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The Ultimate Guide to Traveling With Chronic Pain

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The Ultimate Guide to Traveling With Chronic Pain

Harlan VaughnThe Ultimate Guide to Traveling With Chronic PainMillion Mile Secrets Team

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For those who live with chronic pain, daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and showering can be difficult and exhausting.  So traveling by air, ground, train, or water requires extra planning and precautions.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel to see more of the world.

Often, chronic pain is invisible to those on the outside, which can make interactions difficult, especially when it flares without warning.  This can include anything from arthritis or fibromyalgia to lyme disease.  Just because others can’t see it doesn’t mean you don’t feel it.

We’ve put together a guide on how to travel if you’re living with chronic pain – which can be tension headaches, back or hip pain, knee replacements, and complications from surgery.  We’ll cover what to pack, questions to ask, and much more.

That way, you can take advantage of free or cheap award travel with the best airline credit cards to earn miles and points.  With preparation, you can take amazing trips for pennies on the dollar!

Chronic Pain Can Be Invisible to Others and Difficult to Manage. But It Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Travel! All It Takes Is a Little Extra Planning

We’ll share our best tips with you in this guide!

Table of Contents:

Before the Trip: How to Pack for Travel When You Suffer From Chronic Pain

Giving yourself extra time to pack for traveling when you have chronic pain will help you prepare for your journey, and reduce stress because you’ll know you have everything you need to manage it.

Be sure to fill your prescriptions well before your trip, and have enough with you for the duration of your time away.  Pack them in your carry-on bag (never in your checked luggage!) and put it within quick reach.  Consider taking a small bag to carry with you throughout your entire journey, so they’ll always be close at hand.

Pack other helpful items like a heating pack, a neck pillow for long flights or train rides, and a good pair of shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking or sightseeing on your trip.  Bring along a note from your doctor explaining your condition, and a list of the medications you’re taking, in case you need to show it for medical assistance or to get through the TSA checkpoint at the airport.

Always Pack Any Required Prescriptions in Your Carry-On Luggage. And Bring Other Items to Make Your Journey Comfortable, Like a Heating Pad and Good Shoes

Another suggestion is to ship your luggage to your destination so you don’t have to hassle with lugging your stuff as you travel.  Keep a bag with your essentials, and let the rest be there waiting for your arrival.

Check out companies like Luggage Free, LugLess, and Send My Bag to handle delivery directly to your hotel or other location.  It’s one more thing to do before you travel, but can make your experience easier and more convenient.

Air Travel With Chronic Pain

If you suffer from chronic pain, any flight can bring dread.  Cramped seats, limited recline, and ever-shrinking lavatories are difficult, whether your flight is a quick hop or several hours.

If the idea of sitting in coach is daunting, especially when suffering from chronic pain, consider using the best airline credit cards so you can redeem miles and points toward a bigger seat in Business or First Class.

For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is an easy way to redeem your points for travel.  Or you can transfer your points directly to airline partners at a 1:1 ratio, including British Airways, United Airlines, and Southwest.

The bonus points you earn can be worth $1,000+ in travel if you follow our tricks to get the most from them.  Here’s our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  It’s the #1 card we recommend to those starting out with miles and points!

Seat Upgrades are One of the Best Benefits of Elite Status. These Upgrades are Easy to get on Alaska Airlines Flights Domestically (Since They Reserve up to 50% of First Class for Upgrades), But Internationally I Have No Hope of This Comfort. This is a Huge Frustration.
Use Miles & Points to Treat Yourself to a Big, Roomy Seat in Business or First Class So You Can Stretch and Relax During Your Journey

To make a trip more relaxing, try to book your airline travel as early as possible, so you can select a comfortable aisle seat.  This will make it easier for you to get up throughout the flight to stretch your legs.  Even if you’re seated, you have more breathing room with the aisle next to you as opposed to a middle or window seat.

Avoid booking seats in the back of the plane.  There are 2 reasons for this:  First, the back row of seats on a plane usually do not give you room to recline.  Second, you’ll feel turbulence more at the back of the plane, which can be painful if you have chronic pain.  If possible, book more toward the front or middle of the plane.

