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.
“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.
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.
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. 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 five extra inches of legroom at the front of the plane for an additional fee.
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.”