[The view from The Getty Center in Los Angeles, June 2017]
I originally wrote this article for The Itch to Beat Psoriasis on Everyday Health. The editor needed to cut it down by almost half. My enthusiasm for travel apparently could not be contained in under 1000 words. So, I have the full, original article here.
Last summer my family and I took a weeklong vacation to South Dakota to see the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. Besides waking the family up for the early morning flight, everything went according to plan. We went to lunch in downtown Rapid City, SD to pass the time before checking into the hotel. Then it dawned on me—I forgot my injectable biologic to treat my psoriasis in my backpack in the trunk of the rental car.
I immediately panicked, knowing that it would keep in room temperatures for a couple weeks, but not in a heated car in summer. We ran back to the car, and pulled out my backpack in a desperate attempt to save my medication. Sadly, it was too late—it felt as hot as the air in the car. After a quick call to the medication’s manufacturer I learned I couldn’t use it any longer.
Last summer’s trip to South Dakota at the Badlands National Park. Unfortunately, I fried my biologic on the first day of this trip, but my skin mostly stayed under control.
In the end that incident didn’t ruin my trip or affect my skin adversely. I took it as a learning experience to not give up on travel, but to continue to refine how I travel. Even after making mistakes like at last summer’s vacation, I still look forward to traveling. Psoriasis need not take those opportunities away from me to see the world.
I do recognize, however, that traveling with a chronic condition like psoriasis takes special preparation and planning. The key principle I apply when traveling is to think about what I do at home for my psoriasis. Then, I take as much of what I do in my daily routine with me on the trip. What works at home often works on the road with some modification.
Scouring online I found some great articles on the topic of traveling with psoriasis in general, including 7 Tips for Traveling with Psoriasis here on Everyday Health. I keep those in mind as I share the process of what I do when traveling.
Preparing for an Upcoming Trip
A successful trip begins with preparation and packing. My before-the-trip routine begin with arranged travel plans so I know where I will be and when, including how I will get there. Once I know the destination and arrangements, I go through a checklist in my mind to make sure I have everything I need for the duration of the trip.
Prioritize Prescription Medications
I put top priority on packing enough of my prescription medication. I often can purchase over the counter items, or even clothes when I’m out of town, but it’s harder to replace my prescriptions. I do carry the number to call if I need medical care outside of my home area. But even if I can replace them, I don’t want to take the time out to do so if I don’t have to.
The last time I traveled to Chicago for a conference I prepared as usual. But the morning of the trip I forgot one of my prescription topical medications on the bathroom counter. Providentially, I keep travel size tubes of the same medication in my backpack. That tube contained just enough medication for the trip.
Redundancy in packing medications is one way I prioritize them when I travel with psoriasis. That in turn means I need to have enough on hand to pack for the trip. Going over my travel plans with my doctor before the trip, ordering prescription refills, and calling my insurance provider to find out what to do if I lose my prescription medication ensures I have what I need as I leave my home base.
Review Daily Routines
When I’m packing, I go over my daily routines from morning to night. In the morning, I use a topical medication, take a pill, and apply moisturizers. Those items go on a packing list. I do the same for the afternoon, evening, showering, and bedtime routines. By going over the daily routine I make sure have what I’ll need for each day.
Store Travel Ready Items
Over many trips, I’ve collected travel size containers, samples, and items that I set aside in a medication tub. Only the items on my list make it in the tub. Before each trip, I replenish medications and toiletries I need for the length of the trip. That tub minimizes the potential for forgetting an essential item, and easily packs in my suitcase.
Pack Everything Needed
I used to worry about over packing. Once I traveled with a friend to Europe to speak at a conference. I packed a large duffle bag with all my medications, moisturizers, and sets of clothes. My friend didn’t need to pack as much. He criticized how much I packed, primarily concerned that those driving us mainly have small cars. I explained to him that I need it to take care of my skin.
I don’t bring huge suitcases for an overnight trip, but at the same time I don’t worry about what others think, or make myself travel with a small bag. If it’s a longer trip, I pack larger moisturizer containers and whatever else I need to feel comfortable. I pack what I need, even if it costs more in luggage fees.
On the Magnificent Mile in Chicago I found a very tall Abraham Lincoln to take a picture with.
