The stress and tension that often come with road trips can add to physical discomfort and even lead to a flare. But with proper planning and a few travel tips you can reduce surprises and anxiety, says Elin Schold Davis, an occupational therapist and coordinator of the Older Driver Initiative for the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) in Bethesda, Md. Here’s how.

Plan ahead.

  • Drive with a buddy. You can take turns behind the wheel allowing the other to move and stretch more in the passenger seat. It also allows one person to help the other with directions so the driver can keep their eyes on the road. A GPS can also assist navigation when driving solo.
  • If you’re using a rental car, research it before you pick it up to make sure you're choosing a model with features that can assist you. 
  • Talk with your doctor or occupational therapist before you hit the road to find out the maximum number of hours you should spend in the vehicle and if you should take extra precautions, such as wearing compression socks to help prevent blood clots.
  • If you are going to stay overnight along the way, plan ahead to make sure a friend’s home or affordable hotel has ADA accessible features and rooms so you can truly give yourself a break. Look for fun stops like places with swimming pools, which could feel great on swollen and inflamed joints.

Drive it right.

  • Adjust the car before you take off. Make sure the steering wheel and seat are adjusted for optimal comfort so you have a clear line of sight and that your foot is positioned so it can be fully depressed without having to over reach. Schold Davis cautions that reaching with your toes causes hip discomfort and may exacerbate pain, particularly on longer trips.
  • Buckle up! If the seat belt bothers your neck, try to raise it and be sure your hips are centered in the seat. This slight movement can move the seatbelt from the neck to the mid-shoulder, where it belongs.
  • Consider adding a cover or pad to the steering wheel to slightly increase the girth, which can improve hand comfort for longer trips. 

Allow for extra time.

  • Make a point to get out of the car so you can stretch, walk and move at least once every two hours. Schold Davis stresses that prolonged, static positions can be hard on muscles and joints.
  • Take breaks before you feel a lot of pain. Schold Davis says the goal of planning is to get through the day with minimized pain. If you find yourself in extreme pain, take breaks more frequently. 

Pack the essentials and more.

  • Bring splints, hot and cold packs, wraps, and head and neck pillows, as well as any medications that may be part of your pain management and treatment regimen. You might also want to have physician information and medication refill information with you in case it’s needed unexpectedly due to delayed travel.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals. Too little water can cause dehydration and fast food or too many snacks can leave you feeling sluggish and tired. 
  • Investigate a seat belt medical alert ID. The fabric band Velcro’s around the shoulder portion of your seat belt and holds papers you’ve filled out explaining your medical condition, what medications you take, what you’re allergic to and what your functional limitations are. First responders know to check this information if there is a need to rescue you from the car and you’re too shaken or unable to recall it all yourself.