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40 Responses to “Traveling with Chronic Illness/RA Part 2: 20 Helpful Tips”

    1. Rebecca says:

      If you’re travelling by plane, there is usually a call for people who need extra time or assistance to board – use it. You might ‘look normal’ and get a few mean stares from people who don’t know you’re ill, but to get on board and stow your overhead luggage without the stress of impatient fellow passengers is really worth it and a much better start to the trip.

      • Good point, Rebecca. I think it’s hard at first to give ourselves permission to be the one to get that assistance – for just the reason you state.

        • Kathleen says:

          I have learned the hard way to travel with my cane, even when I am doing okay when I start the travel. Not only does it help with the mean looks and rude comments when I have to request extra time to board, but after traveling and doing more than I usually do at home, I have found that I often do need the cane on the trip home. I have learned to swallow my pride and be prepared.

    2. Julie says:

      Don’t forget the charger for the scooter. Did this in Spain and had to get son to parcel it up and emergency courior it from England to Spain.
      If you are travelling abroad, plan any vaccines in plenty of time, some medication’s you will have to be stopped for a few months so you can have the injection.
      Don’t forget your support straps.
      Take any adapted or easy grip cutlery/crocery/stationaty with you and make sure the waiter doesn’t take them away when you have finished your meal. Also any dressing aids.
      If going to a forign country get a translation of your condition and medication printed out and put a copy in the car, your handbag, your purse and let your traveling companions have a copy as well. (I have found that most schools will have a teacher who is willing to do a translation for you).

    3. Great article. I hadn’t traveled much since the onset of my RA. In May of this year my husband and I had a 7 hour flight to Halifax, Canada. I came home with extremely painful outer thighs, from my hips almost reaching my knees. I couldn’t bear to even have it touched. My rheumatologist diagnosed me with Trochanteric Bursitis, or bursitis of the hips. He offered to inject them with steroids but I thought I’d wait and see if they improved. Here it is July and they are still painful, every car trip exacerbates them. I’ll be going in for my injections soon. Doc said it is a non-joint manifestation of RA to develop bursitis and that it is so important to get up and walk around and take those car stops. Unfortunately on the plane I couldn’t do that.

      • Jamie, I hope the injections help. So, he said we could help prevent the bursitis if we could move around once in a while? That’s very interesting. I often feel like I MUST change positions b/c of pain – I wonder if that helps protect from something like that?

    4. Mary says:

      I had a bad experience a few months ago in the Dallas airport. I had a wheelchair reserved, as did two others on my flight. Arriving, there had been some “communication error” between the airport and airplane and the requested wheelchairs were not there – not one.

      I was patient, let the other two folks get theirs, and then found that there wasn’t an attendant to take the third wheelchair. My husband can do it, I said, from the bottom of the ramp. The boarding agent (by now they were loading a new plane of passengers) refused to let him help me as it was somehow a security problem to let him down the ramp.

      But what I really don’t get is, why can’t we get scooters at airports? I don’t need to have an attendant if I have a scooter. What’s so hard about that? If Walmart and Safeway and Target and Costco and Home Depot trust their customers – who they don’t even know at all – surely we could check out a scooter for the airport when presenting our airline ticket and ID.

      Can anyone offer a good reason why it should only be wheelchairs at airports? Does anyone know of any airports that do have scooters? Other related experience? I’d really like to hear about it. Thanks!

    5. Mary says:

      I should also add that once the attendant FINALLY arrived, I was told I had to wear the seatbelt or else they wouldn’t push me. Now that was really humiliating, unnecessary, and had to argue for operations supervisor because apparently they fire folks for not using the seatbelts.

      Why do I have to give up so much of my independence just to ride the darn plane? Some barriers are difficult to overcome and I do get that, but I sure don’t understand having such a restrictive environment for mobility-impaired passengers with no choices whatsoever.

      Again, please share your experiences.

      • Mary, I can’t wait to hear why there are no scooters at airports. It is likely cost. The seatbelt thing is just crazy. 😛

      • Tara says:

        I have a good idea why there are no scooters and why you must have an attendant. If someone used a scooter they could easily hide something in it before they go through the metal detectors (there are a lot of little nooks on those things) the scooters would have to be manually inspected every time because they are metal and of course would set off the alarm and can’t fit through the x-rays. It would take more time and man power to check them all, plus there is added risk as to what would get by them. With having an attendant with the wheel chair there is less chance of someone being able to hide something in them.

