For those who live with chronic pain, daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and showering can be difficult and exhausting. So traveling by air, ground, train, or water requires extra planning and precautions. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel to see more of the world.
Often, chronic pain is invisible to those on the outside, which can make interactions difficult, especially when it flares without warning. This can include anything from arthritis or fibromyalgia to lyme disease. Just because others can’t see it doesn’t mean you don’t feel it.
We’ve put together a guide on how to travel if you’re living with chronic pain – which can be tension headaches, back or hip pain, knee replacements, and complications from surgery. We’ll cover what to pack, questions to ask, and much more.
That way, you can take advantage of free or cheap award travel with the best airline credit cards to earn miles and points. With preparation, you can take amazing trips for pennies on the dollar!
Before the Trip: How to Pack for Travel When You Suffer From Chronic Pain
Giving yourself extra time to pack for traveling when you have chronic pain will help you prepare for your journey, and reduce stress because you’ll know you have everything you need to manage it.
Be sure to fill your prescriptions well before your trip, and have enough with you for the duration of your time away. Pack them in your carry-on bag (never in your checked luggage!) and put it within quick reach. Consider taking a small bag to carry with you throughout your entire journey, so they’ll always be close at hand.
Pack other helpful items like a heating pack, a neck pillow for long flights or train rides, and a good pair of shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking or sightseeing on your trip. Bring along a note from your doctor explaining your condition, and a list of the medications you’re taking, in case you need to show it for medical assistance or to get through the TSA checkpoint at the airport.
Another suggestion is to ship your luggage to your destination so you don’t have to hassle with lugging your stuff as you travel. Keep a bag with your essentials, and let the rest be there waiting for your arrival.
Check out companies like Luggage Free, LugLess, and Send My Bag to handle delivery directly to your hotel or other location. It’s one more thing to do before you travel, but can make your experience easier and more convenient.
Air Travel With Chronic Pain
If you suffer from chronic pain, any flight can bring dread. Cramped seats, limited recline, and ever-shrinking lavatories are difficult, whether your flight is a quick hop or several hours.
If the idea of sitting in coach is daunting, especially when suffering from chronic pain, consider using the best airline credit cards so you can redeem miles and points toward a bigger seat in Business or First Class.
For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you can earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is an easy way to redeem your points for travel. Or you can transfer your points directly to airline partners at a 1:1 ratio, including British Airways, United Airlines, and Southwest.
The bonus points you earn can be worth $1,000+ in travel if you follow our tricks to get the most from them. Here’s our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It’s the #1 card we recommend to those starting out with miles and points!
To make a trip more relaxing, try to book your airline travel as early as possible, so you can select a comfortable aisle seat. This will make it easier for you to get up throughout the flight to stretch your legs. Even if you’re seated, you have more breathing room with the aisle next to you as opposed to a middle or window seat.
Avoid booking seats in the back of the plane. There are 2 reasons for this: First, the back row of seats on a plane usually do not give you room to recline. Second, you’ll feel turbulence more at the back of the plane, which can be painful if you have chronic pain. If possible, book more toward the front or middle of the plane.
If you feel an aisle or forward seat is a medical necessity, get a note from your doctor and present it to the gate agent before you board. They can be your ally and help shuffle seats to make you more comfortable.
Arriving at the Airport
Get to the airport early to give yourself plenty of time to check bags, go through security, and find your gate, especially if you need to arrange wheelchair access.
Tips for Going Through Security
Getting through security is rough for everyone, but can be more difficult with chronic pain.
Consider getting TSA PreCheck to make going through security less stressful. There are many travel rewards credit cards that come with a statement credit for TSA PreCheck. Sign-up for one of these cards to maximize your travel savings and save you time getting through security.
If you have chronic pain or nerve disorders, you may dread going through security because of the chance you’ll have a pat down. Because even a small touch can be painful for chronic pain sufferers.
If you’re selected, let a TSA agent know they need to be gentle during the pat down. TSA has the option for a private room with seats, if it makes you more comfortable.
And remember, normal liquid restrictions don’t apply to required medications. If you need liquid medicine during your trip, be sure to let an agent know so they can screen your other liquids separately.
