Flying While Fatigued: How I Safely Travel with Lupus

Traveling always triggers my chronic fatigue. The long wait at the airport, having to stand in line, and carrying a suitcase all zap my energy. At home, I can use coping mechanisms to manage my fatigue, like lying down to rest, snacking, making coffee, or doing some stretches. Unfortunately, stretching or lying down at the airport isn't the social norm, and I'd prefer to not end up on the no-fly list.

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Tips to minimize lupus fatigue while traveling

But even though travel can wear me out, I don't want to live life stuck at home without having seen the world outside my hometown. Especially after staying cooped up inside for years due to the pandemic, I've been itching to get out of my house and see something new. Here are some strategies I use to minimize my chronic fatigue when I travel:

I schedule flights during my best times

Like most of us with chronic fatigue, there are certain times of the day that are more difficult for me. Even if I sleep enough at night, I feel exhausted if I wake up before 10am. To ensure that I'm able to function at the airport, I never schedule flights before noon.

I buy direct flights

Time spent at the airport is time spent walking, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, and time spent unable to rest. I hate the extra expense of buying a direct flight rather than a flight with a layover. However, my chronic fatigue limits the hours I'm able to be awake each day. Even though I can fly standby due to a relative who works as a pilot, I still usually have to purchase a flight to make sure I'm safe and functional on my own at the airport.

I pack snacks

While TSA doesn't allow you to bring coffee with you through check-in, you can bring solid food items. I usually pack granola bars, plastic containers of grapes or raspberries, or packages of dried seaweed. Eating small healthy snacks throughout my journey ensures I don't deplete my energy before reaching my destination.

I use a rolling suitcase

When I'm traveling, I'm careful not to over exert myself physically. I pack as light as possible and always use a suitcase with wheels. The suitcases that require the least energy to move are carry-on sized and have four wheels rather than two.

I use handicap/disabled boarding

It took me over a decade to realize that the call for disabled boarding that happens before general boarding applies to me, too. For many years, I was afraid to stand up and head towards the entrance when the flight attendant called for disabled passengers. Because I don't have a wheelchair and don't look sick, I assumed the flight attendant wouldn't believe I was disabled.

However, I began to resent how standing in line for long periods of time zapped my energy and made the journey more exhausting and ultimately dangerous for me. When I quietly explained to the flight attendant that I had an invisible disability and couldn't stand for line periods, he didn't hesitate to allow me to board. If doctors were as understanding as flight attendants, most of us would have been diagnosed years soon.

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