Travelling with arthritis

30 April 2019
An aeroplane flying over a beach casting it's shadow on the people below.

Everyone needs time out from their routine and visiting a new city or country can give you a renewed zest for life. Here’s some tips on how to make your holidays memorable for all the right reasons.

Planning ahead

Research is key when it comes to going on holiday, as is pre-booking everything you can.

If you are flying and use a wheelchair or have mobility issues, book ‘special assistance’. Airlines and airports in the EU are legally obliged to provide free help and assistance.

“Airports vary, but there will be specific information on their website,” says Jack March, a physiotherapist who specialises in rheumatology.

“Usually, you use your own wheelchair until the departure gate, where you will transfer to one specifically designed to fit and manoeuvre around the plane. The airport staff should explain each part of the journey to you and store your chair in the hold.

Normally, travellers with wheelchairs will be boarded first and disembark last for the practical reason of there being more space on the plane to manoeuvre.”

There’s also lanyard schemes available at airports, such as Manchester. According to their website these are for people ‘…who may not want to share details of their invisible disabilities or use our assistance service.’ But they will show staff that you may need additional support.

Train lines in the UK also offer ‘passenger assist’, which is available 24 hours a day and pre-bookable. Some companies also offer lanyards similar to Manchester airport, for example, London North Eastern Railway (LNER). Transport for London also have their ‘please offer me a seat’ badge for travellers on the Underground, buses, river and Overground services.

On the journey

Wherever you go, there may be times when you are sitting for long periods, whether that’s in a car, on a train, coach or flight.

“Everyone’s muscles and joints can feel stiffer when they’re sat still for a period of time, and some people will tolerate journeys better than others,” says March.

Try to change position as often as possible. For example, swap from sitting to standing, and move your joints around when practical.

“Moving every 20 to 30 minutes is ideal, but some people will be able to last longer than this. For car journeys, try a practice run on shorter routes and assess how the joints react to periods of reduced movement. It may be that you can manage an hour or longer before significant issues arise. It also allows you to practise how much movement is sufficient to relieve those symptoms.”

Getting the right accommodation

Do your research when it comes to where you are staying.

If mobility is an issue for you, then book a room on the ground floor or near a lift. If you need mobility aids in your accommodation. Make sure you know exactly the amount of space available in the room so you can easily move around, especially if you are in a wheelchair.

“Consider the entirety of the journey and ensure awareness of even the step into the room,” says March. “The journey to the accommodation is easier to plan than the final few metres, as hotel rooms vary.”

Go exploring

Being on holiday means you might want to get out and about to explore the area. “How much you do is dependent on what it is that you want to achieve during your holiday,” says March. “It might be that you're prepared to accept an increase in symptoms to complete activities or sightseeing, for example.

“Be aware of what you can do before you travel: what you can do with no increase in symptoms; what you can do with an acceptable increase in symptoms and what happens if you exceed this. This will allow you to plan your activities with appropriate rest, or have a busy day followed by an easier one.

“The key to your trip is to plan. Gain as much information about terrain, distances, location of amenities and help available before leaving.

“Prioritise the things you want to do, to make sure you don’t miss out. It’s OK to push yourself for activities you really want to do. Just make sure you have planned downtime afterwards to recover.”

Tips from those in the know

Read our readers’ suggestions for better holidays

People tend to give you a wider berth if you use a walking stick or crutches, which can be useful in crowded spaces like airports and stations. Always use a small backpack to carry stuff.

Jeremy Latham

Airport assistance is great, but make sure to book it. Put your meds in your hand luggage and carry a letter from your doctor to show security if they ask. Check if drugs are illegal in other countries – codeine is illegal in Greece, for example, so don’t get caught out. And get good travel insurance.

Catherine Manning

If your meds need refrigerating, then think about taking small, specialist cool bags. I always take my memory foam neck pillow as it makes such a difference.

Lynn Laidlaw

Wear supportive shoes for walking – the best you can afford – and a pair of nice soft socks, even when it’s hot! Keep biscuits or crackers in your hotel room so you have something to take your meds with if you forget them at regular meal times.

Gemma Bristow

Source: Versus Arthritis Twitter

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