It’s two days before Thanksgiving and you may be reading this post frantically looking for tips and tricks to deal with psychotically busy airports, painfully congested highways, over excited children, grumpy spouses, difficult in-laws, and the pain that stressful holiday travel brings and exacerbates.
So what can you do to make it better? Lots of things, actually. Here are ten tips for making holiday travel as comfortable and pain-free as possible:
- Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
While it’s nice to dream of perfect holidays where loved ones come together in harmony to celebrate the seasons, treating one another with love and compassion…dreams don’t always come true. Families often have trouble coping when a member has a long-term illness or disability, which creates a wretched situation for the disabled person. Know that this issue will come up, and plan ways to get around it.Roads, trains, buses, and airports get busy and chaotic during the holidays. The mechanics of travel–always a trial to people with disabilities of any kind–get even more difficult to navigate at this time of year. Whatever precautions you usually take to make sure your trips is as pain-minimal as possible, pay special attention to them both before and during your holiday journeys.
If you need ideas for how to make your trips easier and comfier, The Imperfect Traveler’s Guide to Traveling With Pain can help you out.
- Set clear, firm boundaries with friends and family.
Your fam will have an easier time accommodating you if they know what you need. So tell them what you need. Use small words.ASAP, preferably before you ever set foot on the road, have a talk with any family or friends you’ve had tension or problems with at past holiday gatherings. Be kind, gentle, polite, and very very clear about your boundaries. If you need to sleep twelve hours every night and so can’t make it to church at 6 a.m. or to Midnight Mass, say so. If you need an afternoon nap once dinner is finished, say so. If you can’t stand in a kitchen stirring the gravy for half an hour, say so. Don’t be rude, just be crystal clear.
- Enforce and live by the boundaries you set.
Don’t be rude, just be firm. If you’ve said you need to be in bed by 10 p.m., go to bed at 10 p.m. without arguing with anybody. Just smile, say good night, and go. If you can’t stand up for long periods but you’ve been asked to help in the kitchen, ask for a stool. Or find a way to work sitting down. Or ask if you can participate in alternative tasks.I know how hard this can be (oh boy do I), but you’ll be amazed at how well it works.
- Think about the weather.
Check the weather reports for the area you’re traveling to, then pack and plan accordingly. Temperature variations tend to exacerbate chronic pain, which means that packing to deal with local conditions can make the difference between a great holiday adventure and a miserable disaster of a trip. Pack weather-appropriate clothes, shoes, and accessories (don’t forget hats and gloves and thick socks for cold climates).Weather conditions also wreak plenty of havoc on transit, be it ground or air. If a blizzard’s blowing into your intended destination, it’s much nicer to know that ahead of time so you’re tucked up in a motel by mid-afternoon rather than stuck on a highway that’s about to be closed sometime after dark has fallen.
- Consider allergies, both food and environmental, and prepare for attacks.
If you’re staying in a private home, ask if your host has any new pets that might trigger an allergy attack and bring medication to counter it. Drag an air purifier along if it will help. For folks who have sensitivities to detergents and scents, don’t assume that either a motel or a home will use scent-free or hypoallergenic detergents. The solution: BYO sheets, pillowcases, and towels.Bring backup food if you think you’ll have trouble finding meals that accommodate your allergies and sensitivities. Research grocery stores and restaurants and your destination and have a short list of likely eateries tucked into your bag.
- Bring your comfort items with you.
Winter and the holidays are not the time to pack super-light. Bring heating pads or hot packs with you if you need the warmth, cold packs to diminish swelling, and favorite pillows to promote comfort. Don’t forget earplugs and sleep masks, even/especially if you’re staying in a private home.
- Stay someplace where you can really relax.
If staying with family stresses you out, don’t do it. Find a hotel, a sublet, an Air B&B room for rent in the neighborhood that will provide you with a bedroom to which you can retreat to relax and take care of yourself.
- Take extra time on the road.
If you’re leaving a big metropolitan area to drive over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house, keep in mind that lots of other people are doing the same thing. Check traffic reports and road conditions before you leave home, plan routes to avoid major traffic arteries if you can, and give yourself plenty of drive time.
- Give yourself as much travel time as possible on all legs of an airplane journey.
If you’re flying anytime this week, give yourself at least 30 extra minutes at the airport–I’d recommend an extra hour, to be honest. That means I’d get to the airport two hours in advance for a domestic flight, three hours in advance for international travel.
- Stay home!
I know it’s too late to change Thanksgiving plans now. But you’ve still got choices you may be able to make for the late December holidays. And the truth is, it’s easier physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially to stay home during the holidays. Even if you’ve got to host the gathering of family and friends in your own home, by bringing it to your house, you give yourself access to all your usual pain-management tools. You can sleep in your own bed, take a bath in your own tub, use your plug-in heating pad, see doctors if you need to, and retreat to your own personal space when you’re feeling uncomfortable.If you’ve got time off around the holidays and you want to see some sights or take in some culture, but the holiday travel experience will be too painful to be worth it, spend a few days playing tourist in your own town. Do things you don’t usually do. See a play in a local theater. Go to a nearby museum. Hike a trail in a county park.
Most of all–have a happy holiday season!