dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Travel and Pain: Plan Ahead Carefully and You Won't Be Up The Creek Without a Paddle

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this summer. To celebrate, we traveled last weekend to the Mendocino Coast (sorry I didn’t post last Saturday - I just ran out of time!). Like many people with chronic pain, I can’t just pick up and travel somewhere on a whim. I have to plan very carefully so I can truly enjoy the trip and not be suffering from so much pain that I cannot focus on anything outside of myself. It was important to consider all aspects of my comfort and physical limitations so the trip could be a success.

Here are my travel tips so that your next trip can be enjoyable, too.


1.) Remember the Basics:
It should go without saying... don’t forget to pack medications and treatment items. If you are flying, they need to be in the original bottles and in your carry-on bag - never put your meds in a checked suitcase because it could get lost or damaged. If you are traveling by car, as we were, consider whether heat may affect your medications. It’s also vital to remind yourself to take your meds on time. It’s so easy when traveling to get distracted from our normal schedules and miss a dose. Set a watch or phone alarm, stick a note in your purse where you can’t miss it, find some back-up method to ensure your medications are taken as prescribed.

No matter what method of transport you are using, be sure to keep hydrated, try not to get overheated or chilled so dress in layers, have some snacks available which are easy to access, and make sure you get on your feet to stretch and move around to ease pain and help your circulation (When I travel I must do this at least once an hour, preferably more).

2.) Comfort is Key
Sleep is a big issue for me. At home I use a lot of different items to make sleeping more comfortable, as I wrote about in a blog post listing the different things I use to manage my pain entitled, 'Strive for the Right Mix of Elements'. I have a Sleep Number bed which also can raise and lower like a hospital bed to give me maximum control over elevation of my head and feet. In the past when I traveled, we’ve called ahead and ordered a recliner from a nearby rental store so I can avoid sleeping on a flat mattress and it worked out great. Now it is possible for me to use an inflatable or a foam wedge along with a myriad of foam pads and pillows to ease my lower back, hip, and heel pain. If we are flying, we must box up all the foam pieces and find out how much the airline will charge for the oversize box. We’ve also resorted to shipping it ahead by FedEx once or twice - whatever works to get them there on time.

If you have any other issues with comfort, like a special cushion you keep with you at all times (me too!), special sunglasses to protect your sensitive eyes, a heating pad (me again!), reusable ice packs to ease inflammation - whatever it is that keeps you comfy and functioning, be sure to bring it. I have a standard packing list so I don't forget anything I need. I always review before I begin packing, so I can add any new items before I start. Then I tape the list to my door and check each item off as it goes into my luggage. If I didn't do this, I know I'd leave something vital behind. 

3.) Be Certain of Your Accommodations
Whether you are staying in a hotel or Bed & Breakfast, it’s important to make sure of your accommodations. With hotels, you can ask for a handicapped accessible room. But be warned: there is no set standard for this. You should ask them exactly what the room provides. In Seattle, we had a handicapped room which was great since I had my wheelchair. The doorways were wider, the bathroom had no tub - just a shower curtain, a shower chair, and a drain in the floor - the sink allowed wheelchair access and they provided lower shelves and towel racks. If you are going to a Bed & Breakfast, be warned that even if they say it is “ground floor” there may be steps or slopes that could be difficult for a wheelchair or if you have walking issues. Ask them how accessible the inn is so you don’t end up paying for a room where you cannot get up the three steps into the bathroom or climb the hill to get to your parked car. Don’t be embarrassed to ask specifics. As it turned out this time, the cottage we stayed at had two steep steps down to the main floor, which made it hard to get the wheelchair inside, but luckily I am ambulatory enough right now so at least *I* could get it in! 

Here I am at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens.

4.) Remember Dietary Restrictions & Do Some Research
Besides packing your own provisions, you need to be aware of what is available to eat where you are going. Since my husband is now pre-diabetic and is being very careful about his diet, I went online and looked at restaurant menus. If you have dietary restrictions or your medications require you to avoid or include certain foods, this is very useful. It was extremely easy to search for local restaurants on the web and I made a list of several options for each city we would be in so there were acceptable options in case one was too busy or closed. If you are staying at a Bed & Breakfast just alert them when you make your reservation of what allergies or restrictions you have.

5.) The Ideal Itinerary
After you’ve selected your destination, it’s a great idea to search through the attractions and sites to make sure you can enjoy what intrigues you. I wanted to visited the famous Mendocino Botanical Gardens. I called ahead to find out if the terrain was too steep or rough to use my wheelchair. I was told they offered electric carts to rent which are capable of traversing all the paved trails. Just a quick visit to their website and a phone call confirmed everything I needed to know so our visit to the gardens would not leave me painfully struggling to see all the different plant collections. In the end, I chose to use my own wheelchair for the back support, but checking ahead allowed me to consider all the options. 

As people with chronic pain, we have to give up some spontaneity when we are out of our familiar environment. However, taking a little extra time to do research gives us a much higher chance of fully experiencing and savoring the destination - and if we are feeling good and enjoying ourselves, so also can our companion! 

My husband and I had a wonderful trip. We fully enjoyed the cozy little cottage (especially the hot tub!), the Botanical Gardens, the Sea Glass Museum, the beautiful views, the wonderful food, and all uninterrupted time we shared. Although I did have a bad pain spike from the long car ride to Mendocino, all our pre-planning aided me in managing my pain and helped me avoid magnifying it while at our destination.

I hope my tips will come in handy on your next trip!

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