If you feel an aisle or forward seat is a medical necessity, get a note from your doctor and present it to the gate agent before you board.  They can be your ally and help shuffle seats to make you more comfortable.

Arriving at the Airport

Get to the airport early to give yourself plenty of time to check bags, go through security, and find your gate, especially if you need to arrange wheelchair access.

Tips for Going Through Security

Getting through security is rough for everyone, but can be more difficult with chronic pain.

Consider getting TSA PreCheck to make going through security less stressful.  There are many travel rewards credit cards that come with a statement credit for TSA PreCheck.  Sign-up for one of these cards to maximize your travel savings and save you time getting through security.

TSA PreCheck Can Get You Through Security, and to Your Gate, Much Faster

If you have chronic pain or nerve disorders, you may dread going through security because of the chance you’ll have a pat down.  Because even a small touch can be painful for chronic pain sufferers.

If you’re selected, let a TSA agent know they need to be gentle during the pat down.  TSA has the option for a private room with seats, if it makes you more comfortable.

And remember, normal liquid restrictions don’t apply to required medications.  If you need liquid medicine during your trip, be sure to let an agent know so they can screen your other liquids separately.

Waiting for Your Flight

Once you’re through security, get to your gate early.  If you’re able, move around and keep your blood flowing, because when you get on the plane, you may be sitting for a while before you can stand up.

And if you have time, enjoy an airport lounge!  Kick back, have a beverage and snack, and prepare for your flight.  You may have free access with certain credit cards that come with lounge access, like The Business Platinum® Card from American Express.  This card gives you entry to Delta Sky Club (if you’re flying Delta that day), Priority Pass, Airspace, and American Express Centurion Lounges!

Other cards to consider include Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Citi Prestige.

Airport Lounges Have Comfy Seats and Quiet Spots to Relax Before You Board Your Flight

If you have a longer layover, take advantage of an airport spa, like XpresSpa, which has 56 locations in 22 airports.  A back massage will help ease the stress of traveling.

Don’t want to spend money at a spa?  Some airports that have a yoga and meditation rooms, including:

  • Burlington International Airport (BTV)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Chicago Midway Airport (MDW)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Helsinki Airport (HEL)
  • Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
  • London Gatwick Airport (LGW)
  • London Heathrow (LHR)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • New York (JFK)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

When it’s close to boarding time, make sure you’re near the gate.  If you feel need assistance, like a different seat or more time to board, tell the gate agent at this point.

Wheelchair Help at the Airport

Wheelchair assistance is available if you need it.  The Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) requires airlines to let you use your wheelchair, mobility scooter, or walker to the aircraft boarding door, where they will then gate check it, and return it to you upon arrival.  The airport will arrange an aisle seat for you, too.

If You Need a Wheelchair, Call Ahead to Arrange Accommodations at the Airport for Boarding and Aisle Access

And if you feel like you need it, call the airline in advance to arrange a wheelchair to help you through the airport.  Airlines have a number you can call to arrange this.  Try to call for this accommodation at least 48 hours before departure so they airline can take care of you when you arrive.

For reference, here’s wheelchair and accessibility information for the top 15 airports in the US:

AirportAccessible RestroomsHandicap ParkingWheelchair Service
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)Yes, all restrooms are accessible. Family restrooms are located near gates A6, B4, C7, D5, E5, E15 and Arrivals/Baggage area, Zones B and E.Handicap parking is available in all CLT lots and accessible shuttles run continuously. If assistance is needed, please call 704-359-4038. If you wish to park your vehicle and escort a disabled passenger into the terminal, it is recommended that you park in the Hourly Deck in front of the terminal. The first hour of parking in the Hourly Deck is free.Contact your airline prior to travel for wheelchairs, passenger loading lifts, personal assistance throughout a connection or escort assistance for minors.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)All restrooms located throughout the terminals are fully accessible to travelers with disabilities. Unisex toilet rooms equipped for the disabled are also available throughout the terminals and are located adjacent to the accessible men’s and women’s toilet rooms.Disabled permit parking is available in signed areas of all parking lots and garages. In the Terminal garages, disabled parking is on both the upper arrival and lower departures roadways. One-hour areas may be utilized for long-term parking as long as the vehicle displays a disabled parking tag or license plate. Due to TSA and height restrictions garages at some terminals are not van accessible.

