As the end of summer vacation nears and the new school year approaches, my family and I have our sights set on the holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas specifically. We don’t look forward to these holidays because of the exciting events, baked goods, and time off as much as we look forward to the traveling to visit friends and family living in other parts of the country. Over the years, we have learned how to travel with our brood of kids to have the most fun without pulling out our hair and wringing each other’s necks. And traveling tips with the kids is the same as traveling with fibromyalgia, don’t you think? Here are seven tips for traveling with kids and fibromyalgia with bonus tips from a few fibromyalgia bloggers.
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This article first appeared in The Fibromyalgia Magazine, August 2017. Get the digital copy of the magazine from Pocketmags.
Tips for Traveling with Kids and Fibromyalgia
Make a list (or three)
Making lists is how I properly function day to day, and helps me to remember the important things that my fibro brain prevents me from remembering. In my home, I have lists in my office, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. It seems insane, I know, but this how I manage from day to day. And finding what works best for you is always a positive! So, it’s no surprise that I have three lists for upcoming travel plans.
The first list is comprised of all the items we need during our time away from home such as books to read, mobile devices, chargers, medicine, bathroom products, and so on. Our kids are old enough to pack their own suitcases, so the second list is for each member of the family (I told you I’m list crazy happy), and includes all the clothes needed for the vacation, i.e. how many pairs of outfits, if a bathing suit is needed, etc. I tape the list to each of the kids’ door or dresser mirror so when they pack their suitcase, they will know what to bring. Doing it this way decreases the stress of packing for each family member. There’s six of us, so packing can become overwhelming if there is only one person doing it.
The third and final list is for the day of leaving. This includes the last minute to do items to leave our home unattended for the duration of the trip. Items include adjusting the thermostats, giving a neighbor our contact information, and ensuring a friend will be checking on our cat every other day as well as collecting the mail. The list also includes the items to take the day of the trip such as the cooler of food, bags, purse, etc.
The lists are started the day we confirm our trip and continues to be added to until the day of the trip. Having all these lists have saved us many headaches over the years and has become as important to the rest of the family as it has for me.
Take an enjoyable route
Sometimes the quickest way to get to where we are going isn’t always the most fun or safest for our family, so we look for other routes. When deciding which route to take, we look for unique places to visit so we can stretch our legs and loosen up my stiff joints. The stops also break up the trip into more manageable pieces for the anxiety and stress I usually have when we travel. This makes it more enjoyable for the entire family and decreases the chances of me having a flare in the following days.
Being aware of any construction zones or detours is also helpful when planning our route so we can avoid possible traffic jams or detours into unknown areas (yes, both of those have happened to us which resulted in hours of additional travel time). Knowing alternate routes will also come in handy if an unexpected car accident shuts down the main highway for unknown period. (This also happened to us which left us sitting in a string of cars with nowhere to go for three hours. Imagine – no bathroom, no turning around, and no air conditioning in the summer heat. It was miserable.)
Be prepared for the unexpected
No matter how well prepared you may be, the unexpected is always a possibility. Even if you aren’t planning a night at a hotel on the way to your destination, know your preferred hotels along your planned route and budget for those expenses. It’s an inconvenience to stay overnight in a place you haven’t planned for, but the mental strain on you can be unhealthy, too. Knowing that you have a backup plan eases any potential stress or anxiety caused by an unexpected stop and prevents any strain or tension from spreading to the rest of the family. You don’t want one hiccup in your plans to ruin your entire road trip, so prepare mentally, too.
Now that the kids are older, they usually have their handheld devices to keep them entertained while traveling, but my husband and I have found a way to infiltrate and conquer these devices. Our plan of attack is a combination of an entertaining alternate route filled with fun stops and a persistence of playing car games with us in which we won’t relent until they gave in. It also keeps my mind off the anxiety and strain of driving long distances. It’s a win-win for the entire family.
One of the games I taught them was one my grandmother taught me. It was called the license plate game, and it was where we looked at each passing car’s license plate to see where they were from. As we drove, we would keep track of the many different states we saw along our route. At the end of the drive, we would tally up our finds and try to beat that number during the next trip. My kids love to beat their scores and set the bar higher, so this was perfect for them.