Waiting for Your Flight
Once you’re through security, get to your gate early. If you’re able, move around and keep your blood flowing, because when you get on the plane, you may be sitting for a while before you can stand up.
And if you have time, enjoy an airport lounge! Kick back, have a beverage and snack, and prepare for your flight. You may have free access with certain credit cards that come with lounge access, like The Business Platinum® Card from American Express. This card gives you entry to Delta Sky Club (if you’re flying Delta that day), Priority Pass, Airspace, and American Express Centurion Lounges!
Other cards to consider include Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Citi Prestige.
If you have a longer layover, take advantage of an airport spa, like XpresSpa, which has 56 locations in 22 airports. A back massage will help ease the stress of traveling.
Don’t want to spend money at a spa? Some airports that have a yoga and meditation rooms, including:
- Burlington International Airport (BTV)
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
- Chicago Midway Airport (MDW)
- Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
- Helsinki Airport (HEL)
- Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
- London Gatwick Airport (LGW)
- London Heathrow (LHR)
- Miami International Airport (MIA)
- New York (JFK)
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
When it’s close to boarding time, make sure you’re near the gate. If you feel need assistance, like a different seat or more time to board, tell the gate agent at this point.
Wheelchair Help at the Airport
Wheelchair assistance is available if you need it. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) requires airlines to let you use your wheelchair, mobility scooter, or walker to the aircraft boarding door, where they will then gate check it, and return it to you upon arrival. The airport will arrange an aisle seat for you, too.
And if you feel like you need it, call the airline in advance to arrange a wheelchair to help you through the airport. Airlines have a number you can call to arrange this. Try to call for this accommodation at least 48 hours before departure so they airline can take care of you when you arrive.
Ground Travel With Chronic Pain
Lots of folks get back pain during long car rides. And for those with chronic pain, soreness can elevate to extremes. Here’s what to watch for when traveling by ground if you have chronic pain.
Renting a Car
If you need a rental car for your trip:
- Rent a vehicle that gives you enough room to be comfortable, whether you plan on driving or being a passenger
- Find a deal on a larger, roomier SUV, instead of a small sedan
- Opt for automatic opening doors and trunk, so you won’t have to strain your hands or reach
Save on a Car Rental With Points
Using search engines like Hotwire and Costco Travel can maximize your savings with a car rental. It helps to be flexible with your time, date, or destination. And if you have a Chase or Citi credit card, you can use the Chase or Citi travel portal to find a cheap rental.
Paying for your rental with the right credit card can save you more money. Some of our favorite cards come with primary car rental coverage, which means you can decline the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) offered by the car rental agency. This covers physical damage and damage due to theft, loss-of-use charges, and towing for the rental car if you get into an accident (up to the coverage limit), without requiring you to file a claim with your personal car insurance company.
That said, the primary car rental insurance will NOT cover damage to the other car, property damage, or injuries to you or others. You will still be liable for those damages, and your personal car insurance policy may cover those claims.
Note if you charge a car rental to a credit card that offers secondary car rental insurance, and decline the CDW, you will be responsible for the deductible through your personal insurance if you get into an accident. It will NOT cover damage to the other car, any property damage, and injuries to you or others.
Once you’ve found your rental, plan your route and rest areas so you can get out and stretch. If the drive is longer than 5 hours, consider breaking it up into a 2-day trip. Make sure to rest before and during your trip, because exhaustion can exacerbate the chronic pain. Rest is never overrated!
Find a Handicap Accessible Vehicle
If you need to rent a handicap accessible vehicle, there’s a bit more research to do. Most national companies do NOT offer handicap accessible vans. Accessible Vans of America has a network of wheelchair van dealers. Just search their website for locations near you and give the closest one a call for pricing.
Soon, you’ll be able to request a ride in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle through Uber, just as you would request a regular Uber. UberWAV drivers will be certified in safety driving and assisting people with disabilities. Right now, UberWAV is pilot testing in Chicago, Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia. If you’re traveling in one of those cities, try out UberWAV as a form of ride-sharing transportation.
The Lyft app has a setting for passengers to request a wheelchair accessible vehicle.
