Those who’ve tried travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis already know how hard it can be.
Even the shortest trip travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis feels like you’re trying to conquer Mount Everest with an elephant on your back and glass in your boots while someone’s holding a hot flame to your joints.
The debilitating effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis are often underestimated, routinely misunderstood and sadly far too familiar.
As you know, Bridget has lived with Rheumatoid Arthritis for over 28 years. Not once has she responded to treatment during that time, meaning her body has taken an almighty battering.
Sad as that is, it means we’ve learned a thing or two about living with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
And, returning to this post, we’ve learned quite a lot about “Travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis”.
I’ve been writing about accessible tourism for years, and although I talk about travelling in a wheelchair, I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly spoken about travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I think it’s about time I put that right.
Incidentally, I know this post is about travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis, but the tips work for travelling with different types of arthritis.
Travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis – Quick Tips
- Choose When You Travel
- Pick a Suitable Destination
- Tips for Flying with Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Travelling with Medication
- Travelling with Mobility Aids
- Pre-Existing Condition Travel Insurance
- Accessible Holiday Accommodation
- Accessible Activities and Excursions
- Learning to Enjoy Yourself
9 Tips for Travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis
#1. Choose When You Travel
Putting “When to Travel” at the top of the list might seem odd, but I think it’s essential. As you know, Rheumatoid Arthritis flares can happen anytime, often without warning.
You build up a long list of triggers and flare warning signs when you’ve lived with RA for a while. You know –
“If I do this, it’ll kick my joints off”
“When it’s too hot or too cold I’ve flared before”
You get the gist!
By the way, I know Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that, in theory, isn’t directly affected by the weather?
All I would say is, “tell that to someone in the middle of a weather-induced flare” they’ll probably have your eyes out – just saying!
Anyway, my point is this. If you know walking up an incline causes you to flare, don’t go hillwalking in Wales.
If you often flare in the heat, don’t take a holiday in a hot country or at least go outside of the hottest months.
Another thing to think about under the “When to Travel” banner is the time of year, even day.
Think about it. Suppose you travel abroad in the height of summer. In that case, the chances are, you’ll be standing in long queues at the check-in, sitting around for hours in a crowded airport, possibly even delayed and getting knocked from pillar to post in a crowded holiday resort.
You and I know none of this is good for someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
If possible, travel outside of peak months and peak hours. The same goes for taking a staycation. I can’t tell you how many times poor Bridget’s been stuck in the car for hours on a gridlocked motorway.
We’ve had to abandon many city visits. City centres are busy, and some see Bridget’s wheelchair as inconvenient. Instead of walking around it, or at least trying to avoid bumping into it, they feel it’s their right to walk through it, potentially ruining Bridget’s day, night, and most of the next day.
#2. Pick a Suitable Destination
When you travel with a disability, there is more to picking a holiday destination than finding out where the best beach is or the nightlife. Yes, these are important, but so are the more practical things.
For instance –
Where is the nearest Doctor’s Surgery or Hospital should RA put in an appearance?
What’s public transport like, and is it accessible?
Can you hire mobility equipment should you need it?
And Bridget’s favourite-
Where’s the nearest supermarket so she can get a giant pack of frozen peas to ease her pain until the Tramadol kick in.
I know it’s frustrating when you want to go on a relaxing holiday, but you know, the cards we’ve been dealt and all that, and it doesn’t harm to be prepared.
#3. Flying with Rheumatoid Arthritis
I have mentioned being stuck in a crowded airport and how to avoid it. The next airport nightmare has got to be transiting through the airport.
Fortunately, we don’t fly often, but we always book airport assistance, even using our wheelchair.
The beauty of airport assistance is that it can usher you through the whole rigmarole of getting to and on your flight.
Once you’re through security, if you are accompanied, they generally leave you to your own devices until it’s time to board.
Airport assistance will arrange a meeting place, usually the boarding gate, and assist you onto the aircraft.
This can include pushing you onto the aircraft with one of those extending ramps, a lift up to the aircraft door if it’s stepped and helping you into your allocated seat.
If you’re a chair user and need hoisting into your seat, they can usually arrange that, but I would check first as not all airports/airlines have them.
If possible, book a seat with extra legroom so you can stretch. If you haven’t prebooked, ask at check-in to see what’s available. Although, from experience, we’ve always been put in standard seats at the back of the aeroplane.
What if you can’t get up and move around independently, for instance, to use the loo? All I can say is, before booking, ask the airline what facilities or assistance are available during the flight.
You might be okay on short-haul flights, but the ability to get up and move around is so important on long-haul flights.
#4. Travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis Medication
Make sure you have enough medication to last the whole trip. Take extra just in case you are delayed. Carry medicines in your hand luggage, so it doesn’t go missing.
Ask your GP for a letter documenting each medicine, what it’s for and the dosage. Write down any generic names of drugs. Often, they are called something else in different countries.
This is especially important with Rheumatoid Arthritis medication as some are toxic (Methotrexate) and may not be allowed in some countries.
Check with customs to see if you can travel with certain medications. For instance, Bridget travels with syringes, which need preclearance on most flights and airports.
How will you store your medication at your destination? Back to the syringes, they need storing in a fridge, so a room fridge is essential. What about disposing of needles? Can a sharps bin be carried with you, or will a local chemist take any used sharps off your hands?
