Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Long haul travel tips for Spoonies

Finally, here's my tips on how to cope with long haul travel as a chronically ill or disabled person. Buckle up, ironically this is a long post.


When planning your trip it's important to consider the length of time you want to go for. Be realistic in remembering that the journey will require recovery time, which could be longer than you first imagine and you are unlikely to get to see much of your destination. However of course the whole point of going is to "explore" a new place, so you need to give yourself enough time to do this, whilst also allowing time for rest and recovery. Also think about recovery time if you want to go on any day trips whilst away. 

Also consider whether you can afford to upgrade to better seats with more leg room on the flight. Having more room is certainly an advantage however of course paying for the privledge is not within everyone's means. Ring your airline or visit their website to see where their special assistance seats are, whether they have set seats for each class, or whether they will allow you to choose where you want to sit. This can all depend on your disability or illness too, so discuss this with the special assistance team. All airlines will prevent you from sitting in the exit rows for safety reasons but there may be other extra leg room seats you might be able to reserve, which would be beneficial especially if you're in economy. Choose one that is close to a toilet if needed. 

For more information on the best plane seats visit Seatguru at to research good seats for the type of plane you will be travelling on. Perhaps have this open as you speak with the airlines special assistance team.  

When researching destinations be sure to check if you need immunisations to travel to where you wish to go. Consider whether your body will be able to handle such injections.

Check your medication is legal in the country you are going to and seek advice on how to proceed. You don't want to get stopped by customs. You should always carry a prescription with your address on it or medical note anyway, along with your medications in your hand luggage. Also whilst on the flight remember to take your medications as per usual. Keep your watch on the same time as your home country so you can keep an eye out or set alarms on your phone or watch.
Visit the airlines website. Make yourself as familar as possible with their special assistance policies. Check the types of meals and snacks that are available onboard, especially if you have allergies or food intolerances. This will help you plan what food to pack in your handluggage or to be bought at the airport. You can check what films and tv shows they will be showing. You can plan what you want to watch or if nothing really takes your fancy then you know to bring plenty of your own entertainment. Whether that be downloading films to a laptop or tablet or bringing a kindle, books and puzzle books. 

Visit the airports website.  I would look up the special assistance policies for each of the airports you will be travelling through, so you can have an idea what to expect. Remember although you book special assistance through your airline they are only responsible for your care on board. Whilst you are at the airport you're in the hands of their special assistance team, so be sure to check both your airline and each airports policies.

 Also whilst you're on the airports website look up what shops and restaurants are available at each airport you will be at. This can help you plan where you will eat or get snacks. Again this is particularly useful if you have food intolerances so you know that you can get food at certain places. This can be really useful if you have a layover as you can plan where to go and how best to utilise your time. Alternatively there is the app gareguru and trip advisor.

If you suffer from food allergies or intolerances and have concerns about managing abroad be sure to take a look at for advice on how to ask for free from foods and printable cards in different languages to explain your intolerances. If you are staying bed and breakfast, half board, full board or all inclusive contact your hotel in advance to enquire what free from foods they provide, or put in a special request for certain items.
Consider booking into one of the airport lounges so that you can relax in a quieter less chaotic environment before your flight. This is also a great idea if you have a stopover between flights, so you can have somewhere quiet to go recover and prepare for the next flight. Or if you are travelling alone as you know you can get everything you need in the one space without going far and the airport special assistance team know exactly where you are to collect you. If you are travelling alone and haven't booked into a lounge my friend Hannah recommends trying your luck and asking if they will let you wait in there for some peace and quiet. You never know. If they say no, ask them to take you to a quieter spot and don't be afraid to ask them to get you a drink or something to eat.

Packing and preflight

Getting a lot of good quality sleep before you fly is recommended. Sleep is our bodies way of recovering and also keeping our health in check. If you do sleep on the plane it won't be as deep a sleep with being in a busy surrounding. So get plenty of sleep before a trip as well as trying to sleep on the plane as much as you can.

You will often get a sleep kit from the airline with things like a small pillow, blanket and sleep mask however I recommend taking your own things so that you're extra comfortable. Having your own things that are tried and tested to make you feel safe and cosy especially if you are an anxious flyer is a bonus. Sometimes just the smell of them can evoke calm. A sleep mask can help you block out any light and aid better sleep. Also consider noise cancelling headphones or earplugs to help block out noise. 

I say this is in any of my travel posts but it's so important. Pack the items that you need to feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible in your handluggage. Whatever you use at home to achieve this, bring it. You need all the extras you can when in a new and potentially uncomfortable environment. Anything at all that you use when you want to try feel better.
So pack those favourite fluffy socks or essential oils, as long as they're under 100ml and in a clear bag. If you drink a special tea to help you relax bring some tea bags and just ask for hot water when you're on the plane. Comfort is key! These items will help you during the flight but also throughout your trip. Having items you're familar with and known to help you feel better will help comfort you when you are having a flare.

On that note sadly you can't have a hot water bottle or electric heat pad on a plane. Although you can pack them in your checked luggage, which is what I do. If these are things you rely on and worry you might suffer aches and pains you would usually treat with heat, purchase some heat patches that you apply to the skin. You can buy different types for different areas and they last up to 8 hours.

Comfort is key! Yes I said it again. Choose a travelling outfit that is really comfortable. I'd wear pyjamas but I think that's frowned upon. Although I've seen a few people (older than 3) brave it out. So wear the next best most comfortable thing. Stretchy trousers that don't cut you off at the middle. Remember your stomach and legs swell whilst flying so a forgiving waist band is best. Wear shoes you can easily slip on and off and pack extra socks or slippers to keep your feet warm. A big scarf is often good as it can be doubled up as a blanket or as an extra cushion. Layers are also good as you never know what the temperature on the plane is going to be. Just remember to take them all with you when you land.

