Managing chronic pain
on holiday

Travel Tips from Dr Ruth Handford

A huge number of people live with chronic pain, and it can be a challenge to cope with day to day activities, let alone changes in routine. Here are a few tips to try to get the most out of your travels whilst coping with chronic pain. 

Planning ahead

After you book your trip, count out how many tablets you’ll need for the duration of your journey and get the necessary prescriptions from your health care professional. If you take daily supplements, count those too.

Sometimes the particular brand you take may not be available overseas, and you don’t want to have to worry about looking for a pharmacy when you’ll have more important things to do. If you have a particular massage oil or creams that you use as part of your pain management plan, pack those too.

Don't forget your travel insurance, make sure you have declared your pre-existing medical conditions and keep the emergency contact number handy.  .

Your journey

Book your tickets well in advance, select your seat, and buy as much comfort as you can. Flights are uncomfortable enough, so try to upgrade your seat if you can. If you’re in economy, try to get a seat with extra leg room, or choose a window seat or aisle seat depending on whether you need to be up and moving regularly or not.  

Get to the airport early and check in as much luggage as you can. Even if it’s a hand luggage size case. Try to carry on as little as possible, preferably in a bag that fits under the seat in front. If you can save yourself lugging heavy bags about the airport, or trying to get them in to overhead lockers on the plane, do it.   

Take advantage of any mobility assistance available. There is a tendency to want to put on a brave face and muscle through. But, by taking advantage of wheelchairs or mobility scooters offered at the airport, you can reserve your energy for the journey ahead. Try to arrive as comfortable as you can – pace yourself, and say yes to help. 

When you arrive at the check in desk to check that luggage, let the agent know that you need a wheelchair. You can request this in advance if possible. This service is always free. You can not only help yourself avoid long walks through busy airports, but also help the airline board all their passengers safely and efficiently. Don’t just consider a wheelchair for long walks either – sometimes long periods of standing in queues can be extremely painful and difficult to cope with, and having a wheelchair can be a real help. 

Pack medication in your hand luggage. Make sure they are in the original packaging, and ideally have a copy of your prescription with you. You can get syringe travel kits from the chemist for injectable medication. Having medication in your hand luggage can be be a lifesaver in the event of flight delays or lost luggage. You can always pack some spare medication in your checked luggage too, but enough essentials for a few days should be with you at all times. 

Consider additional measures. Maybe take some adhesive cold/heat pads with you, in case you need some extra measures during the trip. A handheld massage device can be useful too and they are small and easily carried. 

Don’t forget your layers. You’re probably wearing layers if you’re travelling between climates anyway, but keep in mind that planes can get really cold. A big scarf can be really useful - and even if you don’t need it, it can work as a pillow or cushion.

What to pack in your suitcase

Take care of yourself. This may means packing chamomile tea bags, a small candle, essential oils, electric blanket, knee pillow, eye pillow, sunglasses, earplugs, headphones, fuzzy socks….the list goes on. Whatever you can take that makes your life more comfortable, take it.

Pack at least 2 pairs of comfortable shoes. Make moving about and keeping active as comfortable as you can. You can pack more than that, but I don’t recommend packing fewer. If one pair gives you a blister, without a second pair as backup, you are in for a miserable time.

Don’t forget toiletries. A long, warm bath or shower can be excellent pain relief on arrival, and can help you relax and sleep during your trip. Take products you enjoy using and that make you feel cared for.

Once you arrive

If possible, take a full day to rest after you arrive at your destination and again when you return home. If you can, try to choose flights which will fit with your preference to sleep either on arrival or on the journey.

Try to give yourself time when you arrive to settle in, rest and relax. Try to ensure that the only thing you need to do when you arrive is check in at the hotel and get comfy. Maybe order room service and have a bath. Allowing yourself chance to recover from an uncomfortable or tiring journey will reap benefits during your trip. 

Similarly, when you return home, try to ensure you have some breathing space to rest and relax back in to normal life.

During your trip, if you are planning some days out or additional excursions, try to spread these out and pace yourself. Give yourself recovery time in between to make sure you have the best chance of enjoying your experience. 

Rest whenever you can.  If you are out and about, and have the chance to stop and sit – take it.

Scooters are able to be rented in most major cities, so you can ride while others walk. Most of these rental companies will drop the scooter off at your hotel, and pick it up from there at the end of the trip. Just have a chat with your hotel concierge who should be able to help you. 

If you are travelling to a summer climate, go to the beach, as getting sun is good for increasing your Vitamin D stores. Naturally occurring salts in the sea or ocean have known health benefits as well, especially for chronic pain sufferers, as do mineral hot springs. Salt water contains bromide, which helps relieve muscle aches, pain and soreness caused by physical and emotional stress.

Enjoy your trip! Chronic pain doesn’t need to hold you back. With some forethought and planning, you can have a safe and comfortable trip and enjoy travelling the world. 

Always consult your own doctor before travelling

These travel tips are intended to provide general information to those planning to travel abroad. They do not replace a visit to your doctor . If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.

About Dr Ruth Handford

Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.

Travel Insurance for Medical Conditions

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your insurers are aware that you have existing medical conditions and ensure that your travel insurance provides cover for them.