#5. Travelling with Medical Equipment and Aids
Because we mainly travel in the UK and Ireland, any medical equipment we need is either in the car with us or available at our destination. Our car boot looks like a portable hospital, but at least we know we have everything we need for our trip.
Please make a list of medical aids or equipment, then decide whether you can travel with it, hire it at your destination or go without it for your trip.
In all honesty, I would never recommend travelling without hiring what you need. You might be able to do without a piece of equipment for a day, any longer than that, and you run the risk of a flare.
Also, if you are travelling with equipment, make sure you know where you can get repairs or spare parts if needed. A good example is a replacement battery for a mobility scooter. If something goes wrong with yours, where can you get a replacement or help get mobile again?
Even here in the UK, I always try to find a place to hire a wheelchair should ours break. If something breaks and its life is over, you’ll need insurance to cover its replacement. That leads me nicely to my next tip for travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
#6. Travel Insurance for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
I can’t tell you how much money I have lost because I’ve had to cancel a trip at the last minute. There are few things predictable about Rheumatoid Arthritis, but from experience, all the excitement and rushing around to go on a trip can cause a flare. And if it’s a big one, the journey has to be cancelled.
Honestly, I can’t stress it enough. Travel insurance will be your best friend if you need it. Even if you’re holidaying in the UK, insurance is worth it when you’ve paid out hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds.
If I’m booking a cheap hotel or cheap flight, I always pay the extra fiver or whatever it is so that if we have to cancel, we can get our money back. I never used to, and I’ve lost hundreds of pounds because I was too tight to spend the extra fiver.
#7. Accessible Holiday Accommodation
One of the things we like to talk about on The Bimblers is accessible accommodation. We talk about accessible holiday accommodation a lot. And the simple reason is, accommodation can make or break your holiday.
Of course, we’re all different, but as a general rule, people who travel with Rheumatoid Arthritis have some things in common.
As you know, we use a wheelchair, so these are the questions we ask ourselves before we visit a hotel or cottage:
- Can we park outside the accommodation
- Where is the car park
- How far is the car park from the entrance
- Does the entrance have step-free access
- What about the reception, does it have a lowered counter
- What floor are we staying on
- Are there lifts to all floors
- What happens in the event of a fire
- What facilities are accessible in the hotel/cottage
- Can we hire mobility equipment
Then, when we think about our room:
- How easy is it to access the room with a wheelchair
- How much space is there in the room? Can we turn a wheelchair
- How high is the bed
- Is there an emergency button/cord near the bed
- Are there bedside tables
- Are extra pillows available
- What’s ventilation like in the room
- Is the toilet accessible
- Is there a bath or shower
- Is there a fully accessible wetroom
- How many grab rails are near the toilet
- Is there an emergency cord in the bathroom
- Is there a shower chair
And you can probably add some of your own that I’ve forgotten.
#8. Disabled Friendly Holiday Activities
Holiday activities make the holiday. Most enjoyment comes from trying and seeing new things, but be careful. If you get wrapped up in the excitement, it’s too easy to overdo it and then suffer the consequences.
Rheumatoid Arthritis doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. It means you need to be a bit more organised and pre-plan any activities you want to get involved in.
When we’re going on holiday, we try to plan activities we can do on a good day. Then, we gather accessibility information and whether refunds are available should we be unable to participate. Of course, free activities are better because refunds are less to worry about.
If you’re travelling with family, especially children, you’ll be tempted to do things, so you don’t spoil their fun. Again, you don’t want to be a party pooper, but you don’t want to miss most of your holiday because you’re laid up in bed either.
The best thing you can do is communicate. Talk through what you can and can’t do. Explain you can have just as much fun sitting back and watching your family do things. That way, you can rest if you need to and your family can enjoy their holiday without feeling guilty about you.
#9. Learn to Have Fun
It sounds funny saying it now, but you’ve got to have fun.
When you think about the planning that’s gone into organising your holiday, the research to make sure it’s accessible and the fears you’ve overcome, especially the fear of an RA flare, it’s too easy to forget to have fun.
Easy to say, I know, but you deserve it. The old saying of “everything in moderation” can be adapted to RA sufferers, and I prefer “everything within your limits”, and that’s the secret.
Do everything you want to do at your pace and in your time. Don’t worry about being as active as everyone else or as active as you used to be. Worry instead about enjoying your holiday, and that’s what’ll happen, you’ll enjoy it and have fun.
Tips for Travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis
I hope you found my “9 Tips for Travelling with Rheumatoid Arthritis” useful. Not all of them will apply to you. If you know someone who’ll find them useful, share this post with them.
It occurs to me that travelling with RA can be such a worry that it puts people off travelling. I would urge you, no, I’d beg you, to travel.
We thought we couldn’t do it but did it anyway. And, it’s the best decision we’ve ever made. Don’t let Rheumatoid Arthritis stop you from travelling. Instead, use RA as your motivation to travel differently.
We adapted and loved slow travel because it gives us more time to soak up the atmosphere, appreciate what’s in front of us and, above all else, get away from the daily grind of living with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Until next time. Happy Travels
Rheumatoid Arthritis Resources
Arthritis Research UK
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