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Ten Tips for Travel

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By Bruce Campbell

Travel is a little like the character is Chinese writing that means both opportunity and danger. While offering a break from everyday life, travel may also be the occasion of a flare in symptoms.

What can you do to tip the balance in the direction of enjoyment and away from relapse? We recently asked people in our self-management groups to describe what they do to help them travel successfully. Here's a summary of their strategies.

1) Extra Rest: Before, During and After

Travel requires more energy than everyday life, shrinking your available energy. If you don't adjust your activity level to match the lesser energy, you risk a flare up of symptoms. The most common travel strategy used by people in our groups is to take extra rest: before, during and after a trip.

Store up extra energy by taking extra rest before a trip (twice normal is often used); limit symptoms during a trip by taking extra rest while away; and take whatever extra rest is needed after to bring you back to normal.

A member of one of our groups gave an example. If she is going on a one-week vacation, she plans for a two-week period. She makes sure that she doesn't take on any extra activities for a few days before and a few days after her trip.

She also makes sure that she paces herself carefully during the trip, resting during her non-active times. After returning, she continues to take extra rest. Another person reported a similar strategy.

2) Plan in Detail

A second strategy is to plan trips in great detail. People mentioned using books and the Internet to decide what they wanted to see, then to set their itinerary based on how much activity they could do.

Planning also involved packing ahead of time and, for some people, making arrangements to use wheelchairs or motorized carts in airports. Having a detailed itinerary set ahead of time can help you to resist the temptation to do too much when away from home.

One person in our program described the planning she used for a trip to a theme park. Her description also illustrates three other tips: the use of rest (#1), planning with travel companions (#3) and pacing (#5).

I first made a list of all the "MUST SEE" items and then a list of optional things we wanted to do, with input from my husband. Using maps of the facility and information about the various attractions, I planned the trip in advance so that we could concentrate on one particular area per day.

I planned rest breaks around the active events. I also was able to schedule the "Must See" items during my good times of the day and fit the other items in where possible. Our agreement ahead of time was that we would go back to the room anytime I felt I needed to.

At the end of the trip, we had seen all but 2 items we wanted to see and do, plus a couple extras we hadn't counted on and I didn't crash when we got home. With the exception of only a couple of scheduled events (reservations made) we both knew that we had to be flexible in case I needed more rest breaks.


3) Talk with Companions about Your Limits

People also report having more enjoyable trips when they talk to their travel companions ahead of time about their limits and make a joint plan. Decide what you can do, then discuss your limits with others and decide on a plan.

If you discuss your limits with others ahead of time, you can reduce the chances that they will be surprised or disappointed, and the chance they will pressure you to do more than you can handle.

4) Adjust Your Expectations

For some people, making mental adjustments is crucial. When trying to do everything they used to do on a trip led to repeated crashes, they decided to adjust their expectations to fit their body's new limits. For example, they would plan to stay in one place for a while, taking time to recover from travel before beginning sightseeing.

Several mentioned their practice of keeping their schedules flexible to accommodate unforeseen events or higher than expected symptoms. One person said he was helped by replacing resentment of all he can't do by focusing on what he can do.

I have benefited from the idea that half a loaf is better than nothing...both for me and for others. Even if I haven't been able to do everything I did before becoming ill, making compromises has enabled me to participate at times somewhat outside my envelope so that I increased my symptoms somewhat but didn't suffer a bad flare-up.


5) Pace Yourself

Another common travel strategy is pacing: alternating of periods of activity with times for rest. To help you decide how to use your time, you can prioritize the activities you want to do, as mentioned in the example above.

Several people in our program have mentioned taking a rest day between active days or having a flexible schedule that allowed more rest, if needed.

6) Opt Out of Some Activities

If your travel companions would like to do more than you, you can agree to do some things together and let them do other things on their own while you rest. One person in our program wrote: "I may have to stay at the hotel and sit in the hot tub while they do some sightseeing, [but] we can still meet later for dinner."

7) Use Creature Comforts

Ask what you need to be comfortable while traveling. One person mentioned that she always carries a "Fibro Rescue Kit," a bag that contains her medications, water for drinking and water to mist on her face, snacks and Therma-Care heat pads.

Another person described her car as having features that make it easier on her: a tilting steering wheel, easily adjustable seats, center arm rests and radio controls on the steering wheel. A third said that for air travel she carries an inflatable neck pillow and a lumbar support cushion, which she also uses in the car and at her destination.

8) Use Mobility Aids

Some people use a motorized cart or wheelchair in airports. One says: "When we fly, I ask for assistance when we book our flight. There is no charge for this, you just have to ask." Other people have scooters that they take with them on trips, stored in the trunk of their cars or checked as baggage.

9) Remember to Stop and Stretch

Travel can be less taxing and less painful if it's interrupted. Several people mentioned stopping and stretching periodically to keep limber and to avoid pain. Some stop for a few minutes every half hour, others every two hours or so.

10) Become an Armchair Traveler or a Day Tripper

If long trips or plane rides are not possible, you can seek out alternatives to travel. Two often mentioned by people in our program are becoming an armchair traveler and taking short trips near home. People have mentioned reading books and magazine, and watching TV programs on places they are interested in.

One said: "I have found interesting shows on the Travel channel and even the food channel. They have taken me to Europe and throughout the US, without the fatigue."