Tips for Traveling with Chronic Pain & Injuries



Other than the post where I talk about my lovely experience getting parasites in Mexico, this is my most personal post to date. From breaking my arm when I was two years old to getting in a bad car accident last year, I’ve had more injuries than I can keep up with. I’ve had surgery and casts and lots of physical therapy, though I’ve surprisingly never gotten stitches! (There have been a few times I probably should have gotten stitches, but Band-aids and gauze have worked well enough so far)

Growing up with three brothers, I was somehow the only one who was constantly getting injured (sorry, Mom and Dad!). I’ve done everything from small injuries like breaking a finger playing ultimate frisbee to more serious injuries like getting my ankle twisted and stuck under a car when I was 10. I’m so used to getting injured and dealing with the pain that when I was 11 years old, I broke my arm five minutes into a soccer game and continued to play the rest of the game. #truestory

Most of my injuries have healed for the most part and don’t cause me pain anymore (I do have a shoulder joint that’s permanently out of place, but it surprisingly rarely hurts), but I do have a few injuries that will most likely give me problems for the rest of my life. My left ankle was shattered and required surgery when I was 12 years old (I have titanium in my ankle and sometimes set off metal detectors!), and I’ve developed arthritis since it didn’t heal well. Yep, I was a teenager with arthritis. And like I mentioned before, I was in a car accident last year that messed up my back, neck, and right knee. It could have been a lot worse, but my knee and back still cause me pain every day. After so many injuries throughout my life, I’m used to the pain, so I can still exercise and do daily activities for the most part.

I’m addicted to traveling, so I’ve never let any of my injuries get in my way, but I’ve learned some things to prevent pain from getting worse so I can enjoy my travels. And I’ve teamed up with some other bloggers to get their tips for traveling with injuries so their diverse experiences can help you, too!

tips for traveling with injuries

Know your limits

With my ankle and knee messed up, I’ll never be able to do something like hike Mt. Everest without problems. Even smaller hikes with stairs or inclines cause me pain, so I’ve had to miss out on things or limit myself. On my recent trip to Italy, I found out the hard way that basically the entire Amalfi Coast has stairs and steep inclines to get anywhere, which isn’t an easy task, even for people without physical injuries. I had to pace myself and take breaks when needed, and while it’s a great experience for other people, I knew there was no way I could complete the Path of the Gods hike. The view would have been incredible, but I would rather not have the pain from the hike up steep stairs.

On the other end of the spectrum, my back hurts if I sit for too long so I need to stay active. So on airplane rides, I constantly have to stand up and stretch, even on short trips. It may look weird for me to be stretching on a plane ride, but I know I can’t sit long without stretching, so I do it anyway!

Take your medications with you (and keep them handy)

I don’t take any pain medicine other than over-the-counter things like Motrin because stronger medicine makes me sick, but I do have medications for other things. I have vertigo, and while it’s under control now, there are things that can trigger nausea and dizzy spells. I know to avoid things like spinning rides at amusement parks, but other things can catch me off guard. On the flight back from Mexico, we hit the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced and I never felt so nauseated and sick in my life, but my vertigo medication was in my bag in the bin above the seats and the turbulence was so bad that we weren’t allowed to stand up for anything. So make sure you have the medication you need, and make sure you have it handy!

I also have a rare eye disease, and, thankfully, it’s mostly under control now and flare-ups where I can’t even open my eyes don’t happen as often anymore, but they do still happen. I have steroid eye drops for when I have flare-ups, and once I was on a trip in Colorado without my eye drops, and, you guessed it, I had a bad flare up. I was a teenager at the time and didn’t have a credit card, so it was a whole complicated thing with my mom in North Carolina going back and forth with my eye doctor there and a pharmacy in Colorado with my eyes getting worse until it was sorted out. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson!

traveling with injuries

Learn the safe way to carry prescription medications while traveling

“All countries have different rules regarding taking medications into their country. I recommend always checking which medications are allowed in the country before you travel and check the amount they allow you carry. You should always have a copy of your prescription and ensure everything is labelled correctly. Also, it is best to carry a letter from your doctor listing the medications you require and the name of your condition. All medications should be kept in the original containers and make sure they don’t expire during your travels. It is also worth remembering these rules apply even if it is a brief stop over somewhere. I think it is a good idea to keep some in your hand luggage and some in your hold luggage so you have a supply if any luggage gets lost.”

