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Note from Liz: Here follows the second part of Laina’s post about traveling while managing her weight. I find it fascinating how similar some of the problems of traveling with pain are to traveling with weight issues. Just like Laina—I have a much harder time traveling for business than I do for pleasure. And the reasons for it seem remarkably similar. Lack of control over environment, requirements for physical presence in difficult and counter-productive circumstances, inability to communicate needs to fellow travelers, and transit that’s scheduled by somebody else.

This is how Laina manages:

Traveling for business can be a much greater challenge to weight management efforts. I frequently travel for business and almost every trip is depressingly similar – I fly somewhere far away to sit in a room at a table where my food choices are very limited.

This is a real challenge for weight management because I don’t get any exercise whatsoever during business hours, I don’t get to bring my food along with me to meetings, and often the choices provided are spectacularly unsupportive – pizza, burritos, pasta, fast food – things I would avoid in my real life.

This is where things get tricky for weight management. Record keeping, on the other hand, is a breeze on business trips, because often I find myself in meetings, bored to tears, looking for some task to set my mind to – a perfect time to make sure my food journal is up to date!

While I hardly ever seek out a hotel gym while I’m traveling for pleasure, I visit them religiously when I am traveling for business. If I can’t hit it at the end of the day I will set the alarm early and go before heading into work. Exercising not only helps with my weight management, but I find it helps me to clear my head and elevates my mood as well. These things are often desperately needed on a business trip!

If I can possibly swing it, I like to get out and locate a grocery store to stock up on healthy snacks on the first day of my trip. If I’m attending a conference or convention I can usually pop up to my hotel room during the day when everybody else is having their hotel-provided afternoon snack of cookies, brownies and sodas to eat some of my own healthier snacks.

When the meetings I am attending are catered, I am often stuck in the position of having to use my willpower, something I hate to rely on. First I survey the lunch options, and if there is any salad to be had I pile my plate with it. If not, I pick the vegetarian option if there is one (unless it is pasta in cream sauce, then there’s no benefit to having the vegetarian option). It helps to have a ballpark idea of the caloric content of various foods when I am making my selections. I do the best I can, and limit my portion sizes as much as possible.

Weight management while traveling does require some planning and foresight, but it is possible. In general, if I can hold my weight steady while traveling I feel like I’ve won the lottery. It’s all about striking the comfortable balance between enjoying my travels and paying some attention to weight management essentials.

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I said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. Traveling with pain and hidden disability is all about making decisions–good decisions, bad decisions, big decisions, small decisions.

Eating breakfast is a decision. Buying a map is a decision. Throwing the GPS out the window of the car at 80 mph in a fit of road rage is a decision. Walking just one more mile today is a decision.

You get the picture.

Guess what’s given me my expertise, such as it is, in traveling with pain? It’s making bad decisions, enduring the consequences, learning from the experience, and making a different decision on my next trip. Failure is not only an option, it’s a stowaway on almost all of my trips.

I’m not good at traveling with pain because I never screw up. I’m good at traveling with pain because I screw up all the time, I learn from my screw-ups and I keep on traveling.

So, on to Friday and Saturday at BlogHer 2011 in San Diego.

Taking the Morning Off

I do this pretty regularly when I travel, because my body and morning just don’t get along. At home, I sleep till 10am on a daily basis. Trying to slog out of bed at 7:15 for breakfast just did not work on Friday or Saturday on this trip.

Eating, Drinking, Rinsing, and Repeating

Almost the first thing I need to do when I finally roll out of bed is eat and drink. So I did that. The Marriott has a Starbucks downstairs from my room, and I have a weakness for Starbucks lattes and berry coffee cake. So that’s been breakfast for the last two days.

At each BlogHer session I attended, I got myself a glass of water. Hydration just makes me feel better.

When grazing tables were set out, I grazed. I tried to stick with semi-healthy items like granola and fruit. At the catered lunch, I had a big plate of green salad with a vinaigrette dressing, and skipped the sandwiches. Greens make my body happy, lunch meat does not.

For dinner, I’ve been splurging on room service. Worth it for the ease-of-acquisition.

