by Lu Sobredo
Possible Travel ObstaclesAs a person with RA, I faced several debilitating physical symptoms; complex issues surrounding treatment and medications, and a vulnerability towards feelings of dejection. These were the three areas of challenges I grappled with. They compelled me to explore a set of solutions that works.
- Select an ambulatory assistive device that fits one’s needs
- Call the Airline company a few days before departure to arrange for a wheelchair at the airport and pre-boarding privilege.
- Travel with a family member or close friend. My husband who made the travel arrangement, also arranged for a companion to travel with me knowing he couldn’t be with me at all times. So my most treasured assistance came from my college-age son Adrian who became my travel companion. He helped me transcend and rise above difficulties encountered during our travel.
- Remember to take a hard copy of the doctor’s prescription in the event you lose or misplace your supply. Pharmacies abroad are not hard to find. My RA specialist assured me that in Europe, research for my medical condition is much more robust and treatment more advanced than in most countries including mine.
- Take a carry-on suitcase in the airplane that can hold an insulated bag with ice packs for medications that must be kept cool. When traveling, I made sure the medications were accessible in my carry-on so I could take them as scheduled. Yes, there are risks to not taking the medications as scheduled. The highest risk is an increased likelihood that the worst of the symptoms could flare up. I also carry up to eight resealable plastic bags of various sizes for ice cubes. I used ice cubes to cool my tired or pained knees or other joints while in the airplane. Flight attendants were helpful in this regard. Just ask nicely. Double up the plastic bag with a barf aka vomit bag as it is designed to lessen leakage, most important once the ice has melted. Most hotels, hostels or albergues have a refrigerator and will freeze the ice pack overnight for no fee. A frozen ice pack while in transit will keep medications cool as required.
- Keep a daily reminder to take medications on time, and be aware of the difference in time zones. I set my phone calendar and alarm clock to help me stay on track. The adverse consequence, if I didn’t, was enough incentive to stay on schedule.
- Expand knowledge about the disease. Recognize that any increased mobility serves as signal that it’s okay to get up and get out of the house, even just to go in your backyard or the other side of the front door. I did so with doctor’s approval.
- See a Mental Health Specialist as needed.
- Consume healthy drinks and meals. I was diligent in making fruit and vegetable smoothies about one year before my summer travel abroad. I limited consumption of meat and rich foods. My go-to meals usually included wild fish and organic chicken or turkey, spinach, broccoli and yellow squash.
- Read travel magazines and blogs with photos to conjure up beautiful locales to visit.
- Sign up with a gym for chair yoga, aqua aerobics, stationary bike or whatever the doctor may have ordered for physical therapy or activity.
- Seek out and socialize with closest family and friends. Dine out, listen to jazz or other music of your choice, or attend a rally for social justice with your significant-other. Engage in whatever moves you. I subscribe to all these activities and more. Although each step towards increasing human interaction or taking up an activity or cause might be daunting at first, I gave myself permission to push one day at a time at a pace of my own choosing. Lo and behold, a rhythm to a redefined life routine eventually took form. The possibility for a renewed vigor or a new normal can invariably transform a chronic illness into a manageable one. It takes time, but worth the effort. Take deep cleansing breaths if possible. One never knows, I might just see you at the Prado Museum in Madrid or at an outdoor cafe in Barcelona or Porto.
Travel Made Possible
When I found courage to set goals towards enhanced functionality, I resolved to experience a life lived fully. It was also comforting to visualize that with an ever increasing functionality, my ever loving caregivers can be given reprieve as I grow less and less dependent for everyday needs.
My Son, a Walking Cane and Unexpected Challenges Encountered
Unexpectedly, tears flowed freely down my face when I sat in the pews among the pilgrims participating in a deeply moving mass at the Santiago Cathedral. The mass was especially for the pilgrims who walked the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage I once took with my family in 2010 before the diagnosis of RA. The difference this time was I did not walk the Camino, I was not physically capable of walking the Camino, and yet I found myself in the midst of the solemn celebration. The realization that I even managed to reach Santiago with my disability, I lost it and sobbed in sheer joy. It didn’t matter this time that my family reached Santiago via public transportation instead of hiking the pilgrim's way, all that mattered was I made it there.
Wondering where to wander next? That is part of the fun of a life lived fully. Come off that fence of doubt about travel while disabled. Come join the journey of discovering new places or familiar places abroad with a fresh outlook about traveling with a disability.
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