Archive for the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

The AMS Vans blog posted about a new phone hotline for travelers with disabilities today:


You’ve gotta read the whole post to get the number, which I’m going to stick up here for your convenience. The number is 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY). Hours: 9am-5pm Eastern Time, Mon-Fri.

Yeah, those hours suck. Usually when I’m having a travel problem, it’s not in Eastern Time’s biz hours, boys and girls. Must be nice to have a government job. 

I plan to give ’em a ring to discuss my experience with Prospect. I’ll report back here.


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wheelchairs at baggage claim

Photo by Doug Waldron on flickr

Did you know that the wheelchair attendants at U.S. airports often work for less than the minimum wage? That’s because they’re eligible to receive tips from the people they attend.

Wait, what?

Yup, you read that right.

Your wheelchair attendant may well be working for $5-7 per hour, plus tips. So tip your wheelchair attendants!

I like to tip $3-5 for good service, and $10 for great service.

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I haven’t even left California yet and I’ve already screwed up. Awesome.

Checked my e-tickets two days ago and discovered that for reasons lost to the mists of post-menopausal memory, I booked us on a 7am flight out of San Francisco.

Which means we need to get to the airport no later than 5am. Crap.

Much furious consultation with my spouse ensued. We decided to get a motel room at a place near the airport that offers free shuttle service, plus a well-lit place to park a car for the 10 days we’ll be gone.

Of course the problem isn’t confined to the California end of the trip. We arrive in Dublin at 6:55am. Which means that we’ve got ~9 hours to kill before our room in Dublin City Centre opens up.

I can’t manage sightseeing after a transcontinental+transatlantic flight. My body absolutely will not tolerate that kind of nonsense.

The answer is yet another airport motel room. I emailed customer service at the Radisson Blu Dublin Airport and discovered that they’re set up to deal with situations like this in a couple of ways. They’ve got what they call Day Rooms that are available from 9am-5pm, or they’ll let a weary traveler rent a room overnight and check in very late (like, say, early the following morning), then check out at 3pm for no extra charge.

I went with option B, which will allow me to stagger/roll out of Customs and Passport Control straight to the free shuttle, straight to my motel room to collapse in an insensible heap.

While I haven’t yet stayed in their motel, so far I’m quite happy with the Radisson Blu customer service folks. They’ve followed up with me and seem intent on making sure I’m taken care of.

The morals of this story:

1. Pay attention to your flight bookings, and try to make your departure and arrival times work for you rather than against you.

2. Flexibility and good problem-solving skills are key for traveling with pain. Be willing to change your plans to make yourself more comfortable.

3. Money helps. A lot.

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Next week I’m off to Ireland. I’ve never been to Ireland before, so everything will be new and different and shiny.

Here’s how I’ve planned around my pain so far.

Flying out

I’ll do all the right stuff to make the long flight more tolerable, including:

  • Get to the airport ~3 hours before my flight leaves.
  • Use the wheelchair service
  • Bring my own food
  • Bring my neck pillow
  • Do in-seat stretching exercises
  • Get up every hour and walk the length of the cabin and back at least once
  • Stay hydrated
  • Relax when disembarking–the prize for the “race” to the baggage carousel is to wait 20-30 minutes for the luggage to appear, and I don’t want to win that prize


All my hotel rooms are booked. Because I’m traveling on my parents’ budget rather than my own, they are nice hotels. Which means working elevators, other people carrying the bags, soft comfy beds, bathtubs, and room service. It’s not politically correct to say so, but rubbing money on the pain really does help.

On the ground transport

In Dublin, we’ll be walking and taking public transit. Because it’s a big touristy city, I know I can catch cabs if I need them. I also know that if I’m having an iffy day, I won’t stray too far from the hotel.

We’re hiring a car and driver for the longer hauls and our time out beyond Dublin. The ‘cars’ will actually be minivans, which means I’ll have a place to lie down if I need it.


I’ll be refilling all my prescriptions before I leave. None of my current meds are restricted in the EU. All meds will still be in my carry-on, in their original (labeled) bottles.

Ireland is a civilized country that sells codeine-based painkillers over the counter in pharmacies. I will likely take advantage of said civility.


I’ll be getting in touch with my bank early next week to inform them of the trip. These days, you want to do that, so they don’t suspend your account (for suspected fraud) when you suddenly start making charges in another country.

Yup, that’s a lot of planning. But every practical thing I take care of at home makes it easier for me to relax and enjoy


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I ran across this Car Talk advice column today, and it spoke to me:

Sciatic pain may mean it’s time for an automatic

Sigh. It’s true–my next vehicle needs to be an automatic with a power-adjustable driver’s seat. Right now I’m driving a 15-year-old manual transmission pickup truck. And it hurts.

If you’re going on a road trip and you’ll be driving (or even passengering), think about the car you’re taking.

  • Is it comfortable for you?
  • Really?
  • Can you adjust your seat to make yourself more comfortable?
  • Does the passenger seat lie flat back?
  • What about when you’ve got your luggage in the car?
  • Is there room to add pillows that will support your back, neck, legs…whatever’s hurting you?
  • Does the seat belt lie where it should on your body, without adding pain?
  • When/if you’re driving, can you adjust your seat for maximum comfort and minimum impact?
  • Does it hurt to operate the vehicle?
  • Do the temperature controls (including heated/cooled seats) work well enough to keep you comfortable?

