Travelling with Arthritis

Growing up on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory one thing I learnt quickly was how to travel with arthritis. My family travelled with me every six months to receive treatment from my Paediatric Rheumatology Team in Perth, Western Australia, and later on when I went to boarding school in Townsville, there were more plane trips. When I was younger, and the arthritis wasn’t well controlled, I didn’t want to get out of bed let alone get on a plane. Thankfully I had a very understanding family who went  out of their way to help me cope with the rigours of long distance travel.

Tara’s Tips for Travelling with Arthritis

Planning and Preparation.
Book your accommodation and flights well in advance to ensure that there is enough time for the airline or accommodation to meet your needs.

Airline Travel

  • Limit the stops between your destinations when travelling by air, if this is not possible allow sufficient time between connecting flights.
  • If walking is a problem, request assistance and a wheelchair. If possible, request that you be allowed to board the plane before the other passengers to allow extra time to get settled.
  • Use the bathroom before boarding the plane.
  • Choose a seat with extra leg room – be aware though that some airlines may charge for this.
  • Ensure you have a lightweight suitcase on wheels. A small travel bag on wheels that can fit under the seat in front of you or in the overhead locker may be easier for you to use rather than a bag that you need to carry over your shoulder.

Wear comfortable clothing and footwear. You may be idle for long periods of time and stiffness may begin to set in. If you are like me and have arthritis in your fingers as well, you may have difficulty with undoing buttons, lacing shoes etc when the stiffness does set in.


  • Carry an adequate supply for the duration of your trip and carry them in your hand luggage, just in case your checked luggage is lost or delayed somewhere along the way. If your medication needs to be refrigerated, staff may be able to place them in the onboard refrigerator.
  • Take your prescription repeats – just in case your trip away is extended or your medication is accidentally lost.
  • Carry copies of a letter from your GP stating your medications (both prescription and non-prescription) and the dosages, and stating that it is for your own personal use. (If you are travelling overseas it may also be helpful to state them as follows e.g. Methotrexate tablets, 25mg tablet once a week. 10 weeks on holidays = 10 tablets). This may be useful if you are stopped in a foreign country and are quizzed as to why you are travelling with so many medications.
  • Check to make sure that the medications you are taking are legal in the countries you are visiting by contacting the relevant embassy or consulate in Australia.
  • For more information about travelling with medications please visit the Smart Traveller website.

Carry your own blanket. Several times I’ve travelled on a plane and been told there are no more blankets available. I find the stiffness really sets in when I’m cold and it may not be appreciated by the other passengers climbing over them to move around as often as I may need to. If you are short on room you can buy space bags which can be rolled up to remove the air from the contents.

Remember assistive equipment if needed. If you need assistive equipment such as walking aids, or shower equipment it may be easier to hire it at your destination then to try and take it with you while travelling.

Talk to your Doctor. If you are travelling overseas you may require vaccinations. Check with your doctor to make sure that they are safe for you to take with any medications you may be taking.

Travel Insurance. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.

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