Express and Remote lots are served by wheelchair accessible shuttle buses. DFW Airport Valet parking is also available at all terminals.
Wheelchair service is offered through your air carrier upon request. To ensure availability and timely service, it’s recommended that reservations be made in advance. However, wheelchair assistance may be requested at airline ticket counters.
Denver International Airport (DEN)Large, private Unisex/Family restrooms are located throughout Jeppesen Terminal and on each concourse.
All restrooms are handicap accessible.
Denver International Airport provides accessible parking spaces at all airport-owned parking facilities. In the East and West parking garages, these spaces are located next to entry doors into Jeppesen Terminal, on garage Levels 1, 2, 4 and 5 (no accessible parking is available on Level 3).

If using outlying parking options, such as economy or shuttle lots, accessible spaces are located near the pickup/dropoff shelters in the Economy West and Economy East parking lots, and at the Pikes Peak and Mt. Elbert Shuttle lots. All vans and buses serving these lots are lift-equipped. Wheelchair or electric cart service is available from your airline. For more information call (303) 342-4650.
Your airline can provide you with wheelchair or electric cart service
Request a wheelchair from the airline in advance or at the ticket counter
George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)Airport restrooms are wheelchair accessible, and family restrooms that accommodate companion care are located throughout the airport.Accessible parking spaces are located on all levels at all airport-owned parking garages as well as at ecopark and ecopark2. Shuttles from ecopark locations to the airport that accommodate wheelchairs are available. Customers may call 1-281-233-1786 to inquire about accessible parking and shuttle service.Wheelchair service is provided by airlines for passengers and should be requested when booking travel.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)All restroom facilities are fully equipped for wheelchair access. Four sets of “Men/Women” restrooms are located on each concourse. One set is located at either end, and two sets are centrally located on each concourse. Two sets are in the Airport’s Domestic Terminal atrium, including one set in the arrival’s lobby. Additional restrooms are located at the International Terminal, with a set on both the departure and arrival levels.

Unisex family restrooms for those traveling with an attendant are located throughout the Airport:

Domestic terminal arrival’s lobby (2)
T2, T4, T8 and T12
A6 and A27
B9, B23 and B27
C15, C18 and C37
D4 and D32
F4, F6, F9, F12 Concourse F mezzanine level, departure level and arrival level
An adult changing table is located in the family bathroom at Concourse F departure level near French Meadow Cafe.
Parking for passengers with disabilities is available in all Airport parking areas. Once you enter the parking lot, just follow the signs to the designated parking spaces, which are closest to the Airport’s terminals.

Passengers with disabilities are encouraged to use the Airport “Park-Ride” facility, which offers convenient service to the domestic terminal. A free, wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus will pick up passengers at their vehicle and take them to curbside check-in.

Vans taller than 8 feet should park in “Park-Ride” lots. Upon returning to Hartsfield-Jackson, “Park-Ride” customers are picked up at the ground transportation area. “Park-Ride” parking rates are $1 per hour and $9 per day.

For additional information, contact ABM-Lanier-Hunt 24 hours a day at (404) 530-6725.
Airline representatives are available to provide wheelchair assistance. To reserve a wheelchair, contact the airline directly before your scheduled flight. Passengers with limited English proficiency should contact their airline for language assistance.

Due to partial closures on the North Terminal roadways, passengers who need wheelchair assistance for drop-off between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. should contact their airline’s wheelchair company at least five minutes before arriving at the Airport.