One option I’ve used: if my vehicle isn’t comfortable enough for a long trip, I rent something. Larger sedans tend to be the best for me for long road trips. Luxury sedans are lovely if I can afford them. I neither need nor want a convertible–too much money for a feature that can add to my pain. On the other hand, heated seats diminish my pain noticeably if I’m traveling in a cold climate.

It’s okay to choose a different car than your daily driver for a long road trip. It won’t get its feelings hurt.


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Nice tent–wish it were nearer to the trees

Editor’s Note: I’m camping again! My pain condition has improved since I wrote this in 2010. Also, I’m now following my own advice. I’ve got the double-thick Coleman air mattress with the 1-inch zip-on memory foam pad that keeps the cold air away from me. I’ve got the tent that sets up in 2 minutes. I’ve got a couple of friends I camp with who carry the heavy stuff for me so I don’t aggravate anything.

While I still wouldn’t recommend tent camping for anyone with severe chronic pain, I now believe that with mild to moderate chronic pain, tent camping can be both possible and fun.

Here’s how:

Bring friends

Then let them do as much of the work as possible. Because tent camping takes work–you’ve got to unpack the car, set up camp, cook, do dishes, secure food away from bears, hike back and forth to the bathroom, carry water…it goes on and on. Think about all the work that needs doing before you head out camping–it’s a lot harder than staying in a hotel.

Buy a big tent

Like one of these. Or these. Stooping down to fold and spindle yourself into a 2-3 man backpacking tent will make pain worse, not better. In a big tent, you can fit all the equipment you need to maximize your comfort, including the oversized air mattress and the propane heater.

Set up that nice big tent beneath a nice big tree. About three seconds after the sun rises on a nice summer day, the icy air inside an unshaded tent will rise about 140 degrees. Or at least it’ll feel about like that. But a shaded campsite makes all the difference. If you open up the windows to allow air to circulate through your tent, you can even take an afternoon nap in a shaded tent.

Create the warmest, comfiest bed you can

Start with a sturdy, self-inflating air bed. If  you like, add a memory foam mattress topper. Before you inflate the mattress, spread out a wool blanket, an old wool rug, or a sleeping bag. This goes underneath the air mattress, to keep as much cold from seeping up as much as possible.

Skip the expensive Zero-Kelvin mummy bag and make yourself up a real bed. Sheets, blankets, multiple pillows, the works. Regular rectangular sleeping bags, fully unzipped, make good camping blankets. Not only will it feel more comfortable and homelike, you’ll be able to share in your camping partner’s body warmth. Now’s not the time to be squeamish, either–even if your camp buddy isn’t your life partner, borrow some body heat!

If a pile of blankets doesn’t keep you warm enough (it doesn’t work for me), a few options can help turn up the heat. My favorite is the battery-operated electric blanket. A poor man’s version, the hot water bottle, doesn’t work anywhere near as well for general bed heating, but is better if you need to warm up chilled joints or icy feet.

Skip the traditional camp food and eat right

For me, beenie-weenies from a can mixed + burnt marshmallows + grape kool-aid = hideous pain flare. Instead, keep as close to your standard daily fare as you can. Unless you’re already good at it, don’t bother trying to cook whole meals over a fire. Instead, buy a propane camp stove–Coleman stoves are fuel-efficient, easy to cook on, and virtually indestructible. (My recommendation: always buy Coleman branded camp stoves. Cheap imitators never work half as well.) Cooking on a good multi-burner camp stove feels lots like cooking on an at-home gas stove. With a matching camp stove griddle, eggs and pancakes for breakfast fry up in a snap. A pot of boiling water plus some gourmet jarred sauce becomes a delicious pasta dinner. I do pack nuts and dried fruit in ziplock bags and call it trail mix when I take it hiking. And yeah, I’ll roast a few marshmallows after a nutritious dinner. Some traditions ought to be honored.

Bring a super-comfy seat

Bring a comfy camp chair, preferably with a footstool, like this one. Add an extra plastic dish pan to your kit, and use it for either warm water or ice water so you can soak your feet. Get a few crack-em instant hot packs and cold packs from the drugstore, so you can ice or heat sore spots each evening. If you’ve got an old yoga mat, bring it along too, and spread it out each day for a stretching and relaxation session.

Light up the night

Pack flashlights, a couple of camp lanterns, and plenty of extra batteries. Then use them every time you get up to walk anywhere at night. Nothing makes the pain of camping worse than adding a broken toe or a sprained ankle from tripping over an unseen root or stepping in a gopher hole in the middle of the night.

Use a camp toilet

Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is my least favorite part of tent camping. Sure, most modern campgrounds provide shared facilities. So all I’ve got to do is slip out of my nice warm bed, find my shoes, struggle into a coat, grab a flashlight, unzip the tent, and shiver my way across the campground in the dead of night, hoping that I’ve remembered the right path to take. Given my bladder issues, I get to do that between once and five times every night.

