and after the trip. S/he should also be able to give you some tips on RA and traveling.

    I hope others chime in with their experiences but for now I thought you might enjoy this article: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/traveling-with/

    All the best! ~Monica

  • Mamawsherbear
    9 months ago

    Hello everyone hope today finds you all well and as painfree as possible ive had some messages come in my email tells me this but having trouble accessing havent figured out whats going on i didnt want anyone to think i was ignoring you im not i just cant access im going to have to find someone to help me .Hope everyone is having a great day God bless

  • btcavanaugh1720
    9 months ago

    Thank you for this post. This summer I took 3 trips & the one that was hardest on my physically was the briefest, a car trip rather than air trip which the others were. A 3-day car trip to San Antonio took me a week (at least) to recover from. Makes me think differently about all the components of travel.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    9 months ago

    Hi btcavanaugh1720,

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I too have a difficult time with car trips. In fact, there was one trip my husband and I were trying to take to a destination about seven hours away, but the pain was so excruciating we had to stop about halfway and find a hotel because I couldn’t endure any more driving that day. The people we were meeting were bewildered that we couldn’t make a seven-hour drive in one day, but so much about living with this disease is out of the norm.

    You may be interested to read this “RA Daydreams” article I wrote about longing for more comfortable car travel: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/ra-daydreams-robot-chauffeur/.

    I wish you all the best,
    Tamara

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    9 months ago

    Hey @btcavanaugh1720! Thank you so much for sharing. You bring up an interesting point because I also find that car travel is worse than air for me.

    I sometimes think it’s a smaller space and I’m stuck in the same position for a longer period of time but I don’t know! ~Monica

  • tckrd
    9 months ago

    I completely agree. Those pressure changes I believe are what trigger everything. Also the stress of going through security. I need a cushion to sit for longer than 15 minutes. They are very suspicious of the gel in the cushions.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    9 months ago

    they’re suspicious of everything nowadays! You know what I wish (even though this is totally wasteful)? That someone comes up with a disposable cushion or chair you can just surrender at security.

    I try to go on a plane as little as possible because just like you, the pressure changes affect my symptoms! Thanks for sharing, @tckrd! ~Monica

  • DEBMAR
    9 months ago

    I just went to Denver for 6 days. Since I’ve been back I have been very fatigued. I have muscle weakness in my legs and not a lot of leg strength. Do you have muscle weakness?

    And its worst then its ever been. While in Denver experienced the same but blamed it on the altitude. What is normal?

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    9 months ago

    Hey @debmar! I am so sorry you are dealing with this right now. For your protection, we cannot give medical advice and strongly ask that you speak to your healthcare team about this new symptom.

    When did you get back?

    I personally get some fatigue from traveling but it usually goes away in a couple of days. All the best, Monica

  • Poll