I’m a homebody which means that I don’t like to go out or travel often. I was like this even before my diagnosis. I even WORK from home. But life doesn’t always take place in my one bedroom apartment. So traveling can become inevitable. In May I had two trips planned very close together. While I was excited about the actual events, the travel mades me super anxious. Traveling as an introvert is one thing, but traveling with a chronic illness is a whole other ball game. And that ball game can have about a zillion curve balls! So what are we supposed to do? Stay home and miss all the important event in our family and friends lives? NO! There are all kinds of tips out there on how to travel and stay healthy. A lot of them are really good too. Here are my favorites tips for traveling while living with arthritis.
First – PREPARE
You probably think I’m being overly literal here. But I mean it. Prepare yourself and not only what you need to bring. Of course traveling is going to affect your physical health, but a lot of people forget about the emotional toll it can take on you. If you are living with arthritis and/or another chronic disease start by acknowledging that your trip probably won’t include bungee jumping and a marathon. Just because you may not be engaging in the sweat inducing, adrenaline pumping physical fun so many people love, doesn’t mean it can’t still be an awesome vacation. You can still find fun or relaxation, or whatever it is you’re looking for. You just need to keep your expectations realistic. A packed event schedule is a recipe for a flare for almost anyone with arthritis. So keep that in mind! Allow yourself the time and space to relax between events. If your vacation is going to be more active than your normal life, then you may want to allow time to recover after you return home as well.
Second – Pack for the worst case scenario
When I travel, I have what I call my worst case scenario bag. This includes the stronger pain medications I don’t like to take unless absolutely necessary. The cold mitts for my hands if get inflamed. The hot mitts my hands if my hands get stiff. The back massager. Get the idea? I pack everything I might need if one of the really awful days hit. I also include other basics to try to ensure those bad days don’t come on. Things like a sleeping mask just in case the place I’m sleeping doesn’t get as dark as I like it, ear plugs in case life gets too loud, and you can’t forget a basic first aid kit. I also make sure I have my emergency contacts and medical information handy if, heaven forbid, something goes awry. (PRO TIP: There is a feature on most smart phones that allows this to be accessed without unlocking your phone. Make sure it’s filled out and up to date.)
Third – Plan to take care of yourself
This seems like such common sense. We spend most of our lives taking care of ourselves right? Well, we try anyways. But when traveling you have a whole new set of circumstances to worry about. If you’re driving, try not to drive in long stretches. Stopping more frequently just to allow yourself to get out of the car, stretch, walk around is a good idea. This simple tip can make ALL the difference in your how you feel when you arrive. If you’re flying, try to plan enough time for lay overs. We can’t control delayed flights or issues at airports, but you don’t want to be running from one end of the airport to another if walking is difficult. Don’t be shy if you need to ask for help either. There are people at airports that are specifically designated to assist with passengers who need wheelchairs between gates. Try and take care of yourself emotionally too. I have a small blanket and pillow that I take with me everywhere. It’s a small element of home that helps me feel more at ease. For you it might be a photo of loved one or a pet, your favorite music, or your favorite video. The idea here is to make yourself feel at home when traveling. These are great ways to decrease the stress.
Fourth – Prevention
Trying to prevent flare ups or bouts of fatigue can be done in a lot of ways when you are living with arthritis. Here are some easy suggestions: stay hydrated, take your vitamins and continue the prescribed course of action you and your healthcare provider created. If you’re someone with an extremely compromised immune system, don’t be afraid to wear a face mask. You may feel like people are looking at you funny, but it’s an easy sacrifice to make it if means a healthier return. You know your body so if temperature is a trigger for you make sure to dress in layers. Last but not least, make sure you have comfortable footwear. Your feet are important. They can affect your entire body!
The last thing isn’t just a tip, it’s a life rule:
Be kind to yourself!
Be kind to yourself!
*Remember that all the planning in the world can be undone by our diseases. So be kind to yourself. It’s not your fault that you’re living with arthritis.