Similar to requesting a regular Lyft, enter your destination to find a ride. The difference is you have to swipe left until you find the “More” tab where, if available, a wheelchair accessible ride will show up.
Upon closing and re-entering the app, I was given a prompt to call a number to request a wheelchair accessible ride.
You must book many accessible vehicle dispatches at least 24 hours in advance. Lyft has a list of wheelchair accessible dispatches on their website. Consider looking into this well before your trip, as some companies have an enrollment process that can take weeks to complete.
Taxis and Cabs
Various taxi companies have wheelchair accessible vehicles available. Click here for a list of local wheelchair accessible taxis.
Traveling by Train With Chronic Pain
Taking a train is the most comfortable option for those living with chronic pain. Not only do you have more space to sit (because most train seats are larger than airline seats), but you can stand up and stretch in the cabin during the ride. Make yourself comfortable when you:
- Book a front-facing seat. If you’re prone to motion sickness, it’s better to face the direction you’re going as opposed to a rear-facing seat
- Pack an inflatable seat cushion or lumbar support pillow for comfort while sitting. Pack a blanket and travel pillow if you plan on sleeping during the ride
- Bring your own snacks! Take a walk around the cabin afterwards to help digest. Remember, airline liquid rules don’t apply, so you can bring your water on board, too!
Amtrak offers a 10% discount if you have a disability. All you need is documentation, like a letter from your doctor. Children with a disability are eligible for the everyday 50% discount, plus an additional 10% off discounted child’s fare.
Folks with disabilities on the Downeaster train from Boston to Portland are eligible for a 50% discount. Booking is simple, as it’s just like booking a regular ticket, except you’ll need to select the Passenger With Disability (PWD) open from the “Discounts” dropdown menu.
What to Look for in a Hotel
Things to do for when booking your accommodations:
- Make a list of hotels in your price range that have rooms available for your needs. Once you’ve nailed down one or two potential hotels, call to confirm accommodations for disabilities
- Book a room with chairs or a couch, in case you can’t sleep well in the bed
- Request a room close to an elevator, or on the first floor close to the lobby or an exit
- Ask about the room’s features: Is the room wheelchair-accessible and ADA compliant?
- Find a hotel with a gym so you can stretch or walk on the treadmill before going out for the day. A sauna or hot tub would be a huge plus, because heat helps relieve pain
If your pain renders you unable to move at times, consider getting travel insurance to protect your trip. In exchange for an upfront fee, you can cancel the trip in the event of illness, and avoid financial loss. Usually you can add this when you book your travel. Or, if you prefer, you can add it separately through a company of your choice.
Other ways to make yourself more comfortable:
- Book an extra day or two for resting, especially if you plan to travel a long distance
- Double-check you have the essentials, like medication, braces, muscle support, pain creams, and anything else you often turn to for relief
- Pack light – save your energy for exploring a new location, not lugging around heavy bags
- Write your doctor’s name and phone number, and your required medications, on a piece of sturdy paper and keep it in your pocket
- Consider a Medical Alert bracelet with this information so it’s always on your person
- Set an emergency contact on your phone so emergency responders can call if anything happens
I’ve always believed an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking precautions early can save you major headaches later.
So do your homework, give yourself plenty of time, and know what to expect. Last but not least, a good attitude, while difficult to maintain when you’re in chronic pain, is the best way to keep your spirits up. Get out and have a great time!
Traveling with chronic pain can be challenging, but shouldn’t stop you from seeing the world! Taking time to prepare ahead of your trip will help you experience less pain and more fun.
Whether you travel by plane, car, train, or ship, reach out to confirm pertinent details with your travel provider. Look for discounts, ways to save time like TSA PreCheck, and places to make your journey more comfortable, like airport lounges, roomy Business Class seats, and accessible lodging.
Finally, check out the best airline credit cards to earn miles & points for your next journey. Not only is it an easy way to save, but many perks can actually make your travels smoother and more comfortable.
- NOTE: This article is from the website Million Mile Secrets written by Harlan Vaughn. David Lafferty reached out to Hope for Pain, hoping that we would share this article to benefit our readers. If you would like to read the full article go to https://millionmilesecrets.com/guides/the-ultimate-guide-to-traveling-with-chronic-pain/