CHRONIC PAIN CAN MAKE long periods of travel really difficult. Nobody wants to sit in a bus for fourteen hours with intense muscle aches, nor is it fun to sit in the same position in an airplane while your back cramps up. As someone who has suffered from chronic pain in the past, here’s how I manage to travel regardless:
1. I go easy on myself.
When you travel, it’s common that you’d want to do everything – visit every important site, see all the gorgeous scenery and meet as many locals as possible. I used to be really angry at my body when chronic pain prevented me from doing all I wanted to do.
But while it’s frustrating to be inhibited by an illness, being angry at yourself doesn’t make it any better. If your body is too sore to do something, listen to it. Don’t push yourself into doing anything too difficult, and give yourself the love and rest and you need. After all, travel is meant to bring you joy – not worsen your illness.
2. I use the opportunity to take care of my body.
Of course, traveling isn’t always a vacation. But when you’re dealing with chronic pain, take any opportunity to relax. Think carefully about different activities you can do to help you take care of your body and take advantage of the small, pleasurable things available to you. Can you spend a few hours relaxing by the beach? Can you take advantage of discounted massages, thanks to your hotel package? Is there a bathtub where you can soak for a little while? Are you located near a beautiful, peaceful space where you can meditate? Can you take a nap in a cozy bed? Treat your body as much as you can.
3. I use the right medication.
Medication is often stigmatized, but when you’re traveling without the comforts of home, it’s important to make sure you are able to give your body what it needs. Medication can’t always completely cure chronic pain, but it can often make it more manageable. In the past, I’ve used muscle relaxants or sleeping pills while traveling, depending on the situation.
In my case, my chronic pain is also often the result of my anxiety disorder. Medicating my anxiety while traveling also helps me avoid any stress-fueled flare-ups. This is essential because oftentimes we can become even more anxious while traveling.
Since travel means being out of my regular routine, I also make sure to set alarms on my phone to remind me to take my meds. I also ensure that I have an ample supply of medication so I don’t run out before I can get to a chemist again.
And of course, talk to a qualified doctor before taking anything. You deserve nothing short of expert advice.
4. When there are no other options, I distract myself from the pain.
Sometimes chronic pain is so overwhelming you can’t do much other than lie in bed and think about how awful everything is. But if you’re able to distract yourself while traveling, try to do that.
When I once took a 24-hour bus ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg, I had never experienced such a dull ache in my life. My muscles cramped up, and I couldn’t get up and stretch anywhere during the ride. So I took the edge off the pain by knitting and chatting to the person next to me. I found sitting without much to do just made me think of the pain even more – which made it worse.
If you’re on a plane or taking a long bus-ride, listen to music or watch a movie. Play a fun but simple game. Chat to the person next to you. Do something that occupies your mind so that you think about something other than the pain.
5. I travel with awesome travel buddies.
Solo travel has its merits, but traveling with a friend can be really helpful when you have chronic pain. It’s great to have someone there who can help you pick up your heavy bags, get into your seat, or climb up stairs on days when you’re struggling to do it yourself. A sympathetic friend can also remind you to take care of yourself and give your body what it needs. While traveling, I find it always more comforting to be with someone who cares about me.