Prime Flight (Air Canada, Alaska, American, Contour, Spirit and Turkish) – 404-530-7049
Prospect (JetBlue, Southwest and United) – 404-209-0503
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)Each terminal has at least one wheelchair accessible restroom. If you need assistance locating one, just ask at the information booth located on the Arrivals Level in any of the terminals.The terminals and parking lots at JFK are divided into five areas, each specified by a separate color. For your convenience, the parking lots nearest the terminal entrances have a limited number of spaces for travelers with disabilities. To park in the spaces, official license plates issued by a municipality or state of residence must be prominently displayed. Parking fees for these vehicles are equal to the lowest rate available at the airport.Contact your airline prior to travel for wheelchairs. If you’re traveling with a motorized wheelchair, please ask the airline when you purchase the ticket about their policies regarding battery-operated wheelchairs.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)Each terminal has at least one wheelchair accessible restroom. All parking facilities have designated handicap parking stalls. Requesting a Wheelchair

To Request wheelchair service, it is recommended you contact your airline 72 hours in advance. Wheelchair service is provide free of charge by your airline. Tipping is not required for wheelchair service. Most individuals requesting wheelchair assistance are transported via wheelchair from ticketing to their aircraft. Airlines are required to provide curbside wheelchair service when requested. On your return flight, you should remind a flight attendant near the end of your flight, that you will need a wheelchair upon arrival.


Curbside

Each airline is responsible for providing wheelchairs for their customers with disabilities, from curbside drop-off to the aircraft. Contact your airline's reservation desk a minimum of 72 hours prior to your flight to reserve wheelchair service. Wheelchair service is provided free of charge. Tipping is not required.


From Parking Structure

Airlines are not responsible for providing wheelchair service from parking structures to terminals.
McCarran International Airport (LAS)Unisex Family Restrooms are available for passengers with special needs; all restrooms throughout both terminals are equally accessible to each traveler.All parking facilities have designated handicap vehicle stalls located in close proximity to elevators or shuttle stops.Wheelchair services are provided free of charge by Gateway, Prospect, and SAS Services. Arrangements for service should be made in advance through your airline of choice, but guests may dial 7874 on any white courtesy phone, or 702-261-7874 from any phone.
Miami International Airport (MIA)Restrooms located throughout the terminal feature toilet compartments for travelers with disabilities. Unisex restrooms equipped for the disabled are also available throughout the terminal. Look for the internationally recognized disabled symbol.Designated disabled permit parking and stroller permit parking is conveniently located near the moving sidewalks on the 3rd level of the garages. Additional disabled permit parking, including van accessible spaces, are available on the easternmost ground level sections of the Dolphin and Flamingo garages.Wheelchair service is offered through your air carrier upon request. To ensure availability and timely service, it is strongly recommended that this service be reserved in advance. However, wheelchair assistance may also be requested at airline ticket counters.
Minneapolis-Sant Paul International Airport (MSP)Most restrooms at MSP have at least one accessible extra-wide stall equipped with side grab bars.

Companion care restrooms are located throughout both terminals. Consult a directory or information booth for the nearest location.
Special needs parking is available on every level of the ramps at both terminal buildings.

Terminal 1 parking ramps accommodate vehicles up to 7 feet tall for both Daily and Hourly parking. Short-Term parking at Terminal 2 accommodates vehicles up to 8 feet 2 inches tall, while clearance at the Value ramps is 6 feet 10 inches.

Parking for people who have vehicles with disability license plates or a disability tag is available in the parking ramps near the entrances to the terminals. Ramp parking rates apply.

Valet parking at Terminal 1 accommodates vehicles up to 7 feet tall with disability permits, but cannot accommodate vehicles with a wheelchair lift.
Before you fly, calling your airline to arrange wheelchair services, oxygen requirements and other accommodations will help ensure a smooth experience at the airport. Most airlines have options through their reservations systems that allow travelers to identify specific needs.
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)All restrooms are wheelchair accessible.The parking lots near the entrances of each terminal have a number of spaces designated for travelers with disabilities. To park in these spaces and receive the lowest parking rate, official license plates or permits issued by a municipality or state of residence must be prominently displayed.Contact your airline prior to travel for wheelchairs. If you’re traveling with a motorized wheelchair, please ask the airline when you purchase the ticket about their policies regarding battery-operated wheelchairs.
O'Hare International Airport (ORD)All restrooms located throughout the airport have wheelchair accessible facilities. In addition, there are Unisex / Family Companion Restrooms located in all terminals.

