When you have rheumatoid arthritis, symptoms like joint pain and stiffness can make traveling difficult. Getting the gas cap off your car can be hard when your fingers are stiff, standing in long security lines can be hard on your knees, and sitting on an airplane for extended periods may bother your neck.
But there’s no need to restrict your adventures because of RA symptoms. There are many gadgets available today that can help you navigate the world with comfort and ease.
“Traveling is important; you want to get out there and be part of life,” says Elin Schold-Davis, OTR/L, CDRS, project coordinator of the Older Driver Initiative at the American Occupational Therapy Association in Bethesda, Maryland. “When people who have RA use things that help the journey go better, that help them avoid some of the movements or pressure stress on their joints, it makes them more likely to want to travel again.”
An Occupational Therapist Can Help You Prepare for Your Trip
When it comes to managing RA symptoms in your day-to-day life, you probably have strategies in place to help you get by without aggravating your RA symptoms. But when you’re traveling and exploring an unfamiliar place, says Schold-Davis, “You might want help from a gadget to reduce stress on your joints.”
A good place to start is to consult an occupational therapist (OT), who can help you figure out what might help you the most and make recommendations to suit your needs. Says Schold-Davis, “It could be something as simple as a pencil with an eraser to help you push an elevator button.”
Pack Smart With These Essentials
When you have RA, it’s not just about what you pack — it’s about how you pack. Start with these gadgets to help make packing a cinch.
Travel pouch Invest in a pouch that’s easy to access and open, in which you can store all your important travel documents. Something like a fanny pack with an easy zipper can help eliminate the strain on your shoulders and neck that purses and backpacks can cause.
Weekly or monthly medication-sorter boxes These can help reduce bulk in your bags and make it easier to keep track of your medications during busy travel times.
Four-wheel 360-degree-direction bags These are easy to maneuver, as you can push as well as pull them. If they’re on the heavier side, “ask for help to get them into overhead bins if you can’t lift,” says Cheryl Crow, MOT, OTR/L, an occupational therapist based in Seattle who herself has RA.
Luggage zipper pulls Luggage usually features various zippered compartments, and some zippers are more resistant than others. Adding zipper pulls helps in this regard. “You can also tie a hairband or rubber band around the zipper,” says Crow. “Hook your wrist or fist through the hairband/rubber band and then pull — this minimizes stress on your potentially sore hand joints.”
Drive a Car With These Features
Whether you’re renting a car or taking your own on the road, these features can help keep your joints comfortable during your drive. “You may have to upgrade a bit,” says Schold-Davis, “but it makes your travel more comfortable.”
Heated seats This feature can relieve joint pain and help keep joints flexible, especially in your hips, according to the Arthritis Foundation. If your car or one you rent isn’t equipped with heated seats, you can purchase heated seat covers.
Heated steering wheel cover Similarly, a heated steering wheel cover can help relax joints in your hands and prevent you from gripping the wheel too tightly. Some cars come with these covers already installed.
Seat slide This allows you to get in and out of the car by sitting and turning. If you can’t find one, a plastic bag or silk scarf will do the trick — just remember to remove the item before driving so you don’t slip around.
Lumbar support Place a rolled-up towel or firm pillow behind your lower back for support while sitting in the car.
Keyless entry and starter If your current vehicle doesn’t have these, you can get after-market add-ons.
Gas cap opener This lever can reduce the amount of stress on your fingers and hands when using gas caps that have to be pushed and turned.
RELATED: Rheumatoid Arthritis: Road, Rail, and Water Travel Tips
Think Ahead Before Boarding a Plane
Packing these essentials can help you stay comfortable throughout your flight.
Neck pillow Inflatable ones pack down easily but are not recommended if you have respiratory problems. Some come stuffed with a lightly quilted jacket that you can pull out and use if you get chilly.
Hand and foot warmers Sometimes the temperature on airplanes can be quite cool. Hand and foot warmers can help keep your joints from getting cold and stiff.
Compression gloves and socks Wear them preemptively to ward off the stiffness and inflammation that the changes in air pressure can cause. “If you have a lot of inflammation,” says Crow, “your doctor or OT might recommend a specific type.”
RELATED: Air Travel with Rheumatoid Arthritis: How to Make It Easier
Ensure Your Stay Is as Comfortable as Possible
To make your hotel or vacation rental feel like a home away from home, it helps to think ahead when booking a place. And pack these essentials to ensure a successful stay.
Mobility-friendly accommodations These rooms offer such features as lower hanging racks, a step-in shower with a bench, and a handicapped entryway to make getting in and out with a wheelchair or walker easy. “You might not think it’s necessary,” says Schold-Davis, “but if you’re fatigued by travel, something like a shower bench might be a relief.”
Light exercise equipment It’s important for people who have RA to keep up exercise to maintain flexibility and muscle strength, so take along easy-to-pack equipment such as resistance bands. These days, though, most hotels have exercise rooms equipped with stationary bikes and elliptical trainers. Be sure to ask when booking.
Rubber jar opener Even if you don’t have to open jars, this can be used to turn sink handles and doorknobs and open sliding glass doors with ease.
Bring Travel-Friendly Mobility Aids
Invest in these gadgets to stay ahead of fatigue and give yourself the opportunity to rest your joints as needed, even when you’re on the go.
Canes with seats This type of cane has a fold-down seat if you find yourself pooped out at a museum or stuck on an airport line. Your OT can recommend modifications if the button release is too hard to manage.
Folding canes These are lighter and easier to pack and carry than standard canes.
Table hook Keep one in your bag so you can hang a cane or your bag from a restaurant table, making it less likely that you’ll forget it.