20 Tips for Traveling with Rheumatoid Arthritis / Disease

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Flying with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a challenge

flying with rheumatoid arthritisToday as you read this, I’m doing my don’t-miss-the-plane dance. My close friends and family all know well how I start asking them a week before a trip to “pray I don’t miss the plane.” Really. I have missed the plane. Twice.

I literally start preparing to catch a plane weeks ahead of time. Then that last few days is like the sprint to the finish! What JOY when I do get to through airport security on time. Really.

Travel can be harsh on people with Rheumatoid Disease (RD)


This question was posted on RAW’s Facebook today: “If your work has you going on planned trips around the country how can you be sure that you will be able to make the trips and give lectures? I deal with this everyday and have to cancel many trips due to my RA. How does everyone else in this situation deal with a job like this? If I can’t get out of bed due to the pain I sure can’t get on a plane and lecture to a large group who has paid a fee to see me.”

Ideally, your doctors will help your disease to be better controlled, but that doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. Meanwhile for those like this reader who worry about taking trips for work, here are a few ideas:

1) Talk with the employer about fewer trips if possible. When they have to be cancelled, consider whether Skype or a Go To Meeting conference might be an option.

2) Talk with your doctor about what kinds of symptom-treating medications will ease your pain, especially during travel.

3) Seek accommodations: Will the employer allow a travel companion to take some of the burden off of you? Will your audience make accommodations so you can speak later in the day? Or sit in a comfortable chair instead of stand at a podium.

More strategies I’ve learned to travel with a chronic disease

PSW-conferenceI’m on my way to Green Bay – no, not to go to a football game. I’m speaking to the Pharmacist Society of Wisconsin (PSW) on Saturday. I hope what I’ve learned about traveling / flying with RD helps someone. Please add your travel tips in the comments.

4) I set aside a whole day for travel. Others may be able to travel & meet or talk or work on the same day, but I’m already working hard with RD.

5) I cheat: I do everything the easiest way possible. Curbside bag check. We grab lunch at the airport after security (and often take it onto the plane). Print boarding passes at home.

6) Comfy soft clothes without belts to remove for security. Slip on / off shoes.

7) Medication schedule: I don’t wait for pain to tell me it’s time, but stay on a strict medication schedule while traveling. Whatever medicines you use for rescue, consider taking them preemptively. In my case, that means anti-inflammatories, low dose prednisone & muscle relaxers, and pain meds.

8) Rest up before travel. Before a big trip, I spend a few days working from bed, going to sleep early, or just taking it easier on myself than usual. Rest is the best way to reduce inflammation.

When people ask me, “How do you do it all?”

I say, EASY: I don’t.

9) Honestly, I stop doing every usual thing in order to make a trip possible.

10) I get help! I’d never think of traveling alone. I have help to pack my suitcase, help to unpack, help to navigate the airport or convention center.

11) I set limits. Lots of limits – like early bedtimes, nonstop flights, and midday meetings instead of early morning. People aren’t aware of what limits I need, and may not be able to accommodate them, but I try my best.

More RA travel tips I’ve picked up along the way

traveling with RA12)  Start “packing” about 3 weeks before travel to reduce stress as much as possible.

13)  Adjust the expectations of others. Make sure they know you’ll do your “best” and that’s enough.

14)  Check all medications and refill if needed.

15)  Plan to visit the GP a couple weeks before the trip. Get any vaccinations you need. Refill any meds that might help you travel more comfortably such as prednisone, pain meds, or topical anti-inflammatories.

16)  Make a list of the key items you pack & keep the list for next time you pack.

17)  Buy rolling bags with 4 spinning wheels, and easy-use handles.

18)  Bring ThermaCare heat wraps and/or the new cold wraps.

19)  Get a lightweight bag / purse to wear cross body – not cutting into shoulder or arm.

20)  Stay hydrated. This commonsense tip can reduce jetlag, excess side effects, and fatigue. Ask flight attendants for water. Fill an empty water bottle at drinking fountains.

I’m sure we can think of more. Add your ideas to the comments!

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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 5th, 2013 at 7:50 am and is filed under Living with RA / Managing RA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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