Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Tips For Traveling With Arthritis

I've been scouring the internet for tips on traveling with arthritis lately and received mix results.

Many of these lists mentioned things that didn't really help me. A lot of them made traveling seem like this ridiculously daunting thing to be feared and stressed over. I don't like that.

But I did gain some valuable information from some of these lists. So I decided to compile my own list, using my own experience as well as select tips from other sites and sources. A big thanks to those readers who sent me their own travel tips! Much appreciated!

So here we go, my checklist/reminders for traveling with RA. (In no real particular order.)

1. Be prepared with meds.

A no-brainer, but one that needs mentioning because it might be the most important. Make sure all your prescriptions are filled before you leave, and pack them in a easily accessible carry-on bag spot. 

This is a big one for me, on Enbrel, and this trip, where I will be bringing two week's worth of shots. I have my trusty little travel pack, but I have to make sure I have ice packs (in ziplocks! I've had ice melt and been left with a big, puddly mess before) and the travel pack easily available when going through security. It's also good to let the flight attendant know that you have medicine on ice in case you need to get fresh ice mid-flight.

It's also a good idea to find a pharmacy available wherever you're going in case of emergencies, and to give your doc a heads up in case of such emergency. 

2. Bring extras for your trip.

For this trip I'm being on top of things and bringing extras for comfort that I normally don't bring. To help get through the red-eye flight, we purchased neck pillows (the kind that wrap around your neck so you can sleep while sitting up) and a nice big blanket that can cover both of us. I'm actually wondering why I haven't bought these things before because there's nothing worse than being cold and uncomfortable on a flight, and if a blanket and pillow can help alleviate that uncomfortableness then I'm all for it!

3. Wear comfortable clothes. 

This is a note for anyone traveling, ever! If you know me, you know that I like being dressed up in public. I don't like going out and not looking like my most fabulous self. But when it comes to traveling, comfort will overrule. Comfortable clothes are necessary, especially for long flights. And good shoes to walk in are key. Make sure your shoes are easy to slip on and off for the flight and for getting through security. Of course, there are always ways to look your best, even when you're in stretchy pants and a sweater!

Speaking of security, make sure your clothes match your needs for getting through the security checkpoint quickly. Try not to wear a belt if you can help it, and make sure any jewelry you're wearing is easy to get on and off. I have a couple of bracelets that I love to wear, but they always set off security alarms, so I keep them in my purse until I get passed security. If you're planning on wearing something like that, keep it in your bag until you're in the clear.

4. Take advantage of early boarding.

This one seems universal throughout the internet when it comes to traveling with any medical issues. Don't be afraid to request early boarding. I always do this, with the excuse that I am traveling with medicine and I have physical limitations. It might look like I'm a fully abled adult, capable of boarding with the rest of the group, but I need that extra time. Especially when it comes to loading my bags into the upper baggage containers.

This also gives you time to alert the flight attendants of your medicines like I mentioned earlier.

5. Aisle seats are your friend.

I always try to book myself into an aisle seat that is closest to the front of the plane as possible. My reasoning is that I like to have the ability to get up and stretch if my joints are beginning to tighten up on me. I also am slightly claustrophobic, so I need to have access to the aisle for my personal well being. Otherwise I go a little crazy.

6. Take your medicine early.

This idea is thanks to reader Stephanie S., who mentioned she likes to take whatever medicine she has about a half hour before she boards a flight, and I agree it's a genius idea. This way the medicine has time to kick in, so that when you get on the plane you are feeling your best. 

7. Ask for assistance if needed.

I am guilty of not following this tip. Most of the time, when I travel alone, I try to keep to myself as much as possible. The problem with that is that I end up overexerting myself, which is never a good thing. I've been taking time to remind myself that while I travel, if I need help with my bags, not to be afraid to ask for it.

8. Daily routine notes.

Another great tip from Stephanie was to take notes on your daily routine before you travel. If there are things that you find yourself doing on a regular day to make yourself more comfortable, or to get through your arthritis pain, etc., take note of it! It will give you reminders of how to handle any issues while you're on your trip. Even things that aren't concerning your arthritis, just whatever you do that makes your life more comfortable. 

9. Bring extra $$ for emergency purchases.

I'm not meaning things like, "It's an emergency, I need these new jeans!" I'm talking about those things that come up when you're traveling, like a surprise weather change or you realize you don't have the right shoes for what you're doing. Just be prepared for the possibility that you might need to buy an umbrella or a sweatshirt to deal with whatever situation you might get caught in.

10. Bring snacks for taking your medicine.

This one is especially important for me, because if I don't have something to eat when I take my medicine I get bad side effects. Nausea and dizzying headaches are easily avoidable with a little food, so make sure you're never in a situation where you're without. I like to make sure I have some sort of snack so that there's at least something in my belly when I need to take my meds. Beef jerky anyone?

11. Contact the hotel ahead of time if there's anything you need.

Most hotels are more than happy to help you with whatever you might need for your trip. Refrigerators, pillows, special bedding, whatever, a good hotel will be willing to do what they can to help your stay be comfortable. If you need extra pillows for your knees at night, let them know. When I went to Paris with my mother a few years back, the hotel we stayed in was small and didn't have a mini-fridge in the room, but they were more than happy to give me space in their kitchen fridge.

12. Above all else, listen to your body!

Hopefully you are aware of your limits, but don't ignore when your body is telling you to slow down. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and push myself to do things I'm going to regret later. If you're starting to feel the ache, take a breather. Be honest with the people you're around, that you need to take breaks. Traveling is much easier when you aren't totally sore and swollen!

To read more of my posts about traveling, click here. 

To read about my Enbrel travel pack, click here. 

To read my article for Achieve Clinical Research "Traveling with Arthritis", click here.

Some other websites I used to help make my own list:
Everyday Health
Living Rheum
Chronic Curve
Irish Health Clinic
Type A With RA
RA Warrior

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