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How to Make Your Vacation Pain-LESS, Pt. 2

Woman packing a suitcase.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich,

“What if I get to the airport and realize I left my passport at home?”

“What if I end up needing to see a doctor when I’m in an unfamiliar city?”

“What if I get lost?”

Anticipating possible problems and the myriad details involved with getting ready to travel with chronic pain can leave you anxious, exhausted, and possibly in more pain – all before you even leave your house.

This article is part of a series that explores common vacation fears that can increase pain by increasing a sense of threat in the nervous system.

(Miss the first article in the series? You can find it here.)

Today we will look at two of the most common fears during the preparation phase of a vacation, and their antidotes.

THE FEAR: Being Unprepared

The fear of forgetting something important or knowing what to do in an emergency situation while on vacation can plague any traveler – but for a person experiencing persistent pain, this fear can be amplified.

After all, medications and other aides used to manage pain are not usually easy to replace if left at home, and the consequences of not having them loom large. Even the possibility of needing medical attention while on vacation may not be so far-fetched for those with chronic pain.

THE ANTIDOTE: Ground Yourself

The preparation phase of a vacation is characterized by logistics and details, and can result in a state of frenetic energy, both mentally and physically.

To build a sense of safety in the nervous system, we must continually re-ground ourselves amidst the flurry of extra activity.

Below are some practical ways you can ground yourself during the preparation phase of your vacation, making it less likely that you will actually be unprepared and leaving your nervous system in a stronger place going into your travels.

Give yourself space to prepare.

Grounding yourself doesn’t have to be time consuming, but it’s much harder to do when you’re in a rush.

When we try to cram our preparation into the nooks and crannies of our life, or if we try to do it all at the last minute, we feel overwhelmed and less certain that we’ve taken care of everything we need to.

Instead, leave yourself plenty of time for packing and other preparations.

Utilize packing checklists and packing timelines to help yourself feel certain that you have what you need and will be as prepared as you can reasonably expect to be.

Utilize nutrition and routine.

When we’re preoccupied with preparing for a trip, we may find ourselves keeping late nights, forgetting to eat, or eating convenience foods that don’t offer much in the way of nourishment.

But these behaviors can throw the nervous system for a loop.

The nervous system prefers predictable rhythms, like keeping consistent waking hours, eating 3 meals a day at about the same time, and having time to wind down at the end of the day.

Anti-inflammatory diets help keep chronic symptoms at bay, but also consider that certain foods and spices are known to be grounding.

See this article by our Ayurvedic Health Counselor, Lisa Scarborough, for more on how to use routine and nutrition to support your nervous system as you prepare for your vacation.

Practice self-soothing.

When you start to feel like you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off and you to chill out now, it’s good to have a few self-soothing techniques in your back pocket.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a walk outside. Attune your senses to the sights, sounds, and smells of nature.

  • Get into a resting pose. Try child’s pose or legs up a wall and spend a few minutes paying attention to your breath.

  • Try bee breath. Bee breath uses breath and sound intentionally to settle the mind.

Want more ideas? Check out these self-soothing practices from our own Diane Kistler.

THE FEAR: The Unknown

Novelty is part of the reason we travel: new places and experiences can reawaken our curiosity and make us feel alive!

At the same time, when we’re going someplace we’ve never been before, the unknown can be a little scary:

  • “Will I like the food?”

  • “Will I know what’s going on if I don’t speak the language?”

  • “Will I know when to get off the train?”

THE ANTIDOTE: Bring in Familiarity

While we can’t eliminate the unknown when we travel, we can mitigate its unsettling effects by intentionally creating a sense of familiarity within our vacation.

Here’s how:

Stay put.

Your accommodations are your home away from home, and nothing helps us feel comfortable and secure like a peaceful home.

Rather than hopping around to different hotels in different neighborhoods, stay in the same place the whole time. Maybe the barista at the local coffee shop will even begin to recognize you!

Keep a routine.

Just as keeping a routine can help us stay grounded before we leave home, it can also help us while we’re away.

In addition to keeping consistent hours and eating at regular times, consider bringing a daily ritual into your vacation. For example, spend a few minutes in meditation each morning, or enjoy a warm cup of tea each evening after dinner.

Seek out reminders of home.

What will bring you a little comfort here and there? Some ideas could be:

  • Bring pictures of your pets or your favorite snack food.

  • Pack your favorite soap or another scent that will remind you of home.

  • Even if having an authentic experience is important to you, allow yourself to eat familiar breakfast foods at the restaurant geared toward tourists if you feel yourself craving it.

Keep in mind that bringing routine and familiarity into your vacation is not meant to limit you or keep you from having new experiences. Rather, they give your nervous system a stronger foundation, allowing you to experience your travels to the fullest.

Like these travel tips for chronic pain?

In the last installment of this series, we’ll take a look at the fear of having a pain flare during vacation and the fear of disappointing your travel companions, so stay tuned!

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