-Jo from Rejecting Routine writes about being a family trying to break free from life’s routine. She wants to reject routine and gain freedom to spend time as a family and do the things she loves. She is slowly trying to change her family’s life to move away from 9-5 jobs with very little opportunity to spend any time exploring the world, and recently took her kids on their first proper trip away to Sri Lanka for a month.
Follow Jo on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

You don’t have to keep up with everyone else

“It can be hard to admit that you are slower or unable to carry as much as your fellow travelers. I have previously pushed myself too far trying to keep up with everyone and it just ended up with me struggling for the rest of the trip. Just be honest. I have found people would rather know your limits and have always been happy to help if needed. I am very fortunate to have a husband  that is willing to carry almost all our luggage when I am struggling!”

-Jo from Rejecting Routine

Don’t be afraid to spend money

“One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I injured my knee was underestimating my injury. I didn’t think that my hurt knee would turn into a big deal, so I decided to keep my itinerary as planned. Instead of spending some time and money to visit a clinic to get it checked out, I kept walking on it 10+ hours a day! To protect my knee, I should have spent the time and money to get it checked out sooner. Even though I would probably have given up some valuable time, my knee was a problem far longer than it should have been, preventing me from traveling as much as I wanted later! When traveling, don’t be afraid to spend money on things like private transportation, luggage check-in, and buying things for convenience rather than holding off! Any way you are able to take care of your injury or chronic pain, especially in your legs, is money well-spent.”

tips for traveling with injuries

-Alice from Wherever I Want writes and vlogs about travel tips to Make Anywhere Possible for the curious traveler. She focuses on leveraging frequent flyer miles to get international flights as cheap as $25, and using the experiences of other travelers to craft your perfect itinerary. She also writes guides of attractions and reviews of her own itineraries so that travelers to places she’s been can spend their time soaking in the experience, not doing research.
Follow Alice on Instagram, Facebook, TwitterPinterest, and YouTube.

Don’t be afraid to ask for different accommodations

“I was traveling with my mother in Sikkim and she got infected by Chikungunya, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes that caused the sudden onset of fever and severe joint pain. If you’re in pain, explain the situation to the hotel manager and request to accommodate you in a room on the ground or first floor. Climbing up and down stairs can be excruciating and exhausting, so you better avoid it. I have found most hotel managers are willing to cooperate as they want to come across as helpful and flexible, which is very important in the hospitality industry.”

-Shaurya from Asian Tours and Holidays, a treasure trove some of the most interesting articles about Kerala, India and travel. She helps craft tours for an unforgettable experience.
Follow Shaurya on Facebook

Dress for your comfort

“Sometimes Indian dresses can be a bit difficult to carry. And when you are already in pain you can’t afford to wear fancy Sarees. You can’t dress to impress, so casual and comfortable clothes are your best friends when you are traveling with pain, even if it means wearing the same clothes multiple times during the trip.”

-Shaurya from Asian Tours and Holidays

Be kind to yourself

“After slipping and breaking a few ribs while we were travelling, I realized the importance of being kind to yourself. You may have a long list of things to do and places to visit while you are in a certain place but when you are in pain you need to be realistic. If you can’t climb to the top of that fortress do not worry, while sitting enjoying the view from halfway up you will have a different sort of experience. Enjoy what you can do and don’t stress about what you can’t. Some days, we went to places and I just sat in the sun and read my book as that was all I could manage, my husband went of and did things I could not manage. Meanwhile, I got the chance to chat to locals and learn a little about their lives. So be kind and take each day as it comes and do not have regrets.”

traveling with injuries

-Michele from Legging It writes with her partner, Ron, about traveling the world and embracing life after they spent three years travelling by motorcycle around Europe.
Follow Michele and Ron on Instagram and Facebook.

