How to Plan a Trip With Chronic Pain & Fibromyalgia

Robyn smiling and standing in front of many bamboo rafts in Guilin, China. The rafts are wooden with colorful roofs and there are karst mountains in the distance. Robyn is able to plan a trip with fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
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Wondering how to plan a trip with chronic pain and fibromyalgia? You’re in the right place!

Living with chronic pain, fatigue, and fibromyalgia for over 20 years hasn’t been easy. But I love to travel and have visited 42 countries so far.

Have I made many, many mistakes… yup! Has it always been easy? Nope.

Honestly, it took many hard lessons for me to finally pay attention to what adjustments my body needed to enjoy my travel experience.

So, whether you enjoy slow travel or live with invisible disabilities, I want to make planning a trip easier for you.

In this post, I share my top 10 tips on how to plan a trip with chronic pain and fibromyalgia.

Let’s do this!

10 Tips for How to Plan a Trip with Chronic Pain

Whether you are planning a trip to Paris or a dream vacation to Bali, my travel planning tricks will allow you to create an itinerary that matches your unique travel style.

Here are my best 11 tips for how to plan a trip with hidden disabilities.

1. Know Your Limits

Robyn sitting in a wheelchair in front of Monet's waterlilies painting at the Monet Museum in Paris. One of the best tips to plan a trip with fibromyalgia and chronic pain is to know your limits. This can help reduce your pain when traveling.
Robyn standing outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, making an angry face, frustrated from the crowds. Is it important to know and respect your limits when planning a trip with chronic pain and fatigue.

The number one tip to plan a trip with limited mobility or an invisible disability is to know your limits and respect them.

Only you understand what you can and cannot do. You know what activities increase your pain, and how much pain you can tolerate.

For example, I can only tolerate visiting one museum a day. That may not seem like a lot, but… let me break that down.

To get to the museum, I must take public transport. That means, walking from my hotel to the metro, possibly standing on the train, then walking from the second metro station to the museum.

Depending on the time of day, I might need to stand in line to buy tickets.

Then, I want to tour the museum itself. Most museums are not tiny and will require the remainder of my energy.

Finally, I will need to rest and refuel to make it back to my hotel.

One museum visit could take the entire morning for traveling with fatigue and pain.

👉TIP 1: Know your limits before you start planning, and during your trip. It will save you money and stress.

It is so important, to be honest with yourself. Whatever your limits are, respect them and be kind to yourself.

Do not feel guilty for listening to your body. You put time and money into your trip. You deserve to enjoy it!

2. Research Your Destination

Robyn and Gavin sitting on a viewing deck at the Emany hotel in Namibia. There are beautiful green trees and several wildlife at a watering hole. It's important to research your destination thoroughly if you plan a trip with chronic pain.

Researching your destination is vital. It is important to understand what travel is like in your destination.

This is true whether you plan to join a tour or travel independently.

Joining a Tour

If you want to join a tour, you should research the travel company and the requirements of the specific tour you plan to join.

Considerations When Joining a Tour
🔹Size of the group
🔹Overall difficulty rating
🔹Amount of rest time
🔹Modes of transportation
🔹Number of days in each city
🔹Length of each sightseeing day
🔹Accommodations for mobility issues

Just like me, most people’s hidden disabilities aren’t visible or apparent.

Wearing a sunflower lanyard while flying and on your tour will signal to others that you may need assistance.

Independent Travel

We prefer to travel independently. I know it can seem daunting, but when you plan your itinerary, you control every aspect of your trip.

With Independent Travel You Can:
🔹Choose what cities to visit
🔹How long to spend in each place
🔹Choose the right transportation
🔹Look for certain hotel amenities
🔹Take downtime when required
🔹Traveling at your own pace

Example: African Safari

Before we traveled to Africa for our safari, we researched popular destinations, like Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana.

We spoke to local travel agents about the physical requirements of a tour. We learned that on most tours, you have to sit in an uncomfortable safari jeep for an extended period.

If you have seen pictures of safari jeeps… you will understand my hesitancy.

That is when we discovered self-driving safaris in Namibia. We contacted local companies, read up on driving in Namibia, and started planning our trip.

Not only did we have control over the type of vehicle we rented, but we could design a safari around my chronic pain.

We controlled the duration of our safari drives and planned around my physical limitations.

Thanks to our extensive research, we discovered critical information that helped us make the right decision.

And by the way, Namibia was absolutely AMAZING!!

👉TIP 2: Research your destination so you can plan a trip that matches your travel style and physical requirements.

