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By Victoria Reed, PNN Columnist

Now that summer is right around the corner, many people like to take a vacation to relax and enjoy the nice summer weather. Summer is my favorite season because I live in northeast Ohio, where the winters can be very cold and snowy. As someone who lives with chronic pain, having to go out in the blistering cold and navigate snow covered roads can make life even harder.

Recently I took a flight to California to attend a family member’s college graduation. It was a fairly long trip, lasting more than five hours. I’ve made trips to California from Ohio many times over the course of several decades. But over the years, as the comfort of riding on airplanes has diminished and as my back, joints and muscles have gotten sorer, the flight turned out to be less than pleasant.

People in pain often have more to carry than the average person, and diabetics like me need to bring more medical supplies. I try to keep my carry-on backpack light, especially since rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has ravaged my shoulders, which frequently hurt.

Of course, I want to be comfortable when flying, so I regularly pack things such as a neck pillow and a blanket or two. In addition, I must bring snacks, prescription medications, a blood glucose testing kit, a small portable cooler and ice pack for my insulin, several insulin pens, and wrist braces for the inevitable in-flight RA flare. Add to that the standard personal items that I usually carry in my purse. I also like to bring my iPad (with noise canceling headphones) for entertainment.

Because of these necessities (and the not-so-necessary iPad), the backpack was quite heavy. By the time I arrived at my rental home-away-from-home with my dog, I was having a full-blown flare that involved joint pain, muscle pain and severe fatigue.

I still needed to get some groceries, and after doing that and settling comfortably in bed, a sobering thought came to me: I can’t do this alone anymore.

The fact is, it has become too hard and exhausting. I love traveling, but airline travel is not what it was years ago. It used to be exciting to get on a plane, settle in a window seat and experience the beauty of being above the clouds and watching the mountains below them. But now airplanes are packed so tightly that there’s no room to be comfortable. I try to book an aisle seat so that I have room to at least stretch my legs and get up to use the restroom without disturbing anyone.

Regardless, I would like to continue traveling because I love going to new places and exploring the beautiful United States. When the pandemic first became a thing, my husband and I purchased a camper, and we began taking trips to national and state parks with our dogs. It quickly became our preferred way of travel.

Because airline travel can be especially stressful for those of us with chronic illness, I recommend traveling by car or RV (if you can afford one). It is so much easier when you have everything you need in one place and are able to stop and stretch when you need to.

Also, if you need to take medications during your trip, they are easier to access than trying to get into your bag in an overhead bin or struggling to reach under the cramped airline seat. Road travel is also the best way for your pets to travel. Pets can be a great source of comfort to those suffering with pain.

However, if you must travel by airplane or just prefer to, there are things you can do to make it more comfortable. I recommend bringing items such as a blanket and a travel pillow. Wear comfortable shoes that can easily be taken off during the security process. Bring along a hoodie or sweater, as the plane tends to get chilly during the flight.

If you have severe mobility issues, arrange to have a wheelchair waiting at the airport or use one of the transport carts to get you to your gate. Pack some healthy snacks, as the ones they serve during the flight are very minimal and not very healthy. If you are a diabetic, pack some candy for those possible blood sugar lows. That way you don’t have to wait for the flight attendant with the drink cart containing sugary drinks.

If you have low back issues, bring an additional light banket to roll up and place behind your back. That could make a world of difference in your comfort level.

If you are traveling onboard with a pet, try to have a companion with you to assist. Having to carry the pet increases the load you already have to manage, and you lose the under-seat space where your purse or backpack is placed. Since many people bring their roller bags onboard, instead of checking them, trying to find overhead space for your personal bag is…well, trying!

Traveling these days can be a challenging experience, but it’s even more so for chronic pain sufferers. Taking a nice vacation or a weekend trip somewhere (if you can afford to) can be just what you need to relax, rejuvenate, boost your mood, and be a distraction from daily pain. With a little advanced planning, you can prevent it from becoming a miserable experience.

Victoria Reed lives in Cleveland, Ohio. She suffers from endometriosis, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

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