        • Thats a very good point, Tara!
          I also wonder about crowd safety or panic. Airports are so crowded. I was injured by a wheelchair last time I was in the airport. If it had been a scooter, it would have been much worse.

    6. joanne says:

      Bring small ziploc bags to make an instant ice pack for when you have overdone it. Most fast food restaurants, convenience stores and hotels are really great about giving out a little bit of ice.

    7. robin says:

      I always have a quick talk with the people I’m traveling with to let them know that they are going to need to be more patient with me. I move slowly and that is how it has to be. I tell them to just relax and I won’t be far behind. I’ve found that people usually enjoy the reminder to slow down and enjoy things more.
      thanks for all the tips!

    8. Tara says:

      Thank you for posting this perfect timing too I am leaving for a car trip soon and am very worried about pain etc from sitting for long periods. I am going without my hubby who is the one who truly understands my needs etc. These ideas are fantastic…thank you everyone for adding their own ideas too.
      I have a tip to add when traveling with a cooler dry ice is a great idea there is no soggy water mess to deal with. Plus it seems to last longer then regular ice.

      • Hi Tara,

        I’m so glad you have someone who understands your needs. That is amazing.

        I hope your trip is fun. I never bought dry ice – that’s a good idea.

    9. NOTE: There are some great tips by a reader here on another post – click here.
      Also on PART 1 of this Travel post here.

    10. Rebecca says:

      I don’t know if it’s been mentioned yet, but if you are flying, you can request early boarding as a person with a disability. You do not need documentation, they cannot even ask your disability,though you will get some crazy and nasty looks from airport personnel and fellow passengers. You request this at the gate. My family is far enough that I need to fly, and the extra time to get down the ramp, plus not having to stand and wait is wonderful, as is the fact that I have more time to get settled in my seat without straining something. I hope this others as we all get ready to travel this season.


      • That’s a good one Rebecca. Yes, I’ve done that & the airlines are usually very good with helping. I also did get one wiseguy passenger who didnt think I deserved the help. Also, I’ve been very surprised how much airports vary about whether they’ll help push the wheelchair. Just depends.

    11. Molly says:

      Thank you Kelly for this blog. I am flying to UK on Wednesday and alot of your suggestions are hopefully going to make my trip more enjoyable or even downright possible.

    12. Jay says:

      I’d like to add a couple things. First – a night light. If you aren’t that mobile and in an unfamiliar hotel room, you have to be able to find the bathroom without turning on all the lights and driving your spouse nuts. I swear it’s a big comfort to have a little light plugged in. My other item is a back support in the car can help. I have a mesh and metal thing that only cost about $10 and it’s very helpful,

    13. Amy H. says:

      Thank you for all of this – I have had RA for 9.5 years, but it’s only in the last 8 months that it has become horrific. I just had my first vacation since this extended, terrible flair. It was a real wake up call and very frustrating. Although I did still manage to enjoy the beautiful island and time away, it just “wasn’t the same.” Having your list handy for my next trip will surely be helpful – and also comforting. It’s the first 3 items on your list that were the hardest for me – knowing I am in good company will surely be helpful on my next trip.

    14. Terro says:

      I always call the airline ahead of time and request assistance while traveling. I discovered that in Frankfort there is a special lounge for disabled travelers where those in transit can wait, rest, have a snack/drink and wait for the attendant.

      Also bring along about an extra week of prescription meds in case of travel delays (such as when the volcano explosion happened). Then you don’t have to find a place for an emergency refill if you are delayed.

      Sitting in an aisle seat is also good so you don’t have to climb over others to get to the restroom. It’s also easier to get assistance if sitting on the aisle.

      I travel to eastern Europe every year.

    15. Denise says:

      I’ ve been traveling for years all over the US, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Going slow seems to be the trick, asking for first level, or close to the elevator rooms all seem to help. Most of my airport experiences are bad, but sometimes they let me board early. Sometimes if you travel with a cane they will let you jump to the head of the line at security. I practically gave up on wheelchairs since rarely had an attendant and if I did, they went slower than me walking…which is difficult to do. I do get scooters at amusement parks. There is a cost, but I get to jump lines so helpful and worth it. I have an upcoming 22 hour plane trip (each way) I am in panic about. It is for work and I cannot control the seat choice and cannot afford an upgrade. I struggle with 10 hours, let alone 22. I hate drugging up, but think I will have to.

