Body, Mind, Spirit Magazine

Flying with Chronic Pain: Packing

By Anytimeyoga @anytimeyoga

Continued from here.

As you’ve probably figured out, getting the most comfortable seat I can reasonably manage — or rather, the least uncomfortable seat I can reasonably manage — on an airplane is important to me. It’s five immobile hours of my life I’m never going to get back; plus it has the potential to significantly raise my pain levels for days afterward. But other things are important too — like physically negotiating the airport. With luggage.

This segment is meant to help with the luggage aspect, at least.

Afbeelding 115

[By Jarcje (Own work) [Afbeelding 115 -- CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons]

Plan on checked luggage. — I still resent paying the checked baggage fee, all the more so because I can pack in such a way that all my necessary belongings fit into a bag that itself fits into the overhead bin. Unfortunately, it makes for a heavy, bulky bag and an awkward time trying to access items I need during my trip. I’ve found I’m much better off figuring the baggage fees into my travel costs and splitting up my luggage into 2 bags.

Luggage with Wheels — Like this or this. They’re pretty common now, to the extent that they’re available in thrift stores often and in discount stores (Ross, Marshall’s, etc.) more or less all the time. Yes, going along with the little wheeled suitcase means that I have to take tiny steps and watch for cracks in the sidewalk, but — as long as the handle is long enough (taller people especially, you will want to try this out before purchasing an item) — this is so much easier on my back than is carrying a heavier bag on a single side. To this end, if I can persuade someone (usually the person who drove me to the airport, most often my husband and my sister) to help me get that bag from the car to the luggage counter, that helps even more.

Pack a balanced bag. — Literally, packing heavy items — like my barn boots — toward the center of the bag, rather than at the right or left side, and nearer the bottom than the top. I realize this may sound like a nit-picky detail — and for some folks with pain, it may well be — but whether I am lifting or wheeling my luggage, a balanced bag makes a difference to me.

Lighten up the carry on. — Okay, partly this is because if I’m going to have to pay for my checked luggage, I’m going to make damn sure to get as close to the allowable weight limit as I possibly can. (I’m not exactly a heavy packer, so I never do come close.) But also, my carry on is the bag that I’m going to be walking around with all day: through check in and security and finding my gate and grabbing a cup of coffee and having a pee and checking my flight status and having one more pee before I board and on and off the plane and to the connecting flight and one more between planes pee and to baggage claim and for who knows how long while I’m waiting for my other bag to show up on the carousel. The lighter it is, the better off I am. Because of this, I reserve my carry on for items I’m likely to need en route or items that would be a major hassle to replace (if they could be replaced at all). My carry on for my current trip contains:

  • Wallet (ID, cash, bank card, boarding passes)
  • Keys (unless I end up leaving them in the care of someone at home)
  • Medications — any prescriptions in their original containers, plus enough OTCs for travel
  • Menstrual cup (seriously, I just do not go anywhere without one anymore)
  • My Nook (previously, it would have been a single book that I’d just started — so I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of reading material)
  • A Ziploc bag of trail mix or other high energy, safe food (my pain can be complicated by digestive issues and/or trigger foods)
  • Room for overpriced water (since I’ll have to buy it past security)

Obviously, different folk will have different travel essentials. Some may include a neck pillow or those stick-on heating pads or mobility aids or whatever. But if asking the question, “Is this essential?” can lead to lighter loads and reduced pain during travel, then I am all for it.

One last item, as I alluded — Think about Food — Not every person is going to need food with every flying experience, nor is every person going to feel limited by airport food. But for me — if I’m not going to have reasonable access to appropriate food either before arriving at the first airport or after leaving the final one — it is a huge deal to be able to take some of my own. I’m a fan of self-made trail mix: something that has a good-for-me ratio of protein to fat to sugar to fiber. Because pain is less fun when it’s accompanied by hunger or fatigue — and because sometimes, certain medications (narcotics, I am looking at you!) need to be taken with food.

Okay, I guess there’s one more installment happening: self-care during travel!

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