Terminal 1 - B14 (2), B10, C19(2), Baggage Claim (2)
Terminal 2 - Across from the Children's Museum (2), E5, Baggage Claim
Terminal 3 - G11, Rotunda, H14, H2, H5, H12 (2), K1 (2), L10, L21, L24 L5, Baggage Claim (2)
Terminal 5 - Near Security Checkpoint, Food Court Area
O'Hare offers 325 accessible parking spaces in its parking facilities. All spaces are located adjacent to elevator centers, sidewalks, bus stops and the Airport Transit System (ATS) platform in Economy Lot E. All accessible parking spaces are wide enough to allow for lift or ramp access, but not all provide sufficient height for traditional accessible vans. Below is a breakdown of the number of spaces and height restrictions for each lot.

Garage: Level 1 (17), Level 2 (18), Level 3 (18), Level 4 (19), Level 5 (17) Level 6 (19) // Height Restriction 6'6"
Lot B: 9 spaces // Height Restriction 9'
Lot C: 11 spaces // Height Restriction 8'5"
Lot D (International Lot): 18 spaces // Height Restriction - None
Lot E: 118 spaces // Main Entrance - Height Restriction 17' 2', Side Entrance - Temporarily Closed
Lot G: 39 spaces // Height Restriction - None
Lot H: 22 spaces // Height Restriction - None

All shuttle busses from the ATS Platform to the Remote Parking Lots are fully accessible.
For more information, please call the Parking Information Hotline at (773) 686-7530
Contact your airline prior to travel if you need wheelchair assistance
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)Each terminal has at least one family restroom with a private area to change clothing or disposable undergarments. Ask for directions at any information desk.Accessible parking is available in all garages closest to the elevators. In the East Economy lot, accessible parking is available north of the PHX Sky Train Station. In the West Economy Park & Walk, accessible parking is available at the east end closest to Terminal 2.

If you need extra time at the curb, Airport staff on the curb may issue Special Needs permits.

Over height or oversize parking is available in the uncovered economy parking areas and Oversized Vehicle parking area east of Terminal 4.
Request a wheelchair when checking in and tell a flight attendant during the flight. If you are departing, you may request a wheelchair from a Sky Cap at the curb or from a Sky Cap or the airline on the ticketing level of the terminal. You can also request wheelchair service ahead of time when you book your tickets with your airline. Ask your airline about traveling with power chair batteries.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)Companion Care Restrooms for travelers needing companion assistance are located in all terminals, pre-security and post-security. All airport parking facilities have convenient parking for vehicles displaying a:

DP (Disabled Person) license plate
DV (Disabled Veteran) license plate
Disabled Parking placard
The Domestic Garage has standard parking at all levels. Van accessible parking is available through ParkVALET on Level 4 Departures near Terminal 1, Boarding Area C.

International Garages A and G have standard and van accessible parking at all levels.

In Long-Term Parking, accessible parking spaces for standard and van accessible vehicles are located on the first (ground) floor. SFO's Long-Term Parking shuttle buses are wheelchair accessible.
Travelers requiring wheelchair assistance are encouraged to advise their airline of their needs when making flight arrangements. Upon arriving at the airport, travelers with wheelchair or other special requests should approach an airline representative for assistance.

At Domestic Terminals 1, 2, and 3, airline staff can be approached at curbside and check-in areas. At the International Terminal, please proceed to your airline's assigned counter or dial 1-6210 from specially marked phones at all terminal entry doors.

Arrangements for assistance to and from other locations at SFO can be made with your airline.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)Restrooms are located on both the Ticketing and Baggage Claim levels of the Main Terminal as well as on concourses A, B, C, and D, and in the North and South Satellite.ADA-designated parking spaces are available in both General Parking on the fifth floor and in Terminal Direct Parking on the fourth floor. Vehicles properly displaying valid disabled permit identification may use these spaces. Sea-Tac Airport provides complimentary wheelchair service from Link Light Rail Station to check-in through Prospect Airport Services.

