Summer travel season is the perfect occasion to take time off from work and head out to find some fun. For those suffering from chronic pain, however, it’s not always that simple. You have to plan out medication, treatment options and forms of traveling that won’t aggravate your condition. That’s why we’ve put together a guide for summer travel with chronic pain – and just in time for your Memorial Day adventures!

Get yourself ready before you hit the road

Maybe you’re headed out on a road trip. Or maybe a cruise ship is in your sights. Wherever your adventures take you, there are crucial steps to take before traveling with chronic illness and painful medical conditions. 

Between planning your trip and then making sure your kids, home, work and everything else is organized before you leave, things can get very stressful. You don’t need to plan months in advance, but a little preparation can go a long way.

Here are some ideas to help you get organized: 

  • Pick up personal items from the store and refill prescriptions well in advance.
  • Start packing a few days in advance. Remember to pack a support pillow for the road (or for the long flights) and your travel insurance paperwork.
  • Commit to some extra stretching and workout routines to feel your best before you depart.
  • If you’re traveling by air and need assistance in the airports, call the airline ahead of time to ensure you will have wheelchair access.
  • If you’re booking hotels and car rentals, ask about accommodations better suited for people with chronic conditions. 

Summer Travel with Chronic Pain woman on plane with support pillow

All you’ll need to do is zip up your suitcase before you head out, and you’ll be ready to begin your adventure! 

Keep it light

Packing light is a critical component of our guide for summer travel with chronic pain. Vacation travelers have an overwhelming tendency to overpack before a trip. Remember that you’ll have to carry, push or pull every bag you pack at some point. Even wheeled suitcases can cause challenges for those living with chronic pain. They may have to be placed in overhead compartments, lifted upstairs and so on.

For this reason, it’s all comes down to packing efficiently. The general guideline for smart packing is to bring enough clothes for one week—if you’re traveling for that amount of time or longer. For shorter trips, you can be even more economical.

Consider these tips to help you keep it simple:

  • a couple of pairs of shorts or pants
  • 3-4 t-shirts or tanks 
  • a windbreaker or light jacket
  • 1-2 nice outfits for evenings out
  • 2-3 pairs of light, comfortable shoes (include crossovers that work well in both casual and more formal settings)

Summer Travel with Chronic Pain ideas for summer travel packing

Hack air travel to be more comfortable

These days, traveling by plane can be pretty unpleasant. The security process alone can be stressful to even the most seasoned travelers. Then you have to squeeze into tiny seats and not move for hours at a time. Even if your travel accommodations are in the most comfortable areas, “certain pressures and forces from awkward positions can result in restricted blood flow.”

There’s no way around these things, but there are ways to increase your comfort level:

  • Wear loose-fitting athletic wear to travel. It’s comfortable and adapts well to the cold environment on the plane.
  • If you’re flying coach, book an exit row seat for extra legroom. If you can’t get an exit row, a window seat will provide you with at least some extra room.
  • Bring a neck and back pillow with lumbar support.
  • Get up once an hour to stretch and move your legs. You can even stand in the galley for a few minutes, provided you don’t get in the way of the flight attendants.
  • Make sure to stay hydrated. Skip the in-flight cocktail or cup of coffee and ask for a bottle of water instead. You can also keep your energy up with convenient and nutrient-dense snacks like almonds and fruits.

Summer Travel with Chronic Pain woman with bag in airport

Prep your prescriptions

You don’t want to run out of prescription medication while traveling. That’s why it’s best to double up before you leave. The best assumption is that you won’t be able to access your prescriptions while traveling—at least without a doctor’s appointment or a trip to the hospital. Instead, make sure you have enough for your trip in advance.

In case you need medical care, bring a copy of all prescription information and your doctor’s name and phone number so that she can answer any questions. This will also help you in case airport security has any question.

Finally, make sure to have the information of local professional medical services for your destinations. 

Summer Travel with Chronic Pain pharmacist handing patient medicine

Remember: time zones are tricky

The general guideline is that you need at least one day to adjust for every time zone you cross. For example, if you fly to California from New York, which is a 3-hour difference, then you’ll need 3 days.

Three hours isn’t a huge problem. But when traveling out of the United States to places such as Europe and Asia, jet lag can be a serious challenge. It can get even more difficult when you are trying to take your medication at the right intervals. The easiest way to do this is by carrying an extra watch or using an app that can track your dosage times.

Within a few days, you’ll be able to switch over to the local time zone. Be sure to do the same when you return home.

Summer Travel with Chronic Pain time zone travels

Most importantly, you might be eager to the hit town running once you reach your destination. While we all want to make the most of our vacations, don’t push yourself. Take some time to rest, nap and go out slowly.

The same goes for the rest of your trip. Don’t try to pack too much into it. It’s better to see a few things and feel rested and comfortable than exhausted and in pain.

Let the good times roll

Sure, planning a vacation can be challenging, but following this guide for summer travel with chronic pain will help ensure good times are had. If you plan ahead, take your time and get enough rest you can enjoy traveling to any destination on earth.

One final tip: don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. You may need help getting your bag in the overhead bin, making sure you have enough medication or getting a recommendation for comfortable travel shoes. Reach out to loved ones, your health care team, your travel buddies or the team here at Pain Resource! Pain doesn’t have to stop you from discovering the world around you.

Share this video with a loved one who is traveling this summer with chronic pain: 

What tips would you add to this guide for summer travel with chronic pain? 

Give us your best tips in the comments!

What topics related to traveling with chronic pain would you like to see us explore?

Email us at info@painresource.com with your ideas or with your travel testimony.

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This post was updated in May 2019 with new information and resources. 

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