Travelling with Osteoporosis: What to think about Before, During, and After your trip
Is it possible to have a happy and healthy holiday with osteoporosis? Absolutely! With good planning and preparation, that dream vacation can become a reality. Begin by thinking about your holiday in three parts: (1) Planning and preparation before you leave; (2) How to stay safe and healthy while away; and (3) keeping a record for what worked well for future holidays.
Here are some helpful hints for before, during and after your vacation.
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
Prepare your body: Plan and prepare your body for the extra work of travelling. Start by building your physical fitness, so that you can make the most of the sight-seeing and touring you want to accomplish. If you haven’t been very active lately, gradually increase your physical activity as part of your everyday life, for example begin by walking daily, and gradually increasing your time and distance.
Before you leave on holidays, also remember to purchase travel insurance that covers you for any medical conditions that you already have, as well as for any injuries you may occur when you are away from home. Make sure you have enough prescription medications to last for your trip. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you create a medication schedule that will work for pain relief as you cross several time zones.
Know your destination: Online tools such as Google Street View and Walk Score allow you the opportunity to virtually view your destination before you arrive. For example, if the destination has been assigned a Walk Score (0-100), you will have a better idea of the neighbourhood walkability, you can locate shops in the surrounding areas, and/or view the terrain (hilly or flat). Google Street View may also allow you to see if there are sidewalks and benches for those mini breaks that allow you to pace yourself. If available, a Transit score will tell you how close you are to public transportation.
Luggage: Do some research and testing before purchasing luggage: lightweight suitcases with sturdy wheels will protect your neck and back, and make it much easier for you to manoeuvre through airports, railway stations, and hotels. Try before you buy: compare using a 4-wheeled suitcase with the 2-wheeled variety, and see which one feels easier for you to handle. Once you have purchased your luggage, remember to pack light. It is best not to place too many items in the outside compartments for a few reasons: first, an overstuffed bag is difficult to place in the overhead compartment; second, it makes the luggage much heavier and more awkward to transport; and third, putting too many items in the front of the suitcase may cause it to become unbalanced and fall over.
Shoes, and mobility aids: Happy feet make for happy sightseeing! If you are planning to do a lot of walking on your trip, make sure your shoes are in good shape. It is important to choose the right shoe, making sure that is comfortable, and supportive with a non-slip sole. If you need to purchase new shoes, buy them several weeks ahead, to allow them to become comfortable before your holidays. By breaking shoes in over a few weeks before your holiday, may help you to avoid blisters while you are away. If you are going to a place where there are water activities, you may want to consider water shoes, as rocks, docks and decks can be slippery!
Mobility Devices: Other things to consider are mobility aids such as canes, walkers, walking poles or wheelchairs. It is advisable to make sure your mobility aid is in good shape, and does not need any repairs before you leave. If you need assistance at the airport, contact the airline in advance to let them know that you will need assistance to the gate, in addition to help getting on/off the airplane, train or bus.
DURING YOUR TRIP
At the airport: Pack light to avoid back stress and baggage fees. If you must lift or carry your own luggage, keep your tummy tight and bend from your knees- you’ll need good muscle strength and balance to lift and carry your luggage, so always ask for help whenever possible.
Hot or cold packs are sometimes helpful to carry for pain relief, but should be under 100 mls to comply with airline regulations. Prescription medicine should always be carried with the original container and labels. Consult the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to find out more specific details.
Airlines are required to offer pre-boarding and transportation in airport terminals on request, and this option means less standing in line, less crowds, and less rushing.
On the airplane: Sitting for long flights can lead to stiff joints and sore muscles, If you choose an aisle seat, it makes it easier to break up sitting time by standing and/or walking. Aim to move around every 45 minutes or so. Here are some other tips to help keep you comfortable during the flight.
- Breathe deeply and pump your ankles up and down at regular intervals to reduce swelling. Consider upgrading to a bigger seat with more legroom: it makes it easier to stretch your legs and get in and out of your seat.
- Remember good posture is really important, so avoid slumping into the seat.
- Long flights often means naps with awkward neck positions, so invest in a neck support if you like to snooze on long journeys.
- If you need support for your lower back (and you forgot to bring a back support), roll up a soft jacket and place in the small of your back as required.
- Hold onto the backs of the seats as you stroll in the aisles if you need support
On the Train or in a Car: You can avoid some of the negative effects of sitting for long periods by doing the following:
- Stop for frequent breaks; do some simple stretches, deep breathing and relaxation at each train station stop, or every time you stop to fill up with gas, get out of the car for a short walk.
- While driving, avoid extreme neck positions when shoulder checking.
- If renting a car, look for features such as great visibility, heated seats, and power assisted steering and parking.
- Check to make sure your seat is supportive: adjust your car seat so that you are sitting tall, and your posture is evenly supported: using a wedge cushion for comfort may help reduce back discomfort.
- If you are having some challenges getting in/out of a car, there are assistive devices available to help you.
Ships: Plan your excursions in advance, and ask about the ship’s accessibility before you leave on holidays. There will be lots of opportunities while you are on a cruise ship to take part in more physical activity, such as walking on the deck, swimming, Tai Chi, as well as balance and strength exercises. But remember to pace your activities. Moderation is key!
Hotels: Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Hotel rooms can be dark and unfamiliar to you, especially if you are jetlagged or fatigued, so leave a night light on for visibility.
- Remember to store your luggage off the floor and remove all the clutter from the path so that you do not trip on it if you get up during the night.
- Remove any loose rugs and electrical cords (tripping hazards).
- Always make sure that there are nonslip surfaces/mats in showers, tubs and other areas of the bathroom.
Watch your step: Cobblestones, and wide streets sometimes pose a challenge, especially if your mobility is limited and your walking is slower, so make a conscious effort to pick those toes up on unfamiliar terrain! A foldable cane is a great option to carry along for times when you feel extra tired or sore when sight-seeing, or if the tour is a little longer than expected. You may also consider walking poles, as they can help with your posture, but do get used to them before the vacation, as there is a technique to using them, so check with a physiotherapist if you’re unsure.
BACK AT HOME
After your holiday you may want to consider keeping a journal, or list of what tips and tricks worked best for you while you were away. By doing this you will be better prepared for your next holiday. Taking pictures will help you to remember things that made your vacation more enjoyable, and this written and visual diary can make it easier for the next time you decide to travel.
Once you are back at home, try to get back into your usual physical activity routine as soon as possible. Keeping healthy by moving more, sitting less and doing balance and strength exercises is a good prescription for health. Sometimes, events like a holiday and/or illness can change your habits and your motivation to keep active can be reduced because of the change in routine. Have a plan in place to start back at your usual physical activity routine as soon as possible when you return from your vacation.
A holiday can be a great opportunity to relax and enjoy some new experiences. These are some strategies that you can put in place before and during your trip to increase your chances of a happy and healthy holiday.