The best solution: thrust my shivering dignity aside and use a camp toilet. These days they come with seats and high tech plastic disposal bags. Best of all, by shoving  a camp toilet in the corner of the tent (and possibly adding a makeshift privacy screen) I can avoid all of the wretchedness of leaving the tent in the middle of the night.

That’s about it. Oh, except for my opinion of backpacking and hike-in camping. Don’t do it. If you’ve got pain, the level of misery you’ll achieve while backpacking will be amazing. [Editor’s note: this part’s still true. Chronic pain = no hike-in camping for me.]

Next up…RVs and other civilized means of camping with pain.

Photo by baylina on flickr

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Moon California & prescriptions

Meds I have traveled with. Yes, I keep them in their bottles with labels like that.

There’s no central place on the Internet or on paper that lists which prescription and non-prescription medications are legal and illegal by country. Which makes international travel with meds…a little nerve-racking. I’ve heard and read the horror stories of tourists with legal opiate prescriptions being detained and imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)/Dubai.

So I decided to create a list here. It’s woefully incomplete, but it’s better than anything else I’ve found. But what you’ve really got to do is contact the embassy of

IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: This list does NOT substitute for contacting the embassy of the countries you’re visiting and getting the latest legal information from them about traveling with medications. I take NO legal responsibility for anyone traveling with medications of any kind.

Oh, and if you’re stupid enough to travel carrying illegal drugs (which includes medical marijuana, pretty much worldwide) you’re so totally on your own. Be aware that if you’re caught with illegal drugs in another country, your passport will get you precisely squat in the way of legal protection.

United States

Painkillers with codeine are prescription-0nly items in the USA. If you’re from Canada, the U.K., or another country that sells codeine OTC, be aware that you will NOT find your meds OTC in the U.S. You’re permitted to carry these pills, but you’ll want to have your passport with you any time you’ve got your pills on your person as it is NOT legal for US citizens to carry OTC codeine.

United Arab Emirates/Dubai

All narcotic painkillers (that is, anything with codeine or oxycodone or any other opiate derivative or synthetic opioid) are banned in the UAE. To carry a prescription opioid into the UAE, you’ve got to carry a doctor’s letter and prescription information, both of which must be notarized and registered both with your home country’s State Department and the UAE consulate.* If this sounds like way too much work, I’d consider thinking about whether you really need or want to travel to Dubai or elsewhere in the UAE.

While I’ve seen plenty of individual reports online of travelers who have not been searched or questioned about their meds when they’ve entered the UAE, here at TWP I recommend NOT just hoping that you’ll get lucky. ‘Cause in this case, UNlucky = years in a foreign prison. Don’t go there.

State Department info on UAE’s alcohol and drug laws….

* I haven’t been able to verify this statement.


You’ll need to carry your prescription meds in their original bottles with labels AND have copies of the original prescriptions available to show Chinese authorities if asked. Yes, that’s a lot more liberal than many of the other countries on this list. Live and learn.


Cosmopolitan though it is, Japan’s policy on “importing” drugs and medication is draconian. Japan’s got restrictions on OTCs that contain pseudoephedrine and codeine. They’re not fond of people who try to mail or Fedex in their meds either–if you need to mail yourself meds, be sure to get a Yakkan-Syoumei certificate from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

You need to get permission IN ADVANCE from the Japanese Consulate to bring prescription opiates, psychotropics, injectables and syringes (including insulin). Your prescription and a doctor’s note are NOT enough.

If you get caught with a banned medication and no documentation for it, Japanese customs or police can detain you for several weeks. You can be convicted of a drug offense in Japan based only on a urine or blood test.

Seriously, if you’re traveling to Japan, contact the Japanese Embassy in your home country and learn whether your meds are allowed and what documentation you need to carry them–and do this weeks before you leave home.

State Department info on Japan’s drug laws


You can hand carry your meds into Mexico legally, though they advise that you have your prescription info with you. (Which you should always do anyhow.) Mexico does permit visitors to ship personal-use medications into Mexico provided that you do some paperwork beforehand. For a fee, you can go through a broker to get your paperwork expedited. Check the link to the State Department for more info about that.

You’ll find a lot of “pharmacies” selling antibiotics, pseudo-Viagra, and who-knows-what-all…especially in heavily traveled tourist areas. Buy from these places at your own SERIOUS risk. TWP recommendation: don’t buy “medications” from “pharmacies” at Mexico’s tourist traps. You don’t know what’s in them.

State Department info on Mexico


You can bring up to 30 days worth of medication to Thailand.

Be aware that if you get caught in a drug sting at a club or party, you’ll be arrested if your urine tests positive for drugs. So if you’re taking prescription opioids, consider avoiding the club & rave scene. Yes, I know that’s the main reason lots of people go to Thailand, especially Bangkok. But please consider the ramifications of ending up in a Thai prison, and just go to Burning Man or an ecstatic dance weekend if you’ve really got to do the rave thing.

State department info on Thailand

That’s it for now. I’ll add Parts 2, 3, etc. as I have time to do the research for y’all. Which brings up the question…What countries would you like info about medication/drug laws for?

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