Food is my friend when I’m traveling. If I don’t stay fueled up, I can’t do what I want to do…or much at all, really. And I can lie in bed feeling weak and shaky at home for free.

Finding the Bathroom

If I keep myself properly hydrated, I need to use the restroom every two hours if I’m lucky, every hour if I’m not. Hooray for IC.

Luckily, the San Diego Convention Center, Hall A has plenty of restrooms situated in good spots for conventioneers.

Doing the Stuff I Came Here to Do

Oh hey look, there’s a blogging conference going on! I chatted with people, attended sessions, chatted with people,  strolled the expo floor, and chatted with people.

Retreating to My Room

I’m spending my evenings resting and recuperating. By 5:30 pm, I am done being social and perky and chattery. It’s time to hike back from the con to my hotel room, shut out the rest of the world, and spend some quality time flopped on my bed.

For me, 7 hours out being active is a long time. I’m happy with my performance on this trip.

Sleeping

I go to bed between 10 and 11pm. I haven’t slept well, and I’m not sure why.

Next Up…Traveling Alone Part 4: Packing Up and Heading Home

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Marriott Marquis San Diego View

This is the view from my room in the Marriott. Seriously, I could spend a week just lying in bed looking out there.

It’s now the middle of the BlogHer 2011 conference. I’m kicking back writing this post in my lovely large room in the Marriott Marquis San Diego. Even if I were dog sick, the view of the sparkling bay from my windows would warm my heart and make much of the trouble of getting here worth it.

So here’s how I got here:

Leaving the House

That’s harder than it sounds when I’m traveling alone with my chronic pain. I’ve taken six trips by myself in 2011, and I’ve left the house late for every damn one of them. Why? Because I’m scared. Always.

I don’t know if that fear will ever fade completely. It’s hard to do this–to set out by myself, knowing that I’ve got limits and that if I overstep I can get into pretty big trouble. It’s hard to do this, knowing for sure that it’s going to hurt.

But I always do make it out the door. And it’s always worth it, even when things go wrong on the road.

Making Transit as Easy as Possible

I almost always weasel my fiance into driving me to the airport. It’s cheap and it’s convenient. (For me, not for him.)

To be nice to him, and to me, I try to fly on “off-hours”–that is, between the hours of 10am-4pm on Mon-Thurs. Those are the dead hours at almost every airport–counter lines are shorter, security lines are shorter, and traffic to and from the airport is minimal.

Flying Away

This trip, I elected to forgo the wheelchair because I was feeling pretty good. That turned out to be a mild mistake, but more on that later.

I checked my bag, made it through security, and got onto the plane. I pretty much got on last and because Southwest is first-come, best-seats, that meant a middle seat that was actually farther forward than I expected. That’s okay on a one-hour flight. If I’d been flying to New York, I would have made a huge effort to board earlier so I could get an aisle seat, so I could have easiest bathroom access.

Need more info about being in the airport or what to do on the plane? Click the words–I’ve written lots and lots and LOTS about air travel. And yet it never seems to be enough, or to get old.

Leaving My Kindle on the Plane

Dammit.

Before exiting the plane, make sure you haven’t left anything–especially expensive electronics–stuffed into the seat pocket where you can’t see it. ‘Cause forgetting my fabulous Kindle that was a gift from your family last Christmas on a plane made me feel really stupid.

Picking Up My Bag

San Diego International loses a point for belching the bags from my flight up onto two different carousels. Jeez.

But I found my bag. Win!

If I’d been feeling lousy, I would have asked someone to help me heave the bag off the carousel. The wheelchair attendant will do this. So will most nice folks standing next to me, if I ask politely.

Getting Ground Transport

First I checked with the Information Desk to see if my hotel had an airport shuttle. It didn’t.

So I asked where the taxi stand was, walked to it, and was whisked off to the Marriott. It cost about $12.50 to get from the airport to the Convention Center/Marriott, if you’re interested.

Checking in to the Hotel

Usually there’s not a huge line at the hotel check-in desk. BlogHer is a whackin’ big con. I became nervous standing in line, because I was post-travel and starting to feel it, and standing in line hurts the most. I emphatically did NOT want to start my time at BlogHer by collapsing in a heap on the floor in front of two hundred conference attendees.