3. Spend Extra Days in Large Cities

Robyn standing at a grassy lookout point over Charles Bridge in Prague. There are a few boats in the river and the several other bridges connecting the city in the distance. When planning a trip with chronic pain, spending more time in larger cities can help.

It took years to acknowledge that my body struggles in larger cities, adding to my pain and fatigue.

This lesson was hard for me to learn… and even harder to accept.

For example, we stayed 5 nights in Paris, which seemed like a good amount of time to enjoy the sights.

Unfortunately, I pushed myself too hard on the first day and spent the next day recovering in the hotel, disappointed with myself.

The next year, I made the same mistake in Prague.

After cramming too many activities into the first day, I was in serious pain.

Not listening to my body, nor respecting my limits, forced me to lose another day of travel.

It took time, but I finally realized that my comfort and pain level needed to factor into our planning.

Another important point when planning a trip with fibromyalgia is to consider: how many days to spend in each place, specifically large cities.

Whatever most websites say to do… we always add an extra day.

That is because most people don’t live or travel with multiple chronic illnesses. And we need to adjust for that.

So if a travel blogger says you need 2 days to visit the best attractions in Valletta, we plan for 3 days.

Following this simple rule helps me manage my pain more effectively when traveling.

👉TIP 3: Spend extra days in large cities. Relax the time constraints so you can travel at a slower pace.

4. Map Out the Sights

A detailed Google map of Riga showing what activities are planned for each day. Planning out the specific sites you want to visit in each city is a great tool for planning a successful trip with chronic pain.
A detailed Google map of Riga showing what activities are planned for each day. Planning out the specific sites you want to visit in each city is a great tool for planning a successful trip with fibromyalgia.

After you have chosen your destination and researched the cities, it is time to map out the specific sights you want to visit.

HELPFUL TIP: Mapping out sights can help you decide how many days to spend in each place & where to stay. It can also help you spend less while traveling by reducing the need for transport costs.

Example: Riga, Latvia

This is how I created a daily itinerary map for Riga, Latvia.

  • Compile a list of what to see/do in Riga
  • Create a Google Map with every activity and sight you want to visit (eg. monuments, churches, art museums, and markets)
  • Group sights by their location in the city. (Larger cities will require more maps. Above are my 2 Google Maps of Riga.)
  • Once each map is finalized, you can figure out the walking distance between each sight.

This is extremely important if you have limited mobility, like me.

By creating Google Maps, I realized we needed at least 3 days in Riga to see everything.

It also helped us decide what area of town to stay in, as we like to stay within easy walking distance of most sights or close to public transport.

Using this strategy, we realized we needed to stay in a hotel in the historic center of Valletta on our recent trip to Malta.

👉TIP 4: Make planning your day-to-day itinerary easy on yourself and map your activities with Google Maps!

5. Balance Activities & Down Time

Robyn standing on a black sand beach in Bali. Her hair is braided and she is wearing a short black dress. There are empty boats and umbrellas on the beach in the distance. If you plan a trip with fibromyalgia it is important to balance activities with down time to reduce fatigue.
Robyn ziplining through the thick, green jungle in Costa Rica. she is wearing a blue helmet, shirt and pants. A great tip to use if you plan a trip with chronic fatigue is to balance activities with down time.

Traveling is taxing on the body, so it is important to give yourself downtime on each trip.

Whether it’s relaxing between large cities or after physical activity, give your body time to recover so you can enjoy your entire adventure!

Museums & Galleries

Use Google Maps to see the walking distance between sights. Be realistic about how many museums you can visit in one day.

For example, we visit one museum per day since it significantly adds to my pain/fatigue levels.

Be honest with yourself and space out visits to larger venues.

Walking Around Cities

Researching the city beforehand can save you additional pain later.

Things to Consider Walking in Cities:
🔹Is the city hilly or flat?
🔹How long can you walk for?
🔹How often do you need to rest?
🔹Where can you rest (cafe, bench, park)?
🔹How does the weather impact your pain?

Physical Activities

While this depends on your physical limitations and comfort level, participating in new activities can impact our bodies in unforeseen ways.

Activities like hiking, ziplining, go-carting, theme park rides, water sports, and safari rides should be spaced out.

Give your body time to rest between physical activities so the next day is not lost.    

Travel Between Locations

While riding in a car or train may not be as difficult as hiking to a waterfall, it too can add to your pain level.

Moving from one city to the next involves more than just a car ride. You will pack/unpack your luggage and need to check in/out of hotels.

Finally, taking time for your body to recover is an excellent excuse to visit a natural hot spring or get a massage.

👉TIP 5: Adjust your itinerary to include rest & downtime. This will help manage your pain and fatigue.