How To Arrange Wheelchair Service:

Contact Prospect Airport Services at 206-246-1550 prior to your arrival at the airport to make a reservation.
Exit train and take the elevator or escalator down to the lobby of the Link Light Rail Station.
Call Prospect Airport Services at to confirm your arrival. Prospect Airport Services staff will meet you in the station lobby. (Note: Follow signs towards the side of the station lobby leading to the parking garage and airport building.)
If you need assistance getting from the airline ticket counter through security and to your gate, please arrange this directly with your airline.
This service is provided at no charge, but gratuities are greatly appreciated.

From Your Ticket Counter to Your Departure Gate

Please contact your airline directly to make a reservation prior to your arrival at the airport.

From Your Arrival Gate to Baggage Claim

Please contact your airline directly to make a reservation prior to your arrival at the airport.

Wheelchair Rental

In addition to luggage carts, Smarte Carte offers wheelchair rentals from several locations on the Baggage Claim level. See our interactive map for help locating a rental station.

Ground Travel With Chronic Pain

Lots of folks get back pain during long car rides.  And for those with chronic pain, soreness can elevate to extremes.  Here’s what to watch for when traveling by ground if you have chronic pain.

Renting a Car

If you need a rental car for your trip:

  • Rent a vehicle that gives you enough room to be comfortable, whether you plan on driving or being a passenger
  • Find a deal on a larger, roomier SUV, instead of a small sedan
  • Opt for automatic opening doors and trunk, so you won’t have to strain your hands or reach

Save on a Car Rental With Points

Using search engines like Hotwire and Costco Travel can maximize your savings with a car rental.  It helps to be flexible with your time, date, or destination.  And if you have a Chase or Citi credit card, you can use the Chase or Citi travel portal to find a cheap rental.

Paying for your rental with the right credit card can save you more money.  Some of our favorite cards come with primary car rental coverage, which means you can decline the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) offered by the car rental agency.  This covers physical damage and damage due to theft, loss-of-use charges, and towing for the rental car if you get into an accident (up to the coverage limit), without requiring you to file a claim with your personal car insurance company.

That said, the primary car rental insurance will NOT cover damage to the other car, property damage, or injuries to you or others.  You will still be liable for those damages, and your personal car insurance policy may cover those claims.

Get a Free Car Rental When You Pay With Credit Card Points. You Can Even Filter for a Bigger Car If You Need More Room

Note if you charge a car rental to a credit card that offers secondary car rental insurance, and decline the CDW, you will be responsible for the deductible through your personal insurance if you get into an accident.  It will NOT cover damage to the other car, any property damage, and injuries to you or others.

Once you’ve found your rental, plan your route and rest areas so you can get out and stretch.  If the drive is longer than 5 hours, consider breaking it up into a 2-day trip.  Make sure to rest before and during your trip, because exhaustion can exacerbate the chronic pain.  Rest is never overrated!

Find a Handicap Accessible Vehicle

If you need to rent a handicap accessible vehicle, there’s a bit more research to do. Most national companies do NOT offer handicap accessible vans.  Accessible Vans of America has a network of wheelchair van dealers.  Just search their website for locations near you and give the closest one a call for pricing.

UberWAV

Soon, you’ll be able to request a ride in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle through Uber, just as you would request a regular Uber.  UberWAV drivers will be certified in safety driving and assisting people with disabilities. Right now, UberWAV is pilot testing in Chicago, Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia.  If you’re traveling in one of those cities, try out UberWAV as a form of ride-sharing transportation.

Keep an Eye out for UberWAV If You Need Wheelchair Accessible Rides

Lyft

The Lyft app has a setting for passengers to request a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

Similar to requesting a regular Lyft, enter your destination to find a ride.  The difference is you have to swipe left until you find the “More” tab where, if available, a wheelchair accessible ride will show up.

Lyft Has a Setting For Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles, Though Availability Might Be Limited, Depending on Your Location and Time

Upon closing and re-entering the app, I was given a prompt to call a number to request a wheelchair accessible ride.

