TRAVELLING WITH CHRONIC BACK PAIN

When I went on my first long-term round the world adventure, it was not long after multiple back operations. These back operations have left me with chronic back pain and I quickly learnt during my travels the need to look after myself and my back. It can be exhausting travelling with chronic pain, however over my years of travelling, I have found ways to manage my pain and enjoy my travels. As I love to hike all over the world, it is imperative to be in minimal pain before I start a hike, especially after a long haul flight.  Here are my top 20 tips for people traveling with chronic back pain and some of these tips can also apply to other fellow travellers:

  1. Work out your pain management plan before departure – depending on the type of chronic pain you have or the severity, this may be something you do yourself or with your doctor.
  2. Pack enough medication – if you take regular medication for your chronic pain, pack enough for your entire travels. Pack your script with your medication and ask your doctor to provide a letter of proof the medication is your own and is required, as many countries have restrictions on medications, especially medication taken to relieve chronic pain.
  3. Prepare your emotional wellbeing before departure – when you are travelling (especially long-term) you do not have access to your support networks that help you with your chronic pain. I recommend working with your pain therapist before departure to develop techniques to help get you through any tough times during your travels. When I am in a lot of pain and find it hard to cope physically or emotionally, I meditate, sleep or take a bath.
  4. Prepare physically before departure – leading up to departure, plan time to do any exercises that assist with easing your chronic pain. For me, it’s yoga, swimming, hiking and visiting my physiotherapist.
  5. Have a layover instead of a long haul flight – I break up my travels by having a layover where possible. Sitting in a plane is one of the most painful things for me and by choosing to have a layover for a day (or two) I have time to rest and experience a new city. This goes for long car drives or bus travels too. I once took a 24 hour bus ride in Mexico (thinking it was only going to be a 12 hour bus ride) and after taking days to recover, I always break up my bus journeys too.
  6. Always ask for the exit row – when I check into a flight the first thing I do is ask for an exit row seat. Many international flights are now charging to sit in exit rows, however it cannot hurt to ask. The extra room allows for a more enjoyable flight when it is painful to sit.
  7. Set aside time to rest – travelling can be tiring and if you have chronic pain it is imperative to plan in rest periods throughout your travels. Work out your plans for each day and include a time to rest. This rest time can be sleep, reading, yoga or the best way to manage your pain to rejuvenate your body and continue on with your travels.
  8. Plan your travel itinerary – to stay energized and manage your chronic pain, spend a lot of time preparing your travel itinerary. Work out each day and what sightseeing you want to do and allow time to relax.
  9. Plan your big nights out – it is fun to have a big night out (or two) when travelling and if you suffer from chronic pain, I recommend to space out your big nights. It can take a couple of days to recover from drinking and being up to the early hours of the morning, therefore plan the events you want to attend in advance (where possible) and allow time for recovery.
  10. Know your limits – one of the biggest learnings for me was knowing my limits. When traveling I want to experience everything and pack as much possible into every day, however I realised this was not possible, as I became exhausted very quickly. Know what your physical and emotional limits are and stick to them.
  11. Research your accommodation – having a decent bed is really important to me, as is having a quiet place to sleep. Research your accommodation and spend the extra on having a good bed and somewhere quiet. Check out Trip Advisor for reviews to help you decide.
  12. Eat healthy food – there are so many new food options when travelling and it is easy to eat delicious food, that may not be overly healthy. I experience more pain when I eat fried food, pastries and other yummy things, therefore I recommend spacing out your ‘junk’ food and sticking to tasting the local, healthy cuisines.
  13. Be confident in talking about your pain – I used to be embarrassed to talk about my pain and when travelling I declined many invitations to dinners out, dancing and adventure, due to feeling in pain. I was not comfortable talking about my chronic pain, however when I was finally in a position to do so, it was extremely relieving and everybody I spoke to about it understood.
  14. Go slow! – if you are planning 1 or 2 weeks travelling or over a year, staying in places longer will allow you to absorb and experience the local culture and you may minimise the amount of pain you are in, if you are travelling less often. Consider focusing on one region of a continent (e.g. South East Asia or Central America) instead of trying to do a big round the world trip.
  15. Pack cushions and pillows – with my back pain, I need cushioning of some sort to minimise my chronic pain. This has usually been folded up clothing that I sit on or place behind my back when sitting, however I recommend packing travel size cushions or pillows to assist when needed.
  16. Pack your music device and headphones – I can become very agitated when in pain and this usually happens on long haul flights and bus rides. For me, listening to music relives tension and frustration, kind of like a little time out session!
  17. Learn to pack light – it is easy to get carried away with packing everything into your luggage, however try and pack light and only take what you need. Getting to and from your accommodation can be tiring and painful if you have to carry heavy luggage, even it’s a short walk from the luggage carousel to the taxi or from the bus stop to your accommodation.
  18. Keep a pain diary – this is something you may already do, but I have found keeping a pain diary whilst travelling allows me to work out when I am in more pain and why this may be the case. It is a great way to analyse your pain and make any adjustments to your travel plans, medication, rest time etc. to make your travelling more comfortable and enjoyable.
  19. Research doctors in the area you are travelling to – this is a great tip for anyone, however if you need specialist assistance for your chronic pain when you are travelling, it is worth knowing if there will be doctors that specialise in chronic pain in the place you are travelling in. This may not always be possible, especially in remote and rural destinations, however it is great to find out.
  20. Remember travelling is meant to be fun! – it can be easy to get frustrated in a new country, with working out foreign currency, finding accommodation or trying to speak a new language and becoming frustrated exacerbates my chronic pain. I deal with it by remembering travelling is supposed to be fun. I take a moment to clear my thoughts and replace any frustration with positive thoughts and get back to enjoying my travels and realising what an incredible experience I am having.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *