On the Road Again: 10 Tips to Traveling with Pain

I’m headed out on a 7 hour car trip today. Each bump in the road causing extra burning nerve pain. I was in a car the first time I noticed the central nerve pain. We were driving to see my Uncle and Aunt in California. It would have been a 19 hour- drive, but the debilitating effects of chronic pain stretched it out for 2 days. Nearly every hour I would beg my husband to stop the car. I would get out and lay in the grass and cry. Once we finally arrived I swore I would never take another car trip again. Somehow we found the extra money to fly me home, but it seemed chronic pain would ruin my traveling life forever.

After that trip I couldn’t do a 1 hour drive without days of anticipated agony. Today I regularly travel across the country in cars, planes, busses, uber rides and taxis. What has made the difference? Over the years I have learned many useful tools to help decrease my pain while traveling. Instead of anticipating pain, I now anticipate positively. In the past I prepared myself for pain. Now I prepare to enjoy the journey. Here are my favorite go-to traveling tips:

  1. Anticipation. The more I anticipate pain, the worse it will be. But the opposite is also true. Letting my mind anticipate the fun I will have and making a plan to keep myself in a good place while traveling has really turned things around for me. Our thoughts have a powerful effect on our pain experience.

  2. Music. Music can be calming, uplifting to my mood and a great distraction, so I bring my Bluetooth speaker or headphones and listen to music on the trip. Adding a new album to my playlist before a trip adds to the anticipated enjoyment.

  3. Books. My husband and I enjoy reading to each other or listening to audio books. I collect several options and have them downloaded onto my device before we leave home.

  4. Conversation. Conversation with my traveling partner or the unsuspecting stranger next to me on the plane also helps put my focus in a positive place.

  5. Breathing. As we all know, traveling is not stress free. When I need to calm myself I do several minutes of diaphragmatic breathing. I can bring my pain from an 8 (on the pain scale of 0-10) down to a 4 just by taking a few breaths.

  6. Enjoyment of surrounding. Looking at the scenery. I have just moved from a mountainous town in Montana to a large urban area. I am learning to find beauty in many different vistas and taking it all in helps bring joy to the trip.

  7. Movement. During a trip, I stop and get out regularly to stretch and walk. When sitting in one position for long periods of time, my muscles cramp up. Moving gets the blood circulating and I have less pain.

  8. Hydration. I drink a lot of water. This does 2 things—ensures enough bathroom breaks to allow me to stretch my legs and keeps my body hydrated which helps decrease inflammation and therefore pain.

  9. Healthy food. I like to plan ahead in order to eat healthy while traveling. For some reason, in the past, I have had the idea the food I eat on a trip doesn’t count. But it does. I have found the healthier I eat, the more energy and clarity of mind I have to manage my pain.

  10. Distraction. I find it most difficult to manage pain in the evening, so if I know I will be traveling late, I plan out several mindless activities such as sudoku on my phone, a downloaded movie on my tablet, or a pillow in case I get sleepy.

Pain doesn’t have to leave me homebound. With a bit of careful planning and positive anticipation, I can still live a life of adventure.

About the Author: Becky Curtis

After a horrific car accident nearly took her life and her own long and complex recovery journey, Becky has assembled a vibrant team of specially-trained coaches—healthcare professionals who have gained proficiency in teaching and coaching, many who live successfully with chronic pain. Becky travels extensively to speak about the role of health coaching in pain management and has been a regular speaker at PAINWeek®, and many other conferences, in addition to coaching and managing TCC’s program. She lives in Utah with her husband and dog, Quigley.

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