senior couple on a road trip
May 8, 2019 | by Anthony Krajcer MD

Even when you don’t have a chronic disease, traveling can be a stressful event. It often includes lots of time walking, lifting and toting luggage, as well as sitting for long periods on planes, trains, and cars. Traveling with a condition like rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, can be challenging and physically demanding, especially when you have ongoing joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Traveling can also cause emotional stress and trigger flare-ups. If you are traveling with RA, consider our tips for advanced planning to ensure you can successfully manage your physical activity, your medication, and your stress level while you’re away.

Before you depart, consult your doctor

Meet with your doctor up to six weeks before you depart to plan a necessary list of “do’s and don’ts,” such as:

  • Foods to avoid
  • Activities to avoid
  • A list of all prescription medicines, including a note from the doctor explaining your condition and treatments

Before you depart, schedule any needed treatments, especially injectable medications, which can be difficult to take on the road and may be best taken in advance. Discuss a plan and crisis treatment, such as a steroid taper should your arthritis flare. Ask your doctor about the best timing of your medication or if you can adjust your administration schedule around your travel.

Pack all medication and plan ahead for keeping it cool

The key to making your trip successful and pain free is to pack exactly enough medication to last you the entire trip.

  • Make sure to stick to your regular medication routines, but also be prepared for arthritis flares, other emergencies, and lost medications.
  • Stow your medications in your carry-on bag and keep it with you at all times while traveling.
  • Pack snacks and fluids to take with medications.
  • Double check that none of your medications are illegal in the countries you may be traveling. If they are, make sure to have proper documentation proving they are for your condition. Check the FDA website for instructions on how to approach traveling with potentially illegal medications.
  • Consider packing a few extra days’ worth of your usual medications, along with a copy of a list of your current medications.

Check with your prescribing provider or drug manufacturer if your biologic can be kept at room temperature and for how long. Some biologics can be kept and used up until two weeks at room temperature (59° to 77°F). If you are traveling with biologic medications that need to be kept cool, bring an insulated cooler. If your travel plans include a plane ride longer than six hours, let your flight attendant know about your medications and your condition. They can usually help you refill your cooler with ice or store your medications in their aircraft refrigerator during the trip.

Upon arriving at your destination, check to see if there is a refrigerator. Many hotel rooms have a mini fridge but if not, talk to the front desk about keeping your medications cool. If you explain your situation, they are typically more than happy to accommodate. If you are camping or away from electricity you can keep your medications in a cooler. Just make sure to have ice in the cooler at all times.

Be mindful of your diet and exercise

Carefully consider your diet when traveling:

  • Avoid overindulging on food or alcohol
  • Be intentional in including fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet each day
  • Limit your intake of red meat, full-fat dairy, and egg yolks in favor of good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids which include nuts, olive oil, and fish

Move and stretch regularly. If you are traveling by car, stop and get out about every 90 minutes to stretch your joints and walk around. Prepare the car for comfort with pillows, ice packs, and plenty of fluids. If you are traveling by plane, try walking up and down the aisle every hour or so. If you aren’t planning to do much walking during your vacation, make sure to plan time for at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. And don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes with good support and traction as well as items that help protect you from the sun, including SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, long sleeves, and a hat.

Include rest in daily activities

Take the time to write a detailed plan of what you want to do each day. When building your plan, schedule time for rest and recovery. This may include arranging for wheelchairs and for someone to carry your luggage. Be sure to create an emergency exit plan in case you need to end your vacation or daily activities early. Upon your return, factor in a day or two to unpack and get back into your regular routine. This will allow for a smooth transition back into your daily life and reduce stress.

With some thoughtful planning and packing, traveling with RA doesn’t have to be a burden. Make your next vacation the enjoyable and relaxing event it should be.

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Written By: Anthony Krajcer MD