So I distracted myself by chatting up the two women behind me in line. Made first business card exchange before even checking in.

Also, I didn’t collapse in a heap. Win!

Resting

I went up to my room, realized the Kindle was gone, called the airline, took pictures of the gorgeous view out my window, flopped down on the bed, and laid there for about 3 hours.

I do that even when I’m not busy beating myself up about losing my Kindle. Even a short flight tires me out, and lying down and watching TV or reading helps perk me back up.

Becoming Part of the Sea of Humanity

Rested up and resigned to the fact that my Kindle is probably gone forever, I made my way down to the Convention Center to register, get my badge, and take part in the Festival O’ Swag in the Expo Hall.

Yow, that was exhausting! Blessed be the Samsung Recharge Lounge for providing upholstered seating for attendees. Y’all helped me out LOTS.

New thing I learned about myself: Expo halls hurt like hell and tire me out. Gotta remember that, limit my time in expo halls, and make sure that I take advantage of seating, even if it means absorbing a product pitch.

Next up, Part 3: Making Decisions. Lots and lots of decisions.

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Garden path at Willows Lodge

A bunch of us taking a walk along the garden paths at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville

It turns out I’ve actually got quite a few tactics to increase my comfort and decrease problems when taking business trips with chronic pain. Who knew? I’m going to need ’em soon–I’ve got books to write and will be spending most of my summer traveling around California doing research for a straight-up guidebook and for The Imperfect Traveler.

In the meantime, here are another bunch of tips for business travel with pain:

Take advantage of local creature comforts.

If the hotel’s got in-room massage or an on-site spa and I’ve got a break in my meeting schedule, I’ll get the massage. I usually bring a swimsuit in case there’s a pool and/or hot tub that’ll let me get my float on. I also like to take long hot baths in hotel tubs–I even bring my own epsom-based bath salts to up the healing powers of the water.

Stretch and exercise gently every day.

If the hotel’s got walking trails adjacent, I’ll try to walk a little bit every day–I’ll even suggest hitting the trail as an alternative to cocktails if my coworkers seem amenable. I always stretch in my room in the evening; some hotels offer yoga mats and a yoga channel on TV. Failing the outdoor walking, I’ll check out the on-site fitness center.

Enjoy some downtime. 

I need some me-time every day, especially when I’m dealing with the hectic schedules and intense interpersonal interactions of a business trip. So even if all I’ve got is 15 minutes in the morning and a half-hour at night, I make the most of it. Sometimes my downtime doubles as exercise time or bath time or hot tub time. Other times I use my alone moments in my room to meditate. And sometimes I just watch some TV. Whatever feels best.

Soaking tub at Willows Lodge

I spent an hour every night in this fabulous soaking tub that overlooked my fluffy white bed at the Willows Lodge

Tell a trusted colleague something about the pain problem.

If someone I trust thoroughly is traveling with me, I may tell him some basics about my health problem  I might give him my medical info sheet so he’ll know  how to handle me if I have a major flare. This person almost certainly will NOT be my boss, for specific legal reasons.

This can be a tricky one–you may not feel comfortable or be able to tell anyone you work with about your medical condition. Which means you need to be obsessive about your self-care so it’s less likely that you’ll have an unmanageable flare while on the trip.

Talk to a friend who lives at the destination.

If I’ve got a friend who lives wherever I’ll be for the biz trip, I’ll get in touch with her before I appear in town to let her know I’m coming and to ask for a specific favor with regards to my health. That favor: to hold onto a copy of my med sheet, and to be willing to take a call from me, a coworker, or the local hospital should something go wrong.

Bring a friend along.

My housemate brings her spouse along on most of her overnight business trips; he does touristy things during the day while she’s working, then they hang out together at night. If she were to have something go awry with her health while on a business trip, Spouse would be right there to help her with anything she needed. Plus he’s there for air travel, he can drive the rental car, and he can deal with other pesky energy-draining travel tasks.

Tell someone at home about the business trip.

