The Arthritis Newsletter

Spring 2011

Travel Tips


As one of the CAB members recently observed, “Air travel can be ‘hell’ when you’re dealing with arthritis issues.” Yes, living with arthritis takes a little more preparation than normal, especially when traveling. CAB members know well the challenges people with arthritis face when traveling and have learned that careful preparation is key to avoiding frustration. Each year members participate in national and international arthritis conferences as consumer representatives of the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada. This requires them to travel extensively. Last year alone members traveled to France, Italy, Borneo, Sweden, USA and Quebec City. Once they arrive at conferences, they attend lectures, deliver presentations, and network with fellow attendees. Suffice to say, this schedule can be grueling so implementing energy-saving travel tips is crucial to ensuring they are able to meet their responsibilities.

Here are a few tips the members would like to share with you to help make your trip more enjoyable:



  •  Pack medications in your carry on luggage; losing these can ruin your trip.
  •  To avoid needless questions and possible confiscation, keep medications in their original, marked containers, or carry a doctor’s note confirming that the prescriptions are for you. A doctor’s note is especially important for medications that need to be refrigerated or for syringes.
  •  Always bring more medication than you think you’ll need to account for any unforeseen circumstances, such as layovers or delays.
  •  A weekly or monthly compartmented pill container (cheap to buy at a dollar store) helps you keep track of your medications should you become disoriented by date or time changes. As well, measuring out your pills in a compartmented container in advance of your trip acts as a fail-safe check for ensuring that you have an adequate forward supply of medication, while also giving you a chance to re-fill any needed prescriptions well in advance of the trip.
  •  Put any medications you may need to take when on the aircraft itself in a readily accessible place (a zip lock bag in a pocket or tucked in a purse works well).


  •  If you need aids to assist with your activities of daily living, make sure that you have them with you on the carry on. That way, if your luggage is lost or delayed, your trip won’t turn into a nightmare. It would be prudent to get a note from your doctor or occupational therapist explaining your requirements for these aids in order to avoid having them confiscated.


If air travel is particularly difficult for you, find ways to save your energy for your destination and not waste it all getting there. For example:

  •  If possible book a nonstop flight to avoid walking between departure gates and extending travel time.
  •  Order a wheelchair; a wheelchair or golf-cart shuttle to meet you at check-in. You can also be escorted to your departure gate as well as any subsequent stops to your final destination.
  •  Ask for help storing luggage in the over-head bin.
  •  Don’t hesitate to avail yourself of “early” or “assisted boarding”. (If you are slow or stiff in your movements, you don’t want to have to scramble or squeeze past other passengers nor do you want to get to your seat only to find the overhead luggage bin already filled and the nearest available bin space several rows away).


  •  Purchase wheeled luggage so that you are not putting extra stress on your wrists and hands. Also, push rather than pull it to avoid straining your shoulder.
  •  Pack lightly; remember that you’ll have to lift this luggage in and out of your car trunk, onto the ramp at check-in, and off the luggage carousel when you arrive.
  •  Keep the carry-on piece extremely light if you plan to lift it into and out of the over-head bin on the airplane yourself.
  •  Mark your checked luggage with a brightly coloured ribbon or distinctive marker, put a card inside your checked bag with your name and destination on it, and if you need help lifting your checked bag off the carrousel, ask a friendly fellow passenger to assist.


  •  Getting in and out of an airplane seat can be difficult so book an aisle seat.
  •  To alleviate pain and stiffness, periodically walk up and down the aisle.
  •  For women: pack a pashmina scarf for the plane; it keeps the neck warm and can double as a blanket or neck roll. For men, a light sweater will serve the same purpose.
  •  Don’t forget a neck pillow if that helps you to be comfortable.
  •  Support stockings are good to use on flights; they can reduce swelling in legs and feet and aid your circulation.
  •  Drink plenty of water.


  •  If possible, don’t wear a belt with a metal buckle; you will be asked to remove it.
  •  Do wear slip-on-shoes or sandals as these can be easily removed.
  •  If you have any joint replacements that set off the alarm signal, tell airport security personnel which joint is replaced; this will save you having to endure a more extensive search. Giving advance notice of artificial joints also allows security authorities to have a gender appropriate screener available to do a pat down, if necessary, following your passage through the detector frame.
  •  Avoid problems at the security checks; visit Pack Smart, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority: http://www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca


  •  Having a hotel that has a restaurant and provides room service can be a relief. At the end of a busy day, you may not want to leave your hotel or your room again.
  •  If you follow a fitness routine, make sure the hotel has appropriate facilities. Don’t forget that bathing suit!!
  •  Hotel bathtubs and shower stalls more often than not have smooth, highly polished surfaces that soap, shampoo and conditioners turn into a speedway. A wet hand towel on the tub/stall floor helps provide the safety needed for entering, exiting and maneuvering while showering.
  •  Location, location, location: Select a hotel close to the items on your itinerary (beach, restaurants, museums, etc.). If you plan on using public transport, research the accessibility from the hotel. While booking your room, request your room’s location needs (e.g. near elevator, near pool…).


  •  Give yourself permission to “take a break”. Often we are guided by the schedule of those who do not face the challenges of arthritis. Pacing yourself will ensure your trip remains enjoyable.
  •  Bus Tours: If you have a difficult time keeping up with most tour groups, book an escorted tour for seniors. They provide a slower pace and are attentive to the needs of those with mobility issues. Let someone else do the driving; just sit back, relax and enjoy the sights.
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