Travel and Packing Tips for Those Who Live with Pain


This Summer Leave the Aches and Pains at Home

By Lisa Davis

Ask any kid on a school bus in June, summer is the season to be on vacation. But 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 away from home is full of well-deserved R&R, follow these tips on how to prepare, what to bring, and when to change your itinerary. Consider it your travel guide to a pain-free trip.

Start slow. 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. Many people rush around trying to maintain regular activities, while getting the house, the kids, and their jobs in order, which increases stress, she says. Instead, free up your schedule in the weeks leading up to your trip. It’ll give you plenty of 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 suitcase and carry-on luggage weight 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, Rengo warns. Pack light by bringing neutral colors such as beige and black that you can mix and match with colorful scarves and jewelry. For men, pack a pair of dress pants and a pair of jeans and mix and match with two or three colored shirts and one or two neutral colored blazers.

Also, you can get more space in your suitcase by rolling your clothes. (Roll them in tissue paper or plastic from the dry cleaners to ensure they arrive wrinkle-free.) Bring along a travel-size bottle of Woolite so you can wash undergarments in the sink. But leave the blow dryer and shampoo and other toiletries at home as your hotel will most likely have them.

Fly right. To make flying more comfortable, B. Eliot Cole, M.D., former executive director of the American Society of Pain Educators, suggests 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. Strange noises and bothersome light in an unfamiliar place can disrupt sleep and curtail your ability to adjust to a new time zone, says Cole. For added in-flight comfort, bring a neck pillow, a sweater, and some type of 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). Book an exit row for extra legroom and get up from your seat every hour to stretch your muscles and joints.

If you aren’t able to get an exit row at the ticket counter, go to the gate and speak to the gate agent. Some gate agents have final say on who gets an exit row seat. Seats in the first row of the cabin also offer amble legroom since no one is seating in front of you. If all else fails, getting an aisle seat provides easy access to get up and walk around. is a trusted resource for knowing what the best seat is on a plane, or, in some cases, which seats are broken or don’t recline. And, if you want to upgrade to business or first class, or want to know how to get the best deal on a premium class seat, go to for tips and advice.

Double up. Pack two sets of all medications in separate bags in case your checked luggage is 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? Always keep pills in their original prescription bottles to avoid confusion with airport security officials. 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.

Keep an eye on the time. When you’re changing time zones, remember to space your medications in the same intervals as you do at home, Cole advises. When you arrive at your destination, the clock isn’t your best judge. Count ahead from your last dose to determine when to take your next one. (Remember, you want to maintain the prescribed intervals for all of your medications). Or, bring an extra watch or alarm clock set to the time at home to make that initial dose a snap. After that, stick to local time for meds, meals, and bedtime. Be aware that changes in meal schedules and fluid consumption can alter the effects of some medications. Also, Cole says, don’t try to do everything, especially when you first arrive; you’re best off planning to allow for plenty of rest.

Bonus 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. 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 medication (prescription and over the counter)
  • Collapsible cart for moving luggage
  • Noise-cancelling headphones


Sound Off: Have any tried-and-true traveling rituals that ease your pain on the road? Share your travel and packing tips with our community.

Photo By: Sirexkat via Flickr/CreativeCommons


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