Failing the three suggestions above, I tell someone at home where I’m going and provide him with the details of my itinerary. It’s not an ideal situation, but in a crisis he can either help by remote control (which is easier these days what with smart phones and secure medical web communications) or even fly out to my location if the situation requires.

Have you got any tricks you use to get through a business trip with your medical condition?

How do you feel about the idea of telling a colleague about your pain while traveling?

Please comment here–we’d love to read about your experiences!

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Roger Ward at Travel and Words

A presentation by Roger Ward at Travel and Words, a typical business conference hosted in a hotel conference room

Business travel is much, much harder to do with pain than leisure travel. Heck, it’s harder without pain too. But with pain or a hidden disability, a business trip can be a nightmarish experience filled with agony and devoid of relief.

Frankly, many of my best tricks just flat don’t work on business trips. Midday naps are impossible, as is sleeping in. Even changing position regularly to keep joints loose and body mobile often doesn’t work because business trips so often mean “all-day meetings for a solid week.” And of course the chairs in those meetings seem to be designed by sadists. (Does it count as a bonus point that after a few days in those chairs, every single person in the meeting will have a starter pain condition, so I’m not alone anymore?)

Add to that the fact that many of us with chronic pain don’t really want to let our bosses and coworkers in on the secrets of our private lives and health troubles, and we have a situation that’s challenging from all sides.

Here are a few ideas about how to I deal with business trips:

Plan well.

If I can, I arrive in town at least 24 hours before I must start working and 48 hours if the trip is overseas. That gives me time to rest and recuperate from the strain of transit before I have to get down to business.

As an independent who pays her own way, I’ve got the freedom to schedule my travel whenever I want. You may not have that same freedom, what with corporations getting ever-cheaper with little things like employee health. But there are still ways to finesse some time to rest and sleep. If you’re allowed to book your own travel, you can usually manage at least a few extra hours on the front end of your trip.

Get pampered before the trip.

The week before your trip, get a massage. Take a dip in a hot tub.  Heck, I go for the whole spa-day thing (at the local inexpensive Korean day spa) with a do-it-myself facial, body scrub, and steam room. The more relaxed and comfortable I am before my trip, the more physical reserves I’ve got to draw on.

Stay hydrated.

I keep a bottle or cup of water with me always and sip from it frequently.

Stay medicated.

A business trip isn’t the time to skimp on medication. That doesn’t mean I pop pills in the middle of a meeting so everyone can see. More like, I set my phone alarm to vibrate so I know when it’s time to take my meds, then I head for the ladies room or water cooler to actually swallow the pills in relative privacy.

Eat right.

I eat a bigger breakfast when I’m on a business trip than I do at home. Eggs, bacon, fruit, toast…the whole works. The more energy I’ve got at the start of each day, the more likely it is that I’ll make it through to the end of that day still able to function professionally.
It’s also important to get enough fruits and vegetables, which can be tough on business trips that tend towards catered lunches and steakhouse dinners.

If you’re given any choice, or if you get any chance to talk to the person in charge of lunch, request a salad or a veggie-heavy sandwich. And at dinner, exercise the will power and keep the heavy red meat meals to a minimum. I’m not against red meat (in fact I love it) but it tends to make me tired.

Get up, move, and use the bathroom frequently.

When I’m ready for a bio-break, I have no problem with asking for a quick break in the meeting/presentation/whatever. Usually at least half of my coworkers respond with vocal gratitude, which means that I don’t get dinged for asking. If asking for a break isn’t going to work (big lecture or presentation-type activity) I make sure I’ve got a seat on an aisle near to a non-emergency exit. That way I can get up and go when I need to without disrupting the room.

Straight-backed conference room chair

This passes for a fairly comfortable version of the typical conference room chair. "Comfortable" being a relative term, of course.

Fidget purposefully.

Fidgeting keeps the blood circulating to the extremities and diminishes the stiffening up of joints when I’m stuck sitting for long periods. I fidget as efficiently as possible, circling and stretching toes, feet, and ankles; fingers, hands, and wrists. I stretch my neck in different directions, roll my shoulders, flex my hips…anything to keep from going rigid in my chair. Or airplane seat, for that matter.