During a Trip
When the trip starts, I need to keep focused on my health maintenance. It’s easy to get caught up in the conference I’m attending, or the national park I’m visiting. But taking the time to manage my health is just as important during travel.
Minimize Vacation/Travel Stress
My family growing up stuck to early starts and long days on vacations. We packed in all we could do each day, wanting to maximize the time and opportunities on the trip. I found vacations more stressful than staying home.
I know stress is a part of travel, but I try to minimize the stress as much as possible as it’s also a trigger for my psoriasis. When I plan a vacation, I schedule rest and late starts whenever possible. Packing early and getting to the airport in plenty of time also minimizes anxiety. I practice mindfulness, prayer, and deep breathing whenever I need to calm down.
Keeping those home routines helps me with stress management as well. On my last trip, I committed to exercise in the hotel gym. Two of the four nights I ran on the treadmill. Instead of staying out longer with new friends, I kept to my regular bedtime. Breaks during the day helped me stay focused and healthy.
Communicate Special Accommodations
A key to a successful trip for me is letting people know my needs and accommodations. If I’m staying at a hotel, I call ahead to ask if they use any cleaning products or fragrances that might irritate me. I also ask about hypoallergenic options for bedding.
From time to time I stay with friends or hosts. I struggled in the past to tell them I need hypoallergenic laundry detergent on bed sheets, or explain that I need a separate bathroom with around 45 minutes to get ready. I’ve found most people understand once I explain my situation.
Moisturize Skin on the Go
I used to wonder why my skin seemed to feel worse on flights. I soon realized that the dry air in the cabin dried out and irritated my skin. I now take a small container of moisturizer with me to use periodically on travel days. I also hydrate as much as possible on planes.
Moisturizing becomes especially important in hot, dry climates. When I visit my parents in Southern California, sometimes the dry Santa Ana winds create low relative humidity. Checking weather reports provides important information for how much skin moisturizing might be needed.
Look Out for Psoriasis Triggers
The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), in the article “Causes and Triggers,” states that “Psoriasis triggers are not universal. What may cause one person’s psoriasis to become active, may not affect another.” It’s important, then, to know your psoriasis triggers and try to avoid them—especially while traveling.
Some universal triggers the NPF mentions include stress, injury to skin, and infection. To prevent these and other triggers I apply sunscreen in sunny environments, wash my hands to prevent infections, and protect my skin from damage such as bug bites, or getting scratched.
Mentally Prepare for Onlookers
Summertime is a peak travel time. While I love going to the beach, or taking the kids to an amusement park, I don’t like exposing psoriatic skin in those situations. One spring my daughter and I took a cruise to the Panama Canal with my parents as a relief from the stress of ineffective psoriasis treatments. I needed the break away and the warm climate during the winter, but I was over ninety percent covered in lesions. It took some courage, but I went out on the deck anyhow to relax and catch some sunlight.
Over the years, I’ve learned to ignore people who stare, or ready what I’ll say if they ask about my skin. Explaining it’s not contagious, and it’s an autoimmune condition, helps me feel empowered, and educates others in the process.
My daughters and I drove into San Francisco to take in the National Psoriasis Foundation Walk and do some shopping. One of my favorite cities in the world, and near where I grew up.
After the Trip Ends
When a trip ends, I tend to experience mixed feelings. I’m glad to be home where I can sleep in my own bed and resume my normal routines. At the same time, I miss the adventure of traveling. I might also need follow-up care for my skin.
The last time I went to a five-day conference my skin did not do well at all. Despite my best intentions and planning, something triggered a flare. The time and effort to calm the flare was an unfortunate consequence of travel, but one I know might occur. Checking in with my doctor, taking inventory of skin care supplies, and allowing for a low-key reentry into daily life also become part of my routine after a trip.
The trip to South Dakota fulfilled part of a bucket list item to visit the all national parks in the United States. I’ve traveled to Africa, Asia, Europe, Central America, and various parts of the country. So much of the world lies unseen and unvisited for me. Traveling gives me opportunities to meet new people, see old friends, appreciate natural beauty, and experience different cultures.
The memories I make on those trips make the extra effort to care for my psoriasis on them all worth it.
On the Los Angeles trip we also visited the California Science Center where the Space Shuttle Endeavour resides. The family voted this part of the trip as one of the best moments of the week.
For some great specific tips on international travel, see International Travel with Psoriasis.