Managing Chronic Pain While Traveling

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Managing chronic pain day to day can be difficult enough. For those of us who enjoy traveling, it presents its own share of unique and frustrating challenges.

Some people suffer with chronic pain so severe that they have to make the difficult decision to avoid traveling as much as possible. For those of us with chronic pain not quite so severe who are wanderlusts at heart, here are some of the challenges we face, and tips to help lessen their impact on your voyage:

1. Unpredictable pain

Most people suffering from chronic pain will tell you that although it is chronic, that doesn’t usually mean constant. Pain fluctuates; sometimes there is a specific trigger, and sometimes it seems completely random. Murphy’s law, of course, dictates that pain will rear its ugly head at the worst possible times; boarding an airplane, in the middle of a guided tour, right after you’ve paid an exorbitant museum entrance fee, etc. So what can you do to overcome these potential vacation disasters?
– keep a daily pain journal for a few weeks before your trip to try and pinpoint your triggers so you can avoid them on your trip;
– use this to also try to determine what, if anything, helps you avoid a flare – exercise helps some suffers, but can trigger an episode for others;
– leave yourself lots of time – stress is a common trigger, and cutting yourself short will increase your physical and mental stress levels;
– have a flexible schedule and leave room for down time.

2. Traveling with medication

Having the right medications and enough of it to last the duration of your trip is important. International travel with prescription medication can be tricky, so how can you ensure you don’t run into problems?
– before you leave, ensure you have enough medication to last your entire trip plus a little extra to cover any unforeseen delays or trip extensions;
– carry prescription medications in their respective prescription bottles or packages, even if it is cumbersome – this is especially important with narcotics as these are highly abused and can be confiscated at the border if you’re not able to prove that they’ve been prescribed to you;
– keep all medications in your carry on (if you’ve ever had to deal with lost or delayed luggage, you’ll understand why) – don’t take the risk, keep it close by!

3. Nourishing yourself properly

It’s tough to maintain diets and routines while traveling. What can you do to stay nourished and ward off pain episodes or flares?
– stay hydrated! Drink tap water if it is potable, or leave room in your budget for bottled water. You can also purchase an individual portable water purification system before you leave if you will be hiking or camping;
– get your fresh fruits and veggies where possible – it can be tough to find these while traveling, but many airports have bottled fruit and vegetable smoothies (Naked, Innocent, and Odwalla are popular brands available in many places), or look for local markets to pick up fresh produce;
– avoid fried foods, food high in fat or sugar, caffeine, alcohol as these can induce flares and make you feel sluggish – if they can’t be avoided, consume them in moderation.

4. Getting enough rest

Traveling can be a busy endeavour, especially if you are trying to see a lot in a short period of time. How can you ensure you are getting enough rest?
– plan out your days, being reasonable about how much you can fit in and allowing for a reasonable bed time;
– factor in jet lag and any time differences when planning your schedule – even a difference of as little as an hour can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm, so allow for extra rest in these cases;
– listen to your body – if you’ve done too much walking or pushed yourself to accomplish too much, your body will let you know – take heed!

5. Traveling companion(s)

Whether you are travelling with a loved one, friend, or colleague, it is a good idea to advise them of your situation, to the level of your comfort before you travel. This way, they are more likely to be understanding and patient if you should have a flare or need to “sit this one out”. How can you educate your traveling companions on your chronic pain?
– even close family or friends that know about your chronic pain may not understand how this affects your day to day life, so you may want to discuss your needs and limitations with them – you can even write a note or an email if it’s easier than discussing it in person, and that way you control exactly what you are comfortable disclosing;
– If you feel comfortable doing so, provide your traveling companion with an emergency contact, and/or your medical information (or where it can be found in case of an emergency) such as your doctor’s information, a list of medications, and your health insurance information;
– be honest about how you are feeling, and don’t try “suck it up” if you are in a lot of pain; you won’t enjoy yourself and neither will your traveling companion! Reschedule the activity if possible.

Traveling with chronic pain can be a challenge and definitely requires some extra planning and flexibility, but it can be done! With careful preparation and honesty with yourself on your abilities and limitations, you can make the most of your travel, and hopefully use this time to take a mental vacation from your chronic pain!

Happy travels.

About the Author

Courtney is an endo sufferer. She founded Splendometria Jewelry Company to help raise awareness about endometriosis. 10% of all sales are donated to women’s health organizations (including TENC!) for research, awareness and support of women with endo and other gynecological conditions. Visit the website at