5 RA Travel Tips for a Successful Trip
Your suitcase is packed, passport and travel documents organized, and road trip snacks gathered; but like clockwork, joint pain, fatigue, and disappointment set in. How are you supposed to travel when rheumatoid arthritis threatens to ruin your plans? Sometimes, it seems impossible, as if you aren’t meant to venture outside your house because of your chronic illness.
My 5 favorite RA travel tips
While traveling with RA can be particularly stressful because there are a lot of factors one cannot plan for, it doesn’t have to be the reason for canceled plans. If traveling is something you enjoy, it’s important for your mental health and quality of life to go and enjoy your trip.
Take the chance and get out there! With a little prep and my 5 favorite travel tips, I have learned that I can still have my wanderlust with RA.
1. Pack pain relief medications for every situation
Before a trip, working with my rheumatologist, I sit down and make a "Pain Plan." Outside my typical routine RA medication, such as methotrexate, I pack pain relief such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, or steroids in case I find myself in a situation where I need extra relief to enjoy my trip. I always carry all my medications in my carry-on or personal item and never in my checked luggage in case it gets lost. If I end up not needing them, great, but it's better to be prepared than sorry!
2. Move often and a lot
It’s important for my joint health to get up and move as often as possible while traveling. If I can’t get up a lot, I do some flexing and stretching exercises until I can. It helps to do the exercises every 30 minutes or so. Keep moving, keep traveling!
3. Wear layers for temperature control
If you’re like me, cold weather and being cold in general exacerbates my pain. I find airplanes and airports to be a wild card when it comes to temperature — either too hot or too cold. That’s why I always dress in light layers when traveling to ensure I am comfortable. Plus, in the car, I always pack a blanket, because my husband runs hot and enjoys the A/C a little too much. A little forethought like this on what to wear while traveling can make a big difference in comfort.
4. Use assistive devices and comfort measures
Neck pillows, wrist splints, disposable heat packs, etc. are just a few assistive devices and comfort measures that I have found useful when traveling in the past. Especially at nighttime when I am in a foreign bed, I will use heat packs to provide some relief. Figure out what is most useful to you.
Pro tip: instead of packing these these items in your luggage and taking up space, have them shipped to your hotel or Airbnb or picked up at the local store.
5. Know your available accommodations
Traveling with a disability like RA certainly has its challenges. Thankfully, there’s a number of accommodations and helpful resources that can ease some of the difficulty.
Before I travel anywhere, I make sure I have done my research on what specific accommodations are offered and policies that are in place. For example, most airlines offer priority boarding for those with mobility issues, and they will help with putting bags into overhead compartments. In addition, the America the Beautiful — The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Access Pass is a free pass issued for those with permanent disabilities.1,2
I found that out after the fact. Do your research!
Make your next trip a great one
With a little planning and flexibility, traveling with RA can be an enjoyable and enriching experience. When you feel overwhelmed, come back to these tips to ensure you trip is as great as you can make it!