Travelling with Arthritis

26/04/2013 -- Mary Simpson
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Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation of the joints affecting around 10 million people in the UK, including kids. 

If you or a fellow traveller suffers from any of the 100+ types of arthritis - osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gout are the most common - then you’ll face more obstacles than most.  

But there’s really no reason why people with arthritis shouldn’t enjoy a wonderful, memorable holiday abroad.  The trick is to plan ahead.

What’s up, Doc?

Discuss your individual travel plans with your GP/consultant well in advance, and read the latest travel advice before you go.


People with RA, psoriatic arthritis or lupis who take drugs to suppress the immune system are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, so choose destinations with care.

Jabs with a live virus, eg yellow fever needed for some Central African countries, aren’t recommended if you have rheumatoid arthritis. 

Booking accommodation

Go online to research destinations and places to stay for accessibility. 

Phone/email hotels re lifts, ramps, door widths, bath rails, wheelchair access. 

Request rooms with disabled facilities and get confirmation in writing. 

Use hotel webcams to view accommodation in advance. 

Check out other arthritis travellers’ reviews/tips on sites such as Trip Advisor and the Arthritis Care forum.


Get a letter from your GP/consultant confirming your arthritis and the medication you need.  Take several copies with you.

Also take a copy of your prescription(s) with you plus chemical/generic names, not just brand names.

Take more medicine than you need, including syringes.  Important if you have a flare-up and to cover loss/damage/delays.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and corticosteroids can be expensive overseas or even unavailable.

Some countries put entry restrictions on painkillers with codeine, ditto injected drugs (eg morphine).

For long stay trips of 3 months or more, you need a permit from the Home Office.

Check drug transportation rules with the Embassy or High Commission of your destination before you travel.

Phone your travel insurer’s free pre-travel advice line for info on local pharmacies and foreign names for medicines where you’re going.

At the airport

Tell your airline if you have special needs.  You can request free wheelchair assistance at airports to help you get around both on departure and arrival. 

European airports by law must carry your wheelchair for free.

Request priority boarding and help with luggage if needed at least 48 hours before you fly.

Keep liquids in original containers.  Pack separately in a clear plastic bag.

Let the airline know in advance if you’ll be carrying syringes in hand luggage and baggage.

Keep medicines in original packaging in your hand luggage along with a doctor’s letter.  Use a cooler bag if the airline won’t put drugs in their fridge.

Ask for an aisle seat and keep joints moving while sitting.  Get up for regular walks on long haul flights.

Use a horseshoe travel pillow if you have arthritis in your neck to stop jarring if you nod off.

If you need to travel with a companion, it’s worth asking the airline in advance for a reduction on their fare.

Driving Abroad

You can use your blue badge in most EU countries as well as some American states.

Travel insurance

Buying travel insurance can be more complicated for arthritis sufferers, but it’s becoming much more widely available.

Premiums are based on age, health, type and severity of arthritis.  Over 70% of sufferers are over 65.   They’ll pay more for holiday insurance because of their age, as will travellers with more severe forms of RA where there can be heart and lung complications.

Look for a good insurer who’ll cover travelling companions on the same policy so that you’re financially protected if you need to cancel because of your arthritis.

For Europe, get your free NHS travel card also known as the EHIC (EU Medical Insurance Card).

Helpful websites: Arthritis Care, NHS Choices