I write a lot about how to travel with chronic pain. But what about the opposite–what shouldn’t you do when you travel with chronic pain or a hidden disability? How have I screwed up my trips in the past? Which screw-ups have caused major pain flares, debilitating exhaustion, or a post-trip crash that was worse than expected?
Oh, where to begin? I think I could come up with 100 ways I’ve messed up over the years. But to begin, here are 10 major screw-ups that could seriously mess up a traveler with pain. How do I know? I’ve committed most of them. Learn from my mistakes…don’t do any of this stuff, and enjoy happier, healthier, comfier journeys.
- Be spontaneous! Decide to take a weekend getaway…on Friday afternoon.
Spontaneity is great when it means picking up flowers for my sweetie on the way home from work one night. For traveling with pain–not so much. Spontaneous travel means no time to research anything at my destination, no time to prep my meds, little time to pack properly, and no way to relax or prepare myself physically for the rigors of travel.
- Don’t research the destination.
Going someplace I know nothing about sounds romantic and exciting and adventurous, right? Yeah, right up until I find out at my arrival airport that my medication is illegal in the country I’d tried to visit and I ended up right back on the plane home, or stuck in a tiny windowless room answering questions for hours, or in a foreign jail.
No, this one has never happened to me. But it’s an example of something that could really happen to a traveler with pain who didn’t do her research on her destination.
- Plan out every minute of every day of your trip.
Now this one I’ve done. I’m most guilty of it on business trips. I plan to spend whole days in sessions, attending lectures, and walking exhibition halls at conferences. And after about one day of trying to be “up and at ’em” all day long, my concentration tanks, my pain revs up, and if I keep it up, I end up collapsed on a floor in an incoherent heap. Usually in some embarrassingly public place.
- Travel like a healthy, broke 19-year-old boy.
That is, pack a big ol’ camping backpack full of gear, budget $25/day for lodgings, refuse to book any motel rooms so as to “stay flexible,” don’t carry any food or plan for any prescription refills, eschew phrase books, and end up “sleeping” in third-rate hostels or on train station benches half the time. Oh, and be sure to stay up all night clubbing and drinking as often as possible.
I’d be dead within a week, no matter how many aggro travel writers claim that this is the only true way to experience the world.
- Get up early whether it feels good or it hurts like hell.
My family has a lot of morning people in it. These people expect everyone traveling with them to be out of bed and ready to head out on excursions by 7 a.m. on a daily basis. When I try to keep up, I end up with severe pain flares. My body hates mornings, and doesn’t give a good ******** that Haleakala is prettiest at sunrise.
- Stay out late, hanging out at dive bars or crowded clubs.
On the other hand, I have friends who are major-league night owls. They like to stay up all night dancing to trance music in the woods at Burning Man-style weekend-long parties. I can’t do that any more than I can do the dawn patrol.
- Drink too much.
‘Cause there’s nothing like alcohol to make an already difficult physical situation better. Especially if the liquor will be blending with multiple medications. Whee!!! *splat*
- Don’t use the wheelchair at the airport, even if you need it.
Pride is important. So is being able to stand up and walk around. My pain requires me to choose between these two important items. The times I’ve chosen pride and walked through airport security, I’ve regretted it. Every single time.
- Cut transit timing close.
I once decided that one hour would be plenty of time to catch a flight at LAX on a holiday Monday. I was right, by a margin of about 5 minutes. They were actually calling my name at the gate and threatening to close the doors by the time I made it out to the concourse. The stress this caused definitely did not diminish my pain.
- Fail to keep emergency food and drink close at hand.
Why carry water and food when traveling? There will always be something on hand at my destination to eat and drink, right? Nope. Not if I arrive at a small town near the Kern River at 9:12 p.m. Even the convenience store in that town closed at 9 p.m. And that’s not even going into that time in Tuscany where the four of us in the travel party had to make dinner out of saltless crackers, apple sauce, powdered Ensure, and a bottle of Limoncello donated to us by a bunch of Aussies who took pity on us.The bright side of that trip to Italy? I lost five pounds.