Taking a vacation goes a long way toward refreshing and resetting our bodies and minds. But when you live with chronic pain, jockeying for a spot at the beach or squeezing onto another overbooked flight are more than just nuisances: they’re pain triggers. The holiday season is in full swing, and you’re likely looking for ways to ensure your upcoming vacation is flare-up-free and full of plenty of well-deserved R&R. That means planning ahead. From how to prepare, what to bring and how to deal with changes to your itinerary along the way, check out our guide to a pain-free holiday vacation.
Take care of yourself before you hit the road. Make time in your schedule in the weeks leading up to your trip to get organized, including lists of what to pack. Try to fit in a few extra workouts or even a massage to help you relieve any anxiety you may have about your travels. Remember: You’ll need the extra energy to handle the inevitable disruptions of traveling.
Keeping the weight of your checked and carry-on luggage to a minimum is a good rule of thumb for anyone, but it’s a must for people in pain. Your suitcase may be on wheels, but it’s likely you’ll have to lift it over sidewalk curbs or even into overhead bins. Make more space in your suitcase by rolling your clothes. Bring along a travel-size bottle of detergent so you can wash undergarments in the sink. Leave your blow-dryer and multiple toiletries at home if your hotel will provide them in your room.
To make flying more comfortable, use an eye mask and noise-canceling headphones to block out the activity in the cabin. These travel necessities may also come in handy when sleeping in a hotel.
For added in-flight comfort, bring a neck pillow, a sweater (cold is particularly aggravating to arthritis sufferers) and something for back support. In a pinch, you can roll up and airline blanket and place it behind your lower back.
Ward off a possible headache by staying well-hydrated (skip the in-flight cocktail) and book an exit row for extra legroom. If none are available when you make your reservation, ask at the ticket counter and again at the gate when you check in. Some airlines hold exit row seats for special circumstances and gate agents have the final say. If all else fails, opt for an aisle seat, which makes it easier to get up every hour to stretch your muscles and joints. Seatguru.com can help you find the best seat on your aircraft and ones to avoid, including seats that are broken, have misaligned windows (so you have to crank your neck to get a view) or don’t recline.
If you want first-class comfort, find out how to score the best deal on an upgraded seat at firstclassflyer.com. Other travel apps can also be helpful. And remember: not all airlines are the same. Some United Airlines flights, for example, offer Economy Plus seats with 5 extra inches of legroom at the front of the plane for an additional fee.
Pack two sets of all medications in case one gets lost: one in your checked luggage and one in the bag you carry on. Plan as if your prescriptions – and even your OTC medications – won’t be available to you any other way.
Even if there is a pharmacy, no one wants to spend precious vacation time waiting in line to get meds refilled or trying to figure out the name of your drug in the local language. Always keep pills in their original prescription bottles to avoid confusion with security officials. To minimize explanation (and holding up the line behind you), choose the security line for Family and Medical Liquids, if available at your airport. It is also helpful to bring your doctor’s contact information and copies all of prescriptions and medical records in case you need medical care. Click here for more information about medications and TSA procedures.
Watch the time
Confusing medication timing can result in travel pain – or even worse in overdosing. When you arrive at your destination, the clock isn’t your best judge. Count ahead from your last dose at home to determine when to take your next one. Or set an alarm or a reminder on your phone to alert you to the time in your local time zone. This will help you ensure your first dose in your new place is taken safely and on time. After that, stick to local time for meds, meals and bedtime. For example, say you live in New York and take medication every 12 hours. You pop a pill at 8 a.m. and then get on a plane for Los Angeles. You’ll need to take your next dose at 5 p.m. LA time (8 p.m. NY time) to maintain the right interval between doses. Once you take the pill at 5 p.m., your next one should be 5 a.m.
Be aware that changes in when and how much you eat and what you’re drinking can affect some drugs. Take your time in getting adjusted to your new surrounding and schedule, and allow time for plenty of rest.
- Wear well-soled shoes. They provide good support for walking and absorb the often painful vibrations caused by car wheels and jet engines.
- Carry an instant ice pack that you can activate in case you have a flare-up. It takes up little space and offers major relief when needed.
- Sign up for weather alerts at www.mediclim.com. Enter the zip code of your destination and receive alerts via e-mail when weather conditions are more likely to aggravate chronic pain conditions.
Pain-free packing list
- iPod or phone loaded with relaxing music
- Eye mask
- Neck pillow
- Back support cushion
- Two supplies of all current medicines (prescription and over-the-counter)
- Collapsible cart (for luggage)
- Noise-canceling headphones
- Lightweight sweater or fleece
What is your best tip for ensuring a pain-free holiday vacation?
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