LifestylePreventativeTake Off on a Pain-Free Vacation

Take Off on a Pain-Free Vacation

Vacations are a great way to refresh and reset your body and mind. However, when you live with pain, jockeying for a spot at the beach or squeezing onto another overbooked flight are more than just nuisances; they’re triggers. To ensure your next trip is full of plenty of well-deserved R&R and flare-up-free, follow these tips on how to prepare, what to bring, and when to change your itinerary. Consider it your guide to a pain-free vacation.

Start early.

“Feel your best before you hit the road,” says Rebecca Rengo, author of Beyond Chronic Pain: A Get-Well Guidebook to Soothe Body, Mind & Spirit (Beyond Publishing, 2006).

“Many people rush around trying to maintain regular activities while getting the house, the kids, and their jobs in order. This increases stress,” she says. Instead, free up your schedule in the weeks leading up to your trip, if you can. It’ll give you time to get organized, decide what to pack, and maybe even fit in extra workouts or a massage. Remember: You’ll need the extra energy to handle the inevitable disruptions of traveling.

Pack light.

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. Even if your suitcase is on wheels, you may have to lift it over sidewalk curbs or into the overhead bin causing travel pain, Rengo warns. You can get more space in your suitcase by rolling your clothes. Bring along a travel-size bottle of Woolite so you can wash undergarments in the sink. Leave the blow-dryer and shampoo and other toiletries at home if your hotel will have them.

Fly right.

To make flying more comfortable, B. Eliot Cole, M.D., executive director of the American Society of Pain Educators has some suggestions. He recommends using an eye mask and noise-canceling headphones to block out the activity in the cabin. These travel necessities 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 a back support. In a pinch, roll up and airline blanket and place it behind your lower back.

Ward off a 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. 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 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 five extra inches of legroom at the front of the plane for an additional fee.

Double up.

Pack two sets of all medications, one in your checked luggage and one in whatever you’re carrying on — in case one gets lost. “Assume that your prescriptions won’t be available where you are going,” says Cole, “including over-the-counter medications.”

Even if there is a pharmacy, why 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.

Watch the time.

“When you’re changing time zones, continue to space your medications at the same intervals you do at home,” Cole advises. 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, though. Count ahead from your last dose at home to determine when to take your next one. Or, bring an extra watch or alarm clock set to the time at home to make that first dose in your new place a snap. 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., 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., however, your next one should be 5 a.m.

Be aware that changes in when you eat and how much and what you’re drinking can affect some drugs. Also, Cole says, “don’t try to do everything, especially when you first arrive; you’re best off allowing for plenty of rest at the start of your stay.”

Extra tips:

  • Wear thick-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 if pain flairs up. It takes up little space and offers major relief when needed.
  • Sign up for weather alerts at 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 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
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Lightweight sweater or fleece

Following these simple tips to develop an air travel plan can help ensure a smooth, enjoyable and pain-free vacation.

For more on vacationing with chronic pain, read Travel and Packing Tips for Those who Live with Pain

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