Another game we like to play is car Bingo. During one of our family’s trips up north when I was younger, my parents stopped at the famous “South of the Border” – a popular stop along Interstate 95 that rested on the border of North and South Carolina. It has rest areas, gas stations, fireworks stores, restaurants, and other unique stores. During this stop, my mom bought my younger sister and me each a Bingo card for the car. It was a piece of cardboard with pictures of random objects you would see on the road – airplane, billboard, etc. As you found these items while traveling, you would mark it on the card, and the first to get a line (like in Bingo), won. It was simple, challenging, and kept our interest. Amazingly enough, I found this exact game a few years ago during one of our stops at South of the Border, and my kids loved playing it just as much as I had when I was their age.
Pack a picnic
Like many other fibromyalgia thrivers, I have stomach issues which prevent me from eating the normal road trip foods. Gone are the days of Mt. Dew and Snickers bars to keep my tummy full and my energy up. Now I need real food and food that won’t hurt my stomach. We also need to feed our kiddos, and a typical stop at a gas station could easily wind up costing more than a full tank of gas. In addition to the cost, the selection at these convenience stores are full of sugar that will keep my kids bouncing off the insides of the car. No, thank you!
Instead, we pack a cooler of lunches and other goodies, and we allow the kids to select their snacks to have on the drive, too. Lunch consists of sandwiches, chips, fruit, veggies, and water and is enough to have two meals for each person. My husband and I will choose a scenic area to have a picnic, let the kids run around to explore, and catch a break from being in the car. Over the years, we have found some amazing discoveries and hidden gems we normally wouldn’t find if we had stopped at a fast food chain.
Most of our trips involve long distances which could lead to achy joints even after stopping frequently. To ensure a more comfortable drive, have a small pillow for your back or neck. I also take a light jacket because I get cold easily and don’t want everyone else to sweat. Dressing comfortably for the day of travel is also important. If you are arriving just in time for an event that requires a specific kind of dress, take a change of clothes with you.
Make sure to equip your van or truck with a functional portable toilet so that your kids can comfortably attend the call of nature on the wheels. This may save tons of time looking for a public toilet or gas station.
When Tim and I would travel before we had kids, we would leave for a trip before dawn to knock out the trip and arrive early. Now, with kids and fibro, we leave at more realistic times. No matter the distance to be traveled, we get a good night of sleep/rest on the night before the trip. There is no alarm clock and rush to leave the day of the trip. We eat breakfast, get showered and dressed, then pack the car at a reasonable pace. Once everyone is loaded in the car and ready to go, we leave.
Pacing ourselves like this and having no set time to leave allows for a more relaxing road trip. It also provides an opportunity to look over everything before you leave. There’s no rush to arrive at a certain time, and our traveling is offset from the usual travelers. Our time for lunch is a little later, and our arrival time is usually offset from peak traffic times, too. It’s a huge stress reliever to be more relaxed and laid back when approaching a road trip.
Tips from other fibromyalgia thrivers
Sheryl from A Chronic Voice
- Have a letter listing health conditions, medications, allergies, and other pertinent information
- Hospital locations where you are going
- Travel insurance
- Have an ‘in case of emergency’ plan
- Flexible flight tickets
Kim from Grace is Sufficient
- Exercise self-care the week prior to leaving
- Communicate limitations or other specifics to your travel partner(s)
- Have what you need to sleep comfortably
Donna from February Stars
- Travel with someone that understands
- Find accommodations that suit your needs
- Book special assistance at the airport if you are flying
- Accept help
- Be willing to adapt
Julie from Counting My Spoons
- Hydrate often
- Choose your seat on the plane wisely (having to get up)
- Plan to eat (food expensive in airports)
- Board early, if you want
- Check your bags
Tami Stackelhouse, Fibromyalgia Coach
- Take advantage of your options (wheelchair assistance, fridge in room if needed, late check out, etc)
- Don’t be a victim (travel at good hours, check hotel information)
- Plan (plan rest days, plan a light week when returning home)
- Pamper yourself (own pillows, heating pad, ear plugs, etc)
With every impending trip, my anxiety is high, but when I start making the lists and plans, the anxiety lessens bit by bit. Together with my husband, I know we are making the best choices and have backup plans in case things go a little haywire. More importantly, we are setting up the best chances for our family to make lasting memories.