A blue square with light blue circles on the edges. Inside is sayd, Custom Travel Itineraries. Let us create the perfect itinerary for your travel style.

6. Consider Your Transportation

Robyn in her black winter coat standing next to a blue and yellow Peru Rail train car.  There is a man sitting inside the car on the leather, spacious chairs. Choosing the right mode of transportation for your trip can help reduce your pain and fatigue.

Car. Train. Boat. Bus. Rickshaw. Camel. Choosing the right mode of transportation at your destination makes all the difference.

Of course, transportation changes from country to country, but doing your research can save you pain down the road.

When you plan a trip with fibromyalgia, consider the following:

Transportation Considerations:
🔹the length of the journey
🔹time of day you travel
🔹your ability to take a break
🔹mode of transportation itself
🔹your physical/mental comfort

When we travel in Asia or South America, we pay for a private driver. We have more control over the length of the drive and how often we stop for breaks.

When we traveled to Europe, we always took the train. They are extensive, comfortable, and very efficient between cities and countries.

However, as my pain evolved over the years, so did our style of travel.

Now we prefer to rent a car in Europe, like in Malta.

While we love trains, they cannot match the freedom that comes with renting a car.

Plus, we loved exploring the small towns in Puglia, and not every town, or beach is connected by train.

Plus, renting a car means I don’t have to drag my suitcase to the train station, and I can adjust my seat to be more comfortable if needed.

This has made a huge difference in managing my pain and fatigue.

🚗We find the best rental prices on Discover Cars!

👉TIP 6: Consider your physical and mental needs when choosing the type of transportation for your journey.

7. Book a Flight with a Layover

Booking a layover is a great tip to use when you plan a trip with fibromyalgia and chronic pain. Robyn and Gavin are standing in front of a large mirrored sculpture in downtown Chicago. Tall historic buildings are in the background.
Booking a layover is a great way to reduce chronic pain and fatigue when travelling. Robyn and Gavin standing in front of Big Ben in London, England.

If getting to your destination involves more than one flight, you may want to consider booking a layover.

Travel days are more difficult with constant pain and fatigue.

A day of travel begins way before you board the aircraft. When flying internationally, you need to arrive at the airport 2 – 3 hours before your departure.

Once you arrive at your destination, collecting your bags and getting to your hotel takes time as well. That can make for an excruciatingly long and painful day.

Booking a layover can reduce the total time you spend traveling in one day.

This can significantly reduce your pain and should be considered when you plan a trip with fibromyalgia and fatigue.

Another bonus to booking a layover is that you can explore a new city that you may not have visited otherwise. Often, booking a layover can help you save money, as connecting flights are cheaper.

When choosing your flights, consider the total travel time and how you can manage your pain and best take care of your mental health.

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👉TIP 7: Breaking up your flights can help manage your pain, reduce fatigue, and prepare for your next travel day.

8. Stay Longer in Your 1st Location

Robyn wearing a bright red shirt in front of the Supertrees in Singapore. She is on a purple bridge over a lake with lush, green trees surrounding it. Spending an extra night or two in large cities can help reduce pain and fatigue.

This is another important lesson I learned the hard way. International airports are located in big cities, so naturally, this is where your travels will begin.

If you plan a trip with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, you should spend an additional night in our first location.

I learned that my pain and fatigue are more manageable if we take an extra night.

Consider that you just survived an international flight, which is difficult and stressful, even if you don’t live with chronic pain!

Adding this extra day allows you to rest and not feel guilty about missing out.

On our trip to the Netherlands and Belgium, we already added days in Amsterdam to accommodate my fatigue. However, since it was our 1st location, we added an extra night so I didn’t have to miss anything!

This is your vacation. You deserve to enjoy yourself and experience everything you had planned at each destination.  

So, add an extra night in your first city after that long international flight and save yourself the headache.

✈️Check flight prices & availability with Expedia here!

👉TIP 8: Add an extra day in your first location to help you manage your pain and fatigue after a day of travel.

9. Rest Before You Travel

A close up of our dog Leonardo resting on our grey couch at home. He is orange colored with big brown eyes and in wrapped in a baby blue and ivory blanket next to a white pillow. An important tip when you plan a trip with chronic pain and fibromyalgia is to find time to rest before and after you travel.

Over the years, I have learned that my body needs rest before I jump on an international flight.

Of course, how much time you have to rest before you travel will depend on several factors, such as the demands of your job, how much time off you get, and how you best manage your pain.

In my experience, surviving any flight longer than 3 hours requires planning and energy.