I hope this tips help anyone traveling with pain or injuries! If you have any other tips from your experiences, I would love to hear them!

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  1. This is actually the first time I read something about this in a travel blog. As a blogger (with some chronic pains myself) I read a lot of blogs and despite some stories about things that go wrong (that are usually told as anecdotes), pain seems so be a tabu, even more when we are young. It`s like it´s mandatory that if you want to be successful in the travel industry, you have to be this mix of a super-model/wonder woman/Indiana Jones kind of girl. Let`s hike this mountain – in a beautiful long dress, of course – and don`t you THINK OF complaining even if it`s of blisters! Pain? CHRONIC PAIN??? We don`t know what this is, unless you`ve just walked the Wall of China in 3 hours AND hiked the Everest in the same day.

    It was actually really refreshing to read your post. My pains don`t stop me from doing things so far, mostly because I`m way too curious/stubborn to let them stop me, but I had shoulder surgery and working as a photographer carrying and shooting with a camera that weights almost 6 pounds for 12 hours a day while traveling can be excruciating at the end of the day. I also have a problem with my hips that hurts when I seat, so plain rides can be a challenge. Still, just smile, shoot, and never talk about it to anyone other than my mom…

    So THANK YOU for this article, and for bringing up this!

    • Julia says:

      I’m so glad my post resonated with you! I agree that the travel industry doesn’t portray travel accurately, which is what inspired me to write this post. I hope travelers with injuries or disorders can see that they can travel and nothing should hold them back!

  2. Karen says:

    These are fantastic tips. I know for a lot of people chronic pain can stop them (especially from flying). Not an issue for me, but still love these tips. 🙂

  3. Rebecca says:

    Wow, thank you for sharing this with us! Sometimes I find myself having constant knee pain or back pain and it’s really hard to slow down especially when you’re with a group of people but your health must come first! Thank you for these tips – bookmarking!


  4. Really great tips for anyone who needs a little bit more inspiration and needs to know they can still travel despite living with chronic pain. 🙂

  5. Ivana says:

    These are some awesome tips! You really have been through it all. Good to know it’s not keeping you from travelling!

  6. Kelly says:

    Thank youso much for sharing. And I am s glad you made it out of that car accident okay but chrnic pain is no fun. Also love the tips about medication because I take medication and sometimes forget that regulations vary by country. Great post!

  7. tracy says:

    What an amazing post. Chronic pain can also be caused by “invisible” diseases such as crohn’s or colitis. It’s important to speak up when you suffer from pain. Thank you for such an honest post with great advice.

  8. Ferna says:

    This is a great advice Julia, especially that I have a friend who needs this the most. Way to Go!

  9. Minna says:

    I completely get this post! I also have a chronic illness and sometimes it’s hard to tell my SO that I can’t walk to the top of that mountain or even get out of bed that day. It’s always nice to hear others advice!

  10. Salomé says:

    Thank you for all those amazing tips. That’s so wonderful that you are traveling even though you have chronic pains. ??

  11. Liz says:

    Thanks a lot for this useful advice! So many people suffer from chronic pain and it might hold them back from exploring. I am sorry to hear about all your injuries but you are a great role model for all those who need to be encouraged!

  12. Ro says:

    Thank you for sharing, Julia! There are so many people who love to travel but fear that with their chronic pain they might not be able to. I love that this post encourages them and shows them ways they can still travel without further harming themselves such as knowing your limits, etc. Thank you and the fellow bloggers in this post for sharing this and being honest with us about what has worked for you! <3

  13. Alice Chen says:

    These are such amazing tips!! I wish I had thought of all of them when I first injured my knee – they would have helped a lot!

    I’m so happy to contribute to this post!

  14. Alyse says:

    Julia, this is a testament to your dedication to traveling, your craft, and living your life to the fullest against your physical obstacles. I loved the honesty in this post. It’s definitely important to know your limits and work around them instead of trying to “keep up.” Also, you must be hella strong to have endured so much physical injury!

  15. Shari e says:

    Great advice! I always make plans ahead of time to take my hearing loss into account when I travel.

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