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Sweatpants & Self Care | Packing Tips for Chronic Pain Survivors

By Emmie Arnold

I think I’m in the vast majority of people when I say that I love traveling and hate having to prepare for said traveling (pretty equally in intensity, in fact). Especially as someone with a bit less energy and more pain than the average person has, it’s important for me to be efficient in how I go about it. I’m going to let you in on my process because it just might help you with yours!

It’s segmented into little bits of time so that I’m not carrying clothes, bending and lifting objects, or doing chores for long blocks of time, things I know can tire me out. I only move things into bags at the last step of preparation!

Long before the trip (about a week for national travel; more than a week for international travel):

  • Make sure that my medication stashes will last me long enough. I usually get things through Express Scripts (mailed to me in a 90-day supply), so the answer is usually yes, but if I need to get multiple people to help me (doctor, insurance company, pharmacy, etc.), I need to budget enough time for all of them to get their jobs done well.
  • Look at the itinerary to start figuring out the very base level of what I’ll need or want with me. What’s the weather at this time of year? What sorts of activities am I hoping to do or am expected to be at (and which ones might I pass on)? What book or other solitary activity am I having fun with these days so that I can be alone and enjoy myself? Basically, I go through my standard packing list mentally, but not physically. (In so doing, I get myself looking forward to the trip in order to make the rest of my preparations a little easier, and to just have fun day-dreaming).
    • Keep a running note on my phone of random items not on my my standard packing list that I’ll need to pack eventually, but would otherwise likely forget.
      • For example, as I prepare for my trip to Israel, I’ll want to bring more hiking gear than I would need to bring to go to Northern New Jersey, and this note helps me remember the little things like “hiking boots” that I’d be bummed to leave behind.
      • Another example is if I see that I’m using a particular medical device a lot recently – say, a heating pad – I might add it just in case.

    Shortly before the trip (a few days):

    • Put all my medications into organizers for the length of the trip plus 2 days (just in case I get stranded somewhere). I like this particular organizer because it’s easy to open and quite roomy.
    • Check my toiletry bag to see if the items are stocked.
    • Do laundry so there’s enough clothing, if that’s a concern.

    Right before the trip (a few hours to a day):

    • Actually put the things in the bags.
    • Leave enough time to get rest before your actual travels, if I can.

    During the trip itself:

    • Ask for help (if I need it) carrying or moving my luggage because I want to be energetic and ready to go for the fun things that are to come. The person behind me on the plane is likely not going to have any problem if I ask them to lift my bag for me, whereas it would be taxing for me.
    • Once I get to my destination(s), I live as neatly as possible so that it’s far easier to pack up again.
    • Say “no” to activities I don’t feel well enough to do or don’t have much interest in (and be honest about it – something as simple as “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m going to pass!”). Say “yes” to the ones I couldn’t imagine going home happy without, even if I think I might not be able to do all of it.
    • Listen to my body constantly.
    • Enjoy.

Emmie Arnold

Emmie Arnold is a follower of Jesus, survivor and thriver, graduate student of divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary, blogger at Illness to Wellness, musician, photographer, traveler, goofball, and optimist.

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