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Traveling with arthritis

 A woman on an airplane using a neck pillow.

Learn how to plan ahead and take care of yourself on the road to help make traveling with arthritis easier.

Whether you're planning a vacation in sunny Florida or a trip to Italy, traveling can be a challenge if you have arthritis.

But don't let those aches and pains get you down. Make the most of your vacation with the following advice from the Arthritis Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plan ahead

  • If you're planning to travel out of the country, consider seeing a travel medicine specialist at least a month before you leave to talk about what you should do to prepare.
  • Ask your doctor for a letter explaining your condition and listing the medications you're taking. Be sure the letter includes your doctor's contact information. When you travel, carry this letter on you in your purse or wallet. Bring copies of your prescription list too.
  • If you're traveling by plane, pick a seat with extra leg room or an aisle seat that will let you stretch your legs. While making your reservation, also make any necessary arrangements with your airline for wheelchair assistance to your departure gate.
  • Traveling by car? You may want to talk with an occupational therapist who can give you tips for preparing your car for comfort. Or, if you're renting a vehicle, ask the rental company if they offer cars with options like swivel seats, spinner knobs and other hand controls.
  • If you'll be staying at a hotel, book an ADA-accessible room near the elevator or on the first floor. Also, ask about saunas or hot tubs. Soothing heat can be a welcome bonus for achy joints after a long day on the road or in the air.

Pack right

Keep your medicines with you—not in checked baggage or stuffed under a lot of other luggage. If you'll be carrying medicines that need refrigeration, bring a small cooler. If you're flying, pack them in a zip-top bag with an ice pack. Keep your medicines in their original prescription bottles—not a pillbox or other container.

Bring head and neck pillows with you, whether traveling by plane or car.

Easing airport stress

When you arrive to check in your luggage, let the airline staffer know if you've made arrangements for wheelchair assistance to your gate. (Air carriers are legally required to assist passengers who make such requests.)

Let the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers know you have a disability before beginning screening. Your note from your doctor may come in handy here. It won't get you out of screening, but it could make screening easier on you.

Be sure to tell TSA officers about any liquid medications you're carrying.

At the gate, request that you be allowed to preboard. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are required to offer preboarding, but they aren't required to announce it.

Traveling the highways

  • Consider adding a cover or pad to the steering wheel before you get behind the wheel. It can improve hand comfort for longer trips.
  • At least once every two hours, take a break and get out of the car. Walk around and stretch your legs.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals. Too much fast food can make you feel sluggish and tired.

Reviewed 7/18/2023

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