You must book many accessible vehicle dispatches at least 24 hours in advance.  Lyft has a list of wheelchair accessible dispatches on their website.  Consider looking into this well before your trip, as some companies have an enrollment process that can take weeks to complete.

Taxis and Cabs

Various taxi companies have wheelchair accessible vehicles available.  Click here for a list of local wheelchair accessible taxis.

Traveling by Train With Chronic Pain

Taking a train is the most comfortable option for those living with chronic pain.  Not only do you have more space to sit (because most train seats are larger than airline seats), but you can stand up and stretch in the cabin during the ride.  Make yourself comfortable when you:

  • Book a front-facing seat.  If you’re prone to motion sickness, it’s better to face the direction you’re going as opposed to a rear-facing seat
  • Pack an inflatable seat cushion or lumbar support pillow for comfort while sitting.  Pack a blanket and travel pillow if you plan on sleeping during the ride
  • Bring your own snacks!  Take a walk around the cabin afterwards to help digest.  Remember, airline liquid rules don’t apply, so you can bring your water on board, too!

Train Discounts

Amtrak offers a 10% discount if you have a disability.  All you need is documentation, like a letter from your doctor.  Children with a disability are eligible for the everyday 50% discount, plus an additional 10% off discounted child’s fare.

Folks with disabilities on the Downeaster train from Boston to Portland are eligible for a 50% discount.  Booking is simple, as it’s just like booking a regular ticket, except you’ll need to select the Passenger With Disability (PWD) open from the “Discounts” dropdown menu.

Select “Passenger With Disability” From the Dropdown Menu to Get a Discount on Your Train Fare

Assistance at various stations seems spotty.  Upon checkout for my ticket from Boston to Portland,  I got a message saying “in-station assistance is not available” at the stations I selected.  The trains I chose were in the middle of the day on a Friday, so it seems odd to NOT have assistance available.

Calling Ahead for Special Needs Might Be Your Best Bet to Ensure You Get the Help You Need

That said, if you feel comfortable getting on and off the train, just be sure to pack a letter from your doctor in case you need it.  These fares can save you a lot of money for your trip!

Use Points for an Amtrak Trip

Amtrak has a straightforward rewards program, as the cost of a ticket using points is based on the cash price.  There are no blackout dates or award fees.

One of the easiest ways to collect Amtrak points is with a Bank of America Amtrak credit card.  The best option is the Bank of America Amtrak Rewards® World Mastercard®, because you can earn 20,000 Amtrak points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.  You also get an annual companion coupon you can use for a ride!

Some people don’t like taking trains because of how long it takes.  But taking a train can have advantages.  It can be cheaper than flying, you don’t have to worry about going through security, and it’s more comfortable than most airline seats and cars – plus, no driving.

Traveling on a Ship With Chronic Pain

Taking a cruise is a great experience for all ages.  And it’s friendly and accommodating for those with disabilities.  Besides the excursions off the boat, you won’t have to do much traveling once you’re on board, so you get to kick back and enjoy your vacation!

Before your trip:

  • Make sure all the ports of departure are ADA compliant.  All US ports are required to be ADA compliant, but that isn’t guaranteed if your cruise makes stops in other countries
  • Check with the cruise ship company to see if they need information ahead of time such as prescriptions and doctor’s notes.  This would be a good time to make special arrangements for your arrival and disembark, if needed
  • If you have a wheelchair, make sure your cabin is wheelchair accessible.  Try to book a cabin close to an elevator to make it easier to get around.  Look up excursions ahead of time to make special accommodations if necessary – many cruise ship lines have a ratings system for level of accessibility and difficulty

Many cruise ships cater to passengers with disabilities, with handicap accessible rooms available with roll-in showers, grab bars, and other customization.  While some activities can be physically straining, there’s always plenty to do even if you get exhausted.  How does a drink by the pool sound? 🙂

Booking a Cruise With Points

You can use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Citi ThankYou points to pay for a cruise.  You can see your options on the Chase or Citi travel website, but you can’t book it online.  Choose the cruise you want and call 855-234-2542 to book with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, or 800-842-6596 to book with Citi ThankYou points.

