Planning a vacation can be stressful, but if you have rheumatoid arthritis — a chronic joint disease — there are many more things to consider before embarking on your journey. Arthritis sufferers can still enjoy time away from home by making proper preparations prior to the trip. For example, if your medications need to be refrigerated, you will have to consider whether your destination is likely to have a refrigerator, and plan accordingly with a small cooler if you’re traveling by car or taking a train.
For those with more advanced arthritis, the difficulties you may face can range from the challenge of carrying out minor tasks related to self-care to determining the right pace for sightseeing in faraway cities.
Here are some ideas for planning an enjoyable vacation around rheumatoid arthritis:
1. Schedule Key Treatments Before and After Your Vacation
It’s important to work with your doctor to schedule treatments just before and after you travel. If it means skipping one dose, that might be easier than taking all of your medications with you.
2. Be Cautious with Vaccines
Some vaccines are contraindicated with the medications arthritis sufferers require. If you are traveling overseas and need to get a yellow fever shot or other vaccine (especially live-virus vaccines), check in with your rheumatologist before scheduling those injections.
3. Take a Medication Record
You should carry enough rheumatoid arthritis medication to get you through the trip, but if you need to get more — or something happens and you have to consult a doctor at your travel destination — having a list of your medications and doses would be helpful.
Another option is to leave copies of your prescriptions with a friend who could fax them to you if necessary. Talk to your doctor about how to handle travel in areas where medical facilities are limited, such as rural regions of developing countries.
4. Read the Fine Print on Your Health Insurance
Your health insurance may not cover overseas medical care. You might need supplemental insurance even if you’re only traveling within the US, depending on your policy’s regulations. For international travel, consider evacuation insurance in the event of an emergency. If your health changes, you may need to make modifications to your trip, therefore cancellation insurance is also recommended.
5. Lighten Your Load
Choosing a rolling bag or carrying only small, light bags with you may be helpful. If you have heavy bags, ask for help from a porter or use a cart to move them. One way to lighten your load is to take clothes you can wash and dry easily overnight.
6. Stay Active
If you’re going to be sitting for long periods of time on an airplane, or once you get to your destination, make sure to move around often. “You have to be careful how long you’re sitting in a plane seat. Get up and walk around every couple of hours,” Ruderman advises. If you’re traveling in a car or a tour bus, try to take a break every few hours so that you can stretch.
7. Know Your Best Times
Be sure to pace yourself while on vacation because if you push yourself too hard you’ll only exacerbate your arthritis symptoms. When planning your daily and weekly itineraries, consider how long it takes you to get moving in the morning, and the times of day when you feel most fatigued. Plan your activities accordingly.
8. Take Assistive Devices
If there are times when you need a cane or walker, splint, brace, or any other assistive device, bring it with you, even if you hope you won’t have to use it. You can also purchase specialized travel items like attachable grab bars to temporarily place in hotel bathrooms. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. In airports, for example, there’s no need to wear yourself out when you can ride in a wheelchair or on a motorized cart.
9. Wear Comfortable Shoes
Never buy brand-new shoes right before going on a trip, because odds are that while you’re traveling you’re going to be on your feet a lot. Choose a trusty pair of shoes with good support and traction.
10. Use Sunscreen
If you’re traveling to warmer climates, use sunscreen and wear a hat or long sleeves to protect against the sun’s rays, this is true for all travelers, not just those suffering from arthritis. Wearing sunscreen is especially important if you’re treating rheumatoid arthritis with the disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug, methotrexate. “Taking methotrexate can be really sun-sensitizing, so people can get a sunburn more easily,” Ruderman says.
11. Ease Back Into Your Home Routine
After your trip, give yourself a day or two to unpack and rest up before leaping back into your daily schedule. If you had to reschedule any medical appointments or you have symptoms that need attention, contact your medical team immediately.
Living with arthritis doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dream vacation. Just do a little bit of extra homework to scope out your destination, and talk to your doctor about your travel plans. Then, get going!