Wear flight socks/ compression stockings. This will help reduce any swelling in your legs and help prevent DVT's. They are great if you are not used to sitting for that length of time and if sitting usually causes your legs to ache. Or if you experience blood pooling, poor blood flow in your legs. Put them on before you get on the plane.

Bring snacks- You get food on the plane but this might come at times when you are not really hungry or you just don't like what's on offer, or they don't provide anything suitable for your dietary requirements. Especially bring food with you if you have allergies or observe a certain type of diet. You can pick things up at the airport (again visit the airports website to see what shops are there, so you know you can get snacks there) or if you have room in your handluggage bring things from home. Don't put anything in tin foil though as this will cause trouble going through security. Graze snacks are great as they are in small packets. They now do the slightly bigger ones too. I found some in a WH Smith at the airport last time I went away which was useful. Also look at kids lunch box type snack packs like dried fruit or cereal bars. You could also take some things like porridge or noodles that only need hot water.  Again check security restrictions as to what you can bring through security.

Invest in a water bottle with a filter. Such as the bobble bottle. That way you can make sure you stay hydrated but not have to worry till the next time the drinks trolly comes round. Simply ask the air hostesses to refill and the inbuilt filter will filter away any mankyness of airplane water. Plus you don't have to buy another bottle of water because you've had to chuck one before going through security. Although you will need to make sure it's empty as you go through security. They are also great for using at your destination as that way you can be sure the tap water filtered and less hard, as well as saving money on bottles of water. I would double check though that the tap water where you are going is safe to drink though first.

 Pack a portable phone charger in your handluggage. These are great for if you are using your phone a lot at the airport/ on the plane (on flight mode) as they give you that peace of mind that should you run out of battery you are not stuck without the use of your phone. Or feeling reassured you have enough battery life to use your phone when you land, should you need to contact your transfer or hotel etc. They're also great if you are delayed and stuck at the airport or on a layover (especially if it's a long one). You don't have to worry about finding a power socket in order to charge it. It also doesn't matter then if you are in another country but your plug adaptor is in your checked luggage. 
Stay hydrated. Planes will quickly dehydrate you. Drink as much water as you can before and during a flight to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as this will dehydrate you even more. I know this can be difficult especially if your nerves affect your bladder but do your best.

Avoid big meals. Before flying and during a flight be aware of what you eat. Eating smaller meals and snacks is best because of the effect of the air pressure on your digestive system. Your body cannot digest food as well when you are at altitude and so a bigger meal will cause even more bloatedness and cause you discomfort. Give your stomach an extra helping hand my choosing more easily digestable foods. This is another way you can help ensure you feel as well as possible after the flight, because let's face it you're going to feel cruddy enough.

At the airport

If you are using your own wheelchair your wheelchair will be stowed in the hold at the gate, usually after you have boarded the plane. If you have any stopovers chances are you won't see your luggage until your destination but it's important to check with your airline what the policy is for medical equipment. I've heard that in some instances your personal wheelchair will be tagged with your final destination and therefore once you land at your layover airport it will be taken with the luggage to your next plane. Meaning they won't reunite you with your personal wheelchair until your final destination and you'll be given one of the airports during the layover. Do seek advise from your airline over what to expect, especially if you have a specialist wheelchair designed especially to fit your personal frame and keep you supported or a power chair.

A lot of airports now have those massage armchairs or some even have masseuses, before you board this may be an option to help get your blood flow going. In particular if you are at a stop over airport and you need to recover from the first flight. Keep the pressure light though. Plan your time- One of the things that I predict I would struggle with flying long haul is what to do for that amount of time. Ok I'm used to hours of doing nothing confined to my room but not spending that amount of time on a plane. Spending an hour on a plane is enough for me in all honesty but the world has some pretty fab places that are more than an hour away.  In my travel interview with Hannah, she said that she likes to make a rough plan of how she is going to use up the time, which also allows her to pace and ensure she gets plenty of rest. Plan to get as much rest or sleep as you can but also use lots of distraction techniques like watching a film or listening to an audio book, especially if you are a nervous flyer.

Coping with jet lag and managing your stay

 Commonly the advice with jet lag is to fight it and to get yourself in line with the time zone as soon as possible. However being a chronically ill person we know that fighting our body is never going to end well. We have to listen to our bodies. Chances are after such a long flight and stresses of airports you are going to feel pretty unwell and will need to go to bed as soon as possible to recover. Let yourself recover properly before trying to adjust to the time zone and increasing your activity. 24hr room service can be quite handy here or having someone that can go out and stock up on food and drink would be useful.

The unknown is always going to be your biggest obstacle and challenge, however if you prepare yourself as much as possible and have lots of coping mechanisms you can feel more comfortable in the knowledge that you're prepared and armed to tackle any challenges.

Lastly my advice is enjoy it! Have fun and experience as much as you can to the best of your abilities. Also be appreciative and thankful that you have this opportunity. Don't forget to give yourself some appreciation too for taking on this challenge and giving yourself new experiences.

I thoroughly recommend you search Pinterest and other blogs for long haul posts to get as much info as possible from experienced long haul travellers.
I hope you find this post useful. Please comment with anymore tips if you have any, would love to hear them. I've linked some more posts that are related below. Or for all my posts on my spoonie travel series visit my travel tips page.
Sian X

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