For me to have enough energy… I need to give my body time to rest and recover after I’m done teaching for the year.

That is why we always book our international flights at least 5 days after we finish work.

This travel tip applies to both flying into and out of your destination.

Another way to reduce pain and fatigue is to stay an extra night before boarding your flight back home.

We use this last day to enjoy our favorite local dish, repack our bags, and rest in a comfortable hotel room.

👉TIP 9: Resting before/after travel will help reduce pain, manage fatigue, and hopefully make surviving a flight more reasonable.

10. Pain Relief Travel Kit

A leopard print eye mask on top of a black eye mask. There are orange ear plugs laying on top. These are part of my pain relief travel kit, a must have when I plan a trip with chronic pain and fatigue.
Two black hoodies with travel sayings on them. We always fly with our comfortable hoodies, a must have when I plan a trip with chronic pain and fatigue.
Essential oils from Saje Wellness that include the Pain Release and Stress Release roll-ons. They are part of my pain relief travel kit, and a must have when I plan a trip with chronic pain and fatigue.
A blue neck pillow and purple travel pillow laying on top of a navy blue travel blanket. These are essential items in my pain relief travel kit, and must haves when I plan a trip with chronic pain and fatigue.

Finally, when you plan a trip with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, create a pain relief kit.

Include anything and everything you need to make traveling as easy as possible for yourself.

This is especially helpful for long-distance air travel.

Here is what I include in my pain relief kit.

Travel Pillow

Find a travel pillow that works and supports your neck.

Gavin uses his u-shaped neck pillow, while I prefer my ergonomic memory foam pillow. I have used it as a back pillow in cars and at night in a hotel.

Travel Blanket

I always bring my small travel blanket with me when I travel. The Litume Travel Blanket is lightweight, breathable, and warm.

Essential Oils

This set of travel-sized set of essential oils from Saje Natural Wellness is amazing! I have used their products for my back/neck pain for over 10 years.

The Extra Strength Roll-on is also 100mL, making it perfect for your carry-on!

Medication

This is a given for anyone with chronic pain. I always carry Tylenol Extra Strength and Advil Extra Strength for any length of trip.

If you need prescription medication, remember to leave it in its original packaging.

Eye Shades & Ear Plugs

Being sensitive to light and sound, I need to use foam earplugs and an eye mask whenever I travel.

Sea Bands

These Motion Sickness Wristbands are amazing and effective. They are a game changer and came in handy on my ferry ride to the island of Sifnos.

Music & Ear Buds

We load our phones with great music and podcasts before traveling. You may want to consider purchasing a wireless pair of earbuds to ensure you can enjoy the in-flight entertainment.

Hoodie

Staying warm and comfortable is a must for any long-distance travel. We never board a flight without our favorite hoodies.

Check out these travel hoodies from Tee Public.

👉TIP 10: Your pain relief travel kit should have everything you need to manage your pain. Check out my Pain Relief Resources!

FAQ’s: Plan a Trip with Chronic Pain & Fibromyalgia

How do I go on vacation with chronic pain?

Plan ahead, use our tips, and take everything slow! You can do it, and still love it.


How do you travel with chronic fatigue?

Rest, this is the best medicine. You probably can’t get enough of it. Consider a wheelchair.


How do you travel with fibromyalgia?

By rest, relaxation, taking it slow, using all of our travel tips, and not pushing yourself too much.


What accommodations can I get for chronic pain?

This answer will vary but do not be too shy to ask. Asking for the empty row on an airplane, or the room on the ground floor, or by an elevator can help tremendously.


What are the best countries to live if you have chronic pain?

Places where health care is publically funded like Canada, Switzerland, or Singapore. It is one less barrier for getting help.


What percent of the population lives with chronic pain?

In the US, more than 51 million people live with chronic pain. That is about 20% of the population that is reported… so our guess is higher than that.

Robyn in a teal sun dress overlooking the vibrant green rice terraces in Bali. If you want to plan a trip with chronic pain and fibromyalgia, follow these helpful tips!

Final Thoughts: Plan a Trip with Chronic Pain & Fibromyalgia

Hopefully, these 10 tips on how to plan a trip with chronic pain and fibromyalgia will ease the stress of planning your next adventure.

Remember, the more you research, plan, and prepare for your trip, the more enjoyable, relaxing, and pain-free your travel experience will be.

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Read More Travel Tips

12 Tips for Air Travel with Chronic Pain & Fibromyalgia
How Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia Changed the Way I Travel
12 Travel Tips: How to Save Money When Booking a Trip
14 Travel Tips: How to Spend Less While Traveling