Don’t drink much liquor.
It’s not always wise to skip happy hour on business trips, because so much of the actual business gets done over evening cocktails. But I quietly keep my alcohol consumption to an absolute minimum. This gives my whole body a break, and as a bonus keeps me clearheaded while hanging out with potentially important professional contacts. To keep a drink in front of me, I order club soda with lime, or fruit juice mixed with soda water.

Sleep as much as possible.

Sleep’s often hard to come by on business trips. Early meetings bleed into late-night dinner-and-drinks networking ops, and the next thing I know I’m trying to stay upright on four hours of sleep. The answer: keep those nights on the early side of late. On a longer trip, I’ll cut out of any non-mandatory “dinner thing” after the first night so I can go to bed early.


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Avid photographers follow instructor and garden guide Roger Ward through the gardens at Willows Lodge

I spent last weekend in the wilds of Woodinville, Washington’s Willows Lodge, attending the Travel & Words Spring 2011 travel writing conference. It was fabulous and exhausting and successful. I sold a few books, but more importantly I made a whole slew of new connections with Pacific Northwest visitors bureau folks, writers, editors, photographers, and travel industry pros. All these folks were interested, excited, and supportive of my efforts to bring the message of travel to people with chronic pain and hidden disabilities. Especially given that this was a straight-up travel writer’s con with a sustainability theme and no disability/accessibility spin at all, the amount of enthusiasm for my topic thrilled me.

So what made Travel and Words so pain-friendly?

1. Location, location, location!
The Willows Lodge has many fab features for travelers with pain. More on that in a hotel review post. Just the fact that the conference was set in a hotel helped–I had a shortish walk from the conference room to my bed when I needed to take a break and lie down.

2. Bringing in Visitors Bureaus as vendors.
Why does this matter? For me, it’s huge for a couple of reasons. The biggest is that I’m not independently wealthy, and thus I do need as much help in the form of comps and press trips as I can get if I’m going to keep on expanding the borders of this blog, my articles, and my books. Some pubs neither permit press-trip-based pieces nor pay expenses, and some conferences are Just Too Good(tm) for the press trip crowd. Yippee for them. But I need to pay my medical bills.

The other great thing about the visitor’s bureau folks is that I can talk to them about the needs of travelers with pain, and they can talk to me about the best parks, museums, hotels, and restaurants that fit those needs in their areas. They know all about their locales–who better to ask for the best destinations within a region?

3. Depth of expertise.
Less than two years ago, at a different travel writing conference, I asked to Well Known Online Travel Writers(tm) what they’d recommend I do to drive traffic to this site. I got two blank stares, followed by “Uh, um, just write good content and people will find it.” Seriously. In 2009. It took everything I had at the time to keep from rolling my eyes so hard that they’d stick backwards permanently.

At this con, I got down-to-earth practical advice about how to use Google Analytics, keywords in title bars, and Twitter to expand my readership. Hooray! Improvements to come in future weeks.

4. A realistic approach to sustainability.
Which included, right at the beginning of the conference, discussion about the inherent downsides and controversies that come from an all-green, all-the-time, no-further-thought approach to sustainable travel. As Scott Rains often says, Universal Design in tourism creates social sustainability. No one, nowhere can guarantee that she’ll be as able-bodied tomorrow as she is today. Every one of us can step out into the street and get hit by a garbage truck, thus finding ourselves suddenly in need of things like restroom grab-bars, sidewalk curb cuts, and hotel bedroom hoists.

Thank you, Travel and Words, for providing me with such a great and tolerant experience! I look forward to seeing you all again next year.

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2011 SATH Congress evening schmoozing

Perhaps the hardest flavor of business trip to cope with as a traveler with pain (or any hidden disability, really) is a conference. Whether tiny or enormous, conferences burst with problems, trip-ups, and gnarly little knots of challenge in unexpected places.

Having screwed it up in pretty much every possible way the last time I attended a conference, I’m hoping to spare you all the agony I endured last month. (I’m also hoping to spare myself this coming May, when I attend Travel & Words, by working out what I need to do now.)

