The Friendly Skies? Travelling with RA

I do a significant amount of travel as part of my career.   What initially felt like a bonus in earlier years has become a burden since the onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis.    It certainly has changed the way I view travel, as well as the way that I prepare for and carry out travel.

I enjoy travel and enjoy visiting new places even if much of my travel is very "quick turn" in nature and I sometimes see just a dash of the location I am visiting.   I travel between 35 and 40 percent of the time.  As I've gotten older, I have enjoyed it less merely because I have grown to value downtime with my family more dearly as my kids get older.    Since being diagnosed with RA in 2010, travel has steadily become more of a burden due to pain, lack of mobility and sheer fatigue.  If you are recently diagnosed, or have long fought RA but are nearing a period of travel, I am hopeful some of what I have discovered can be of use to you.

Some changes I have made in my methods and modes of travel recently include:

1.  PACK LIGHTLY.   I was the guy who would go away for seven days and pack 14 pairs of underwear as though there was going to be some horrible event each day that would only impact my drawers :)   I didn't pack 14 pairs of pants or shirts....so if things go really bad, I guess I was the guy who would be walking around in his skivvies.  Seriously, I have learned to travel very lightly, taking just enough to get through.  Fortunately, we live in an age where most places we will travel to have a Target or Walmart nearby in case of any lost luggage or wardrobe malfunctions.    Thus I pack just the bare essentials, packing fewer of each item and literally determining the lighter and less dense items to pack for whatever destination is at hand.  There are lots of great videos on Youtube that help decide what to pack, and give sound advice on how to pack it.    Don't overdo it.

2.  FLY DIRECT.   If you are in a midsize city like me, this can be difficult unless I am going to a small handful of locations.  But whenever possible I fly direct even if it means spending a little more.   Direct flights remove the stress burden that can overcome us if any segment is delayed.  Stress and RA are strange bedfellows who seem to urge each other along.    Avoiding a connect avoids the hurried, crowded commute from a terminal to terminal and the pain that goes with it.    At the very least, if direct flights are not an option, consider giving yourself nice long layovers.   I will never return to the days of fighting a 42-minute layover and sprinting through Atlanta Hartsfield airport.  I simply can't do it now, and even when I need to I pay a painful price for days afterward.  I shoot for a layover that exceeds an hour and a half.   What I used to think was wasted time, has become time for me to slow down, meditate, relax, or people watch.   There is no worse feeling than being the winded and sweaty last guy boarding the plane.

3.  CHECK BAGS.  This is going to generally run you about $25 each way.   Expensive? Yes.  But the investment in your health is worth it.  This frees your hands up for use otherwise and avoids pulling bags through the crowds.   It also avoids the stress of finding overhead space on today's overfull flights and the process of loading the bag overhead in the midst of a bunch of people.     If you insist on carry-on, I would recommend a hardback spinner suitcase with a telescoping handle for pulling.  Not only can you pull the bag with the handle, but you can lean on it from time to time to catch your breath and give your muscles and joints a break.   I found a nice spinner at an outlet mall for $59 that fits great in most overhead bins, and it has been put to the test for over 2 1/2 years and held up to the battering that luggage takes.   It was from the Bass outlet and has been an invaluable tool in my travel.  Amazon, the worlds great marketplace, has some models for reasonable prices.

4.  GET HELP WHEN NEEDED.  If you are struggling, or in the midst of a flare, don't be shy about asking for help in getting through the airport.  My experience has been that most airports and airlines are happy to help.   Don't be embarrassed to get help when you need it.   It will pay dividends and increase the odds you are able to enjoy the remainder of your travel.    As a caveat...after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I now never question someones right to be on a scooter/wheelchair/cart in the airport.  All of us with RA and chronic or autoimmune diseases are walking testaments that you can be really really sick and in tons of pain while looking like everyone around you.    Take care of yourself and use help when needed.

5.  ENJOY.   I try to be grateful whenever I am able to travel.   It won't last forever, so I try to enjoy the chance to get out and see somewhere new and meet new folks (yes, unfortunately, I am that dude that will talk on the plane, my apologies in advance).  I hurt a bunch and I'm tired a good deal of the time, but I'm moving and seeing and meeting and I will talk that all day long.

As a traveler with RA or other chronic illness, I would love to hear from you on things that you do to help travel be more manageable and enjoyable.   Please drop a comment so that other readers (and I) can learn from your experiences.    Thanks for stopping by.


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