Traveling with rheumatoid arthritis

Planning ahead can make your trip relaxing and enjoyable. 

June 1, 2020


Even if you’re in good health, traveling can be stressful. It often means lots of time walking, carrying luggage, and sitting for long periods on planes and in cars. But when you have a disease like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), traveling can be especially demanding.  

RA is a disorder that causes your immune system to attack your body’s tissues. It can cause ongoing joint pain, stiffness and swelling. The emotional stress of traveling can add to this and trigger flare-ups. 

But with some thoughtful planning and packing, traveling with RA doesn’t have to be a burden. Our tips can help you successfully manage your physical activity, medication and stress level.

Before you leave, talk with your doctor

Meet with your doctor up to six weeks before you leave. Talk about things that can help you feel healthy and confident during your trip, including:

  • Foods to avoid
  • Activities to avoid
  • A list of your prescription medicines, including a note from the doctor explaining your condition and treatments
  • When to take your medications if you’re traveling to a different time zone

Schedule any needed treatments that can be difficult to do when traveling, especially injectable medications. Also plan for crisis treatment, such as tapering your steroid medication if your arthritis flares up.

Pack all medications and plan ahead 

The key to making your trip successful and pain free is to pack enough medication to last the entire trip:

  • Stick to your regular medication routines unless your doctor says otherwise. But also prepare for arthritis flares, other emergencies and lost medications.
  • Stow your medications in your carry-on bag and keep it with you at all times while traveling.
  • Pack snacks and fluids to take with medications.
  • Make sure that none of your medications are illegal in the countries you’ll be visiting. If they are, get proper documentation proving that they’re for your condition. Find more information about traveling abroad with medications.
  • Consider packing a few extra days’ worth of your usual medications, along with a copy of a list of your current medications.

Keep biologics cool

If you take a biologic (a drug produced from living organisms), ask your doctor or drug manufacturer if it can be kept at room temperature and for how long. Some biologics can be kept and used for two weeks at room temperature (59°–77° F). 

If your biologics need to be kept cool, bring an insulated cooler. If you’ll be on a plane longer than six hours, talk with one of the flight attendants. They can usually refill your cooler with ice or store your medications in the plane’s refrigerator during the trip.

When you arrive at your hotel, find out if your room has a mini-fridge. If it doesn’t, ask someone at the front desk if they can help keep your medications cool. If you’ll be camping or away from electricity, keep your medications in a cooler stocked with ice.

Be mindful of diet and exercise

Carefully consider what you eat when traveling:

  • Don’t eat or drink too much.
  • Eat fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains each day.
  • Limit red meat, full-fat dairy and egg yolks. Instead, eat good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which include nuts, olive oil and fish.

Move and stretch regularly. If you’re traveling by car, stop about every 90 minutes. Get out, stretch and walk around. Have pillows, ice packs and plenty of fluids in the car. If you’re traveling by plane, try walking up and down the aisle every hour or so. 

Other tips include:

  • Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise every day if you aren’t planning to do much walking during your trip. 
  • Pack comfortable shoes with good support and traction. 
  • Protect yourself from the sun by bringing long-sleeved shirts or jackets, a hat and sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.

Include rest in daily activities

Put together a plan of what you want to do each day, including rest and recovery time. This may include arranging for wheelchairs and someone to carry your luggage. Also create an emergency plan in case you need to end your vacation or daily activities early. 

When you return, allow a day or two to unpack and get back into your regular routine. This will help make the transition back to your daily life smooth and reduce stress.

With some thoughtful planning and packing, traveling with RA doesn’t have to be a burden. Make your next vacation the enjoyable and relaxing event it should be.


By Anthony Krajcer, MD

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.