Schedule

The conference is sure to have a schedule, but theirs isn’t really the one I’m concerned about. The schedule I need to pull together first is my own, because it’s got to take precedence. For me, this gets hard because I worry about missing out or not getting my money’s worth if I miss sessions. But I’m definitely going to miss sessions–conference requires sitting bolt upright in comfort-free molded plastic chairs all day long. I can’t even sit up all day like that in an ergonomic office chair.

So before the conference begins, I go through the list of speeches, panels, seminars, and breakouts carefully. I make notes on the schedule, choosing my personal Must Sees, Want to Sees, Will See Maybes, and Don’t Bothers. Because of my current physical condition, I only get one Must See per day. (And if I’m speaking, that’s it.)  Everything else is optional, based on how I’m really feeling that day.

Seating

Those fun back-support-free conference room chairs are the staples of business conferences. After two days of sitting in those monsters, even the healthiest conferencegoers start complaining about backaches. For those of us starting out with chronic pain, these torture instruments can be catastrophic.

I’m not sure yet exactly what’s going to work best to mitigate the conference-chair horror. What does not work well: turning one bad chair around to create a footstool while sitting in another chair. There’s still no back support, and this technique tends to lock my knees out.

One solution might be to bring cushions for lumbar support plus a purpose-built footstool. I’m also looking at foldable, portable chaise lounges that would actually let me sit in the position(s) that are most comfortable for me. But I’d have to pack and travel with the thing.

I’ll get back to you when I figure out what works best for seating. And if anyone’s got any suggestions, please comment!

Food

Unless the conference is catered, getting food at a conference can be a major pain in the…stomach. (So can some catering, for that matter.) There’s often no food for sale on site, and what’s considered “walking distance” may be well beyond what I’m able to manage. And getting into my car to drive to a restaurant, standing in line,  and driving back to the conference location costs at least one spoon, which may well be more spoons than I have to spend if I want to attend any afternoon sessions.

I do best when I bring my own food and plenty of it. If I’m coming from home, I can pack myself a full-fledged lunch, plus snacks. If I’m operating out of a hotel room (or cruise ship stateroom), I’m limited to snack foods I can buy from nearby shops and keep in my accommodations. If I’m relegated to snack foods only, I try to go with nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, hard-boiled eggs, and other healthy foods. Yes, I’m something of a health-food nut. But I still recommend this stuff–especially the protein-rich, easy-to-carry nuts. Protein keeps the body running well (and feeling full).

Walking & Movement

For me, conferences combine the worst of too much walking, too far, at the wrong times, with sitting rock-still for long periods of time feeling my muscle fibers harden into rock.

Before the conference events start, I need to scope out how far I’ll be walking from my hotel room, or car, to the sessions. Then I must find out  how far the various sessions are from each other. And finally, there’s the exhibition floor. For a small conference, the floor-crawl isn’t any big deal. If it’s a bigger show, I should probably be doing my half-day down on the floor on an ECV (scooter) rather than on my own two staggering feet.

After-Hours Activities

All too often, the real reason that business conferences are worth all the money they cost isn’t the speeches and panels during the daytime. The value actually lies in the restaurant bar or cruise ship salsa lounge or hotel room party that’s populated after-hours with people looking to network. Over overpriced underliquored cocktails, connections get made, brilliant project ideas hatched, and friendships started.

Because I desperately need to network at this stage of my business, I can’t ignore the after-hours partying…er, I mean networking. I have to plan it into at least one evening of any conference I attend, so that I’ll be remembered as fun and sociable and interesting to work with.

Sleep

On average, I require 12 hours of sleep each night. Taking the aforementioned crucial networking-over-mojitos part of any business conference into account, and the fact that most conferences get their seminars rolling at about 8 a.m….I have a problem. If the con’s only one or two days, I can cheat myself out of one full night’s sleep for the sake of participating in more of the event and be okay. But if it’s a longer conference, I can’t get away with that trick–I’ve got to make hard choices about which is more important–the morning sessions or the evening schmoozing. That answer may vary from day to day, and that’s okay so long as my 11-12 hours of sleep happen sometime.

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