Five Sure-fire Tips for Traveling with Chronic Illness or Disability
By Mary J. Yerkes for the NABBW
NOTE: This article originally appeared at NABBW.com in 2009. We are happy to reprint it now as we move into the summer travel season. Thanks to Catherine Luther at UpgradedPoints.com, it has been updated to reflect new information.
For the 1 in 2 Americans living with chronic conditions, traveling can be a challenge. Crowded airports, long flights, and public transportation can increase stress and exacerbate symptoms. But by learning to travel smart, you can experience the thrill of traveling, while minimizing your discomfort and stress.
Here are five sure-fire tips for traveling smart with chronic illness or disability:
Contact your health care specialist or provider four to six weeks prior to departure to discuss your itinerary and request tips for traveling with your condition.
Health care providers are a valuable resource when it comes to tips for traveling with your condition. After my diagnosis of rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, I spoke with my rheumatologist to discuss adaptations I could make while traveling. She suggested I add an extra day to my travel plans to allow for time adjustments and jet leg, request a seat on the aisle just behind the bulkhead for more room, and get up frequently to stretch and walk around, if possible. While arthritis has slowed me down while traveling, I still travel regularly and enjoy exploring new cities.
Set realistic expectations for yourself and others.
Acknowledge your limitations and understand that you will need to rest more frequently than your traveling companions. Discuss your needs with your spouse or traveling companion before leaving and schedule rest stops into your day. My husband and I recently traveled to the Eastern shore, where we stopped at a large outlet mall. My husband wanted to look around, but I needed to stop and rest. I spent an hour at a coffee shop reading, while he visited the stores he wanted to. We both got what we needed.
Keep your medications handy.
Never pack your medications in bags that you plan to check at the airlines or in difficult places to reach. Keep your medications accessible and when possible, carry water with you when traveling to make taking your medication on time easier. I pack my daily medications in small plastic baggies and put them in my purse. Whether I’m on a plane, at a restaurant, or in a taxi, my medications are there when I need them.
Plan your trip in advance.
You can’t do it all. Decide what’s important to do and see on this trip and save the rest for another time. A good travel guide can help.
My husband and I traveled from the East Coast to the Seattle for our son’s wedding last weekend. While there were many things I wanted to do while there, I limited my activities to those events associated with the wedding and spending time with my son and new daughter-in-law. Next trip, I’ll plan to see the sights.
Pack a survival pack filled with trail mix, meal bars, a book, and iPod.
Don’t let delays when traveling catch you off guard. With everything you need at hand, delays can be turned into an “unexpected or extra rest break.” Good eating habits affect chronic conditions, so make sure you always keep something with you. The New York Times offers some great suggestions for what to pack.
For additional tips on traveling with disabilities or chronic conditions, you’ll want to review The Ultimate Guide to Air Travel with a Disability, a website published by UpgradedPoints.com as well as the TSA website.