When you call, here’s a chance for you to verify any room details, like proximity to activities and elevators or accessibility features, and to discuss other concerns.

Redeem Points to Save Money on a Cruise. Just Make Sure Each Port, and Your Room, Has the Accessibility Features You’re Looking for

Each Chase Ultimate Rewards point is worth 1.25 cents for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders, and 1.5 cents for folks with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.  And those with a Citi Premier℠ Card get 1.25 cents in value toward travel from each point.

Finding Lodging When Traveling With Chronic Pain

Imagine you’ve made it through your travel day, and are finally able to relax in your room.  Choosing the right lodging when you live with chronic pain is important, because this will be your sanctuary after a long day of activities.  And never underestimate the power of good rest.

What to Look for in a Hotel

Things to do for when booking your accommodations:

  • Make a list of hotels in your price range that have rooms available for your needs.  Once you’ve nailed down one or two potential hotels, call to confirm accommodations for disabilities
  • Book a room with chairs or a couch, in case you can’t sleep well in the bed
  • Request a room close to an elevator, or on the first floor close to the lobby or an exit
  • Ask about the room’s features:   Is the room wheelchair-accessible and ADA compliant?
  • Find a hotel with a gym so you can stretch or walk on the treadmill before going out for the day.  A sauna or hot tub would be a huge plus, because heat helps relieve pain
Make Sure Your Room Has the Accessibility Features You Need When You Book to Prevent Frustration Upon Arrival

If you have medications that are supposed to be kept cold, make sure there’s a fridge in the room to store them.

Booking a Wheelchair Accessible Airbnb

There’s an accessibility feature on Airbnb to help you find travel accommodations.  To use it, open the Airbnb website or app and search your destination, dates, and number of guests.  When search results appear, click on filters and scroll down to “Accessibility”.

From there, you have ~20 filters you can select to accommodate your specific travel needs.

Airbnb Has Filter Options to Specifically Cater to Your Needs

To be on the safe side, read the comments and try to book an Airbnb home where someone has stayed requesting the same accommodations you need.  Many hosts will say they are wheelchair accessible without regard for your specific needs, like grab-bars in the bathroom and a roll-in shower, in order to get more bookings.

Booking a hotel that is accessible might be easier than an Airbnb.  If you have any doubts, go with a reputable hotel instead.

Other Tips

If your pain renders you unable to move at times, consider getting travel insurance to protect your trip.  In exchange for an upfront fee, you can cancel the trip in the event of illness, and avoid financial loss.  Usually you can add this when you book your travel.  Or, if you prefer, you can add it separately through a company of your choice.

Other ways to make yourself more comfortable:

  • Book an extra day or two for resting, especially if you plan to travel a long distance
  • Double-check you have the essentials, like medication, braces, muscle support, pain creams, and anything else you often turn to for relief
  • Pack light – save your energy for exploring a new location, not lugging around heavy bags
  • Write your doctor’s name and phone number, and your required medications, on a piece of sturdy paper and keep it in your pocket
  • Consider a Medical Alert bracelet with this information so it’s always on your person
  • Set an emergency contact on your phone so emergency responders can call if anything happens

I’ve always believed an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Taking precautions early can save you major headaches later.

So do your homework, give yourself plenty of time, and know what to expect.  Last but not least, a good attitude, while difficult to maintain when you’re in chronic pain, is the best way to keep your spirits up.  Get out and have a great time!

Bottom Line

Traveling with chronic pain can be challenging, but shouldn’t stop you from seeing the world!  Taking time to prepare ahead of your trip will help you experience less pain and more fun.

Whether you travel by plane, car, train, or ship, reach out to confirm pertinent details with your travel provider.  Look for discounts, ways to save time like TSA PreCheck, and places to make your journey more comfortable, like airport lounges, roomy Business Class seats, and accessible lodging.

Finally, check out the best airline credit cards to earn miles & points for your next journey.  Not only is it an easy way to save, but many perks can actually make your travels smoother and more comfortable.

Do you have tips to share about traveling with chronic pain?  Let us know in the comments!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Really helpful article; thanks! 🙂

Author

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Glad you found it helpful! <3