      • Donia Hunter says:

        Denise, I’m in the same boat. I must travel across the US to see a failing sister. I have several connections to make. See my post below yours. Have you any thing further to add or suggest? Have you heard from anyone?

    16. Donia Hunter says:

      I have very severe spine arthritis among other issues.I am not yet in a wheel chair. I get around with a cane. I absolutely MUST fly across the US soon and make several plane changes. I am traveling VERY light & not checking luggage. I don’t know if I can walk the entire length of the airport with my tiny bag (it has wheels), a purse and my cane. How do I get wheelchair assistance if I can’t walk that far. How do I get my bag into the overhead? I know I can arrive very early and avoid standing for a long time in a crowded security line. Once I’m in the secure section do I tell the lady at the desk that I need help or do I have to pre register for this and do I have to show some proof.

      • Donia,
        call the airline ahead of time & request a wheelchair. then when you check in, remind them & they will go get it. They should provide someone to push the wheelchair if you are alone. Then when the plane lands they will provide one on the other end. Remind the flight attendent if they dont.

    17. Annette says:

      Last time I travelled for Christmas I bought the presents online and had them wrapped and delivered to our destination. I also FedExed a box of essentials just in case something went wrong with the luggage. It was expensive but so worth it not to have to carry it all with me

    18. Troy says:

      I Am travelling from San Francisco to Kauai, 12 weeks diagnosed w/ RA. I’ve been on mtx that entire time … thinking of wearing a face mask for airport time and flight time, to discourage any airborne illness. What do you think? Thanks

      • Troy, I hope your trip goes well. I read somewhere that masks work better if the sick persons where them, but that won’t likely happen. I’d be careful what I touch & wash as often as possible though.

    19. naomy ramsey says:

      I called ahead to United and printed a special card for security to alert them of “special needs” this is on the web site and it will guide you through the process. Also UNITED gives preference to their disabled flyers. This means a seat in the bulkhead and boarding ahead of First Class. Check out your favorite carrier’s perk’s. No handicap ID?, try a DR’s note. :}

      • I do too. Thanks Naomy! Can’t believe I left that out today. (It may be in the other travel tips post) You can be listed permanently as a disabled passenger with an airline, then board separately our sit in front if you need.

    20. Jane says:

      This is going to be a bit long sorry.
      I hope to travel from Ldn Gatwick to Las Vegas in March. I am newly diagnosed RA, having been in excrutiating pain all over my body throughout 2013 which progressively worsened until Jan 2014 when I could not function without assistance. I am only in my 3rd week of mtx but my consultant is hopeful that she will have me under control by then. Already I feel 80% better. My problem? Husband. He fears that after a week away I will end up as before. I have googled a multitude of websites, read as much as possible on RA and how to live with/ manage it. This site is SO very helpful – thanks to you all! My question is:- What hints or tips regarding arrival/ passport control ( last visit we queued over 2 hrs!!!! Bad experience.) and managing while there? I have to convince him! This is my short term goal – to be well enough to go AND stay well!

    21. colleen says:

      Any info/experience/suggestions/sources for travel to Thailand—food/water/MEDS/and especially required vaccinations? I am going in a year for my son’s wedding, and would love to learn from others’ experience how to cope once we get there. Also, I do fine on short hops within the States, but that transcontinental flight is Loooong! Would appreciate any input. Thanks!

    22. Holly Bailey says:

      Great ideas about traveling with a chronic illness. I just returned from a 5 day cruise with 18 hour a day music (rock and roll, blues, jazz, etc.) I had such a great time but my feet, ankles and legs became horribly swollen. On the 5th day I could barely walk due to foot, ankle and knee pain. My hands were so swollen and cramped I could barely use them. I had taken my Enbrel before leaving and took Ibuprofen on the trip but I experienced travel stress anyway! Any thoughts?

    23. Christine says:

      Just diagnosed 2days ago and already thinking ahead to our yearly trip to Aruba, thanks for the tips!

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