Updated 27 March 2019

Arthritis and travelling

Planning ahead seems to be the key to travelling successfully if you are an arthritis sufferer.

Car travel

Cars with automatic gearboxes and power steering go a long way to making driving with arhritis  as painless as possible. Cars with four doors and automated window openers can also make life easier.

Remember to take a pillow, a headrest and medication with you in the car. Do not leave medication in the boot of the car, where it can be damaged by high temperatures. If you have any other aids, such as a walking stick, keep it in the car with you. If you are travelling with a wheelchair, make sure that it can be accomodated in the vehicle in which you are travelling.

If you are part of a car pool, offer your vehicle, but ask someone else to drive. Suitable insurance arrangements should be made to accomodate this plan.

Air travel

There is quite a lot you can do to make your life easier when travelling by aeroplane. Communicate any special needs when you book your seat.

If getting to the toilet is a problem, book a seat as close as possible to it.

If you need special assistance when boarding the plane, tell the airline in advance and arrive at least two hours and a half before the departure of your flight. Request an airport wheelchair if you have difficulty walking. Tell them if you need in-flight assistance. If you need more legroom, book a seat on the emergency exit. Do this when you book your ticket.

Use porters to carry your luggage. As these may not always be available, invest in luggage with wheels.

Book your luggage through to your final destination, so that it becomes the problem of the airline instead of yours.

Make sure that you have medication in your hand luggage in case your luggage gets misplaced. Take the name and telephone number of your doctor with you in case you need prescriptions faxed to you while you are away. Take extra doses of your medication with you in case your return is delayed.

Try and book a direct flight. If this is not possible, splitting your journey in half and spending a night in a hotel en route.

Train and bus travel

In South Africa, train and bus travel can be a painful experience for the traveller with arthritis. Sadly, special needs are not always given the attention they deserve. If you have no choice, enquire about any assistance staff will be able to give you. If you require assistance, it might be necessary to take a travelling companion with you.

The high steps many buses have make travelling by bus problematic for people with arthritis. If this is unavoidable, book a midweek trip, when fewer people will be on the bus. Remember to take medication and a pillow with you.

General tips

Choose a vacation suited to your interests and abilities. If you have difficulty walking long distances, a guided bus tour or a week at the seaside might be better than a trip including many walks.

Communicate your needs to the hotel. Enquire about elevators, staircases, bathroom accessibility, bedside telephones and wheelchair accessibility.

Don’t try and do too many things in one day. If you plan a busy day, plan to take things slowly the following day. You need to take time off to rest. For this reason rushed package tours are not a good idea.

Pack lightly. Most hotels have laundry services. The last thing you want to do is to drag heavy suitcases about for weeks on end.

Remember to take enough medication for your entire trip and more. Do not keep these all in the same place. You can easily buy another pair of jeans if your luggage gets lost, but replacing your medication could be more problematic. If you are planning to be away for a longer period, e.g. more than four weeks overseas, ask your doctor for a brief letter stating your diagnosis and usual treatment, including any special information such as drug allergies. Such a letter could be very helpful if you become ill and require medical care while in a foreign country.

If you have any life threatening allergies, remember that a Medic Alert bracelet may be a lifesaving investment.

Take warm clothing if your destination has a cold climate. One really warm jacket and a warm pair of socks should see you through. When you are travelling, comfort takes precedence over fashion.

Remember to take all the aids you might need, such as a raised toilet seat, a special pillow, long handled brushes or reachers and a warming pad. 



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Arthritis expert

Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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