A woman loads her travel bag into the bag of a car.

Traveling With Axial Spondyloarthritis

Now that warmer weather is here, I find myself daydreaming about all the places I hope to visit this summer. I recently made a quick, long-weekend trip out to Utah to get in some desert hiking. To get to Utah I had drive 6.5 hours across the Rocky Mountains of Colorado during one of the snowiest months, which as my luck would have it, ended up adding 1.5 hours to the drive back home.

I enjoy road trips and travel in general, but I also know what I’m in for when I plan these trips. Anyone who has traveled with AxSpA (I’m guessing that’s almost all of us) understands that, whether traveling by plane, train, or automobile, the journey is often a painful one.

Not only that, but sometimes the actual vacation is not all that restful and relaxing. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of trying to cram too many activities into one short (or long) vacation, thinking I need to make the most of my time in a new environment and inevitably leading myself straight into a flare-up.

So, without further ado, here are some pieces of advice to help minimize the possibility of a flare when planning your next vacation.

Bring all the tools you can

I do not leave for vacation without a variety of pain creams, NSAIDs, my emergency prednisone prescription, pain patches, and my heating pad. It’s so crucial to be prepared and to get ahead of a potential flare before it consumes me and my entire trip. The last thing I want to do on vacation is spend days laying in the hotel room in pain--I can do that perfectly well at home in my own bed!

Prioritize movement

This does not come naturally to me--it’s something I have to force myself to do on road trips. Body movement and road trips (or plane trips) do not go hand in hand. Until recently, I would set off on road trips with the intent of arriving at my destination as quickly as possible. This usually meant infrequent, short pitstops. It also meant hours upon hours belted into a seat with little room to move. But movement helps loosen the joints with AxSpA while inactivity increases joint stiffness.

Only recently have I learned to prioritize movement while traveling. If traveling by car, I take some time to get out and walk around after hitting the restroom and fueling up the vehicle. Though this delays the arrival at my destination, it may also lead to a more enjoyable vacation with less pain and stiffness. If traveling by plane, I get up and stretch, taking a few steps up and down the aisle to relieve some of the aches and pains.

Leave gaps in your schedule for downtime

Two years ago (which now seems like a lifetime ago!) I spent three days in Las Vegas. There’s so much to see and do in Vegas that it becomes overwhelming, and my traveling companions and I fell prey to the fast pace of it all. We walked miles upon miles every day, rested little, stayed up late, and thoroughly exhausted ourselves. I was in pain for much of the trip and by day three, my body said enough’s enough. I spent much of that day in bed.

Don’t get me wrong--we had lots of fun and made some incredible memories. But my trip would have been that much more enjoyable if I would have left gaps in my schedule to rest.

Plan for the unexpected

What happens if you do get a flare while on a trip? What if your flare interferes with your ability to drive home? Since we live with a disease plagued by uncertainty, I find it important to plan for the unexpected (as much as I can).

On a road trip, I make sure I have a backup driver with me (my wife always travels with me) and to not set unreasonable expectations for the number of miles we can travel in one day. Before my diagnosis, my wife and I would set off on cross-country road trips to visit family and conquer 1,000 miles a day. Now, in my new AxSpA reality, I know that 14 hours in a car in one day would break me. We now cut that in half, leaving time for breaks and the option of stopping for the night sooner than expected, if needed.

I don’t always take my own advice and can let my enthusiasm and sense of adventure get the best of me! Even so, I know that my AxSpA doesn’t care if I’m on vacation or not when it decides to flare up. Instead of being blinded-sided by a flare-up on vacation, I do my best to avoid it at all costs, which means bringing pain management tools, making realistic plans, and slotting in time for rest.

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