Traveling used to be traumatic for me. Everything from carrying luggage to sitting on a plane for extended hours. Whatever my travel time was, double that for my recovery time. I became so frustrated with the recuperation because it took away from quality time meant for family and friends.

Of course, some of the fatigue and pain with traveling comes from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), an autoimmune condition that affects my energy and joints. My threshold for sitting in the same position or hauling a bag over my shoulder across the airport is comparatively low. But even still, traveling even to fun places (like Cancun for my honeymoon) felt tiring and burdensome.

For a time after my RA diagnosis, I avoided traveling at all costs. I was the ultimate homebody and felt stressed at the thought of flying or driving anywhere over two hours away. But my husband and I love to travel, and once my RA stabilized, I decided I would choose travel but I would choose a smart way to travel.

I pride myself on being flexible – and this is still a value of mine. But I’ve also learned to value routine and preparation. Over the past two years, I have become the travel planning guru in my family. While I might not always know what adventures we’ll experience, I will know the comfiest way to travel, the items I need to stay pain-free, and the deal breakers on any trip.

Below are my all-time most important tips for traveling smart.

1. Supply your comfort. No, I can’t bring my faux-down comforter with me across the country. But I can bring other comforting, warm items that help me feel at home anywhere. For example, this week I’m in chilly North Carolina – what better cozy item to bring than my slippers from home? Once the snow comes in three days I’ll be super grateful to keep my toes warm when I get out of bed. My other comfort necessity is tea. Over the past eight weeks I’ve taken over ten airplane flights. You know what I learned? Airplanes only carry black (or caffeinated) teas. Black tea is great! But I usually prefer herbal – now I pack a variety of teas in my suitcase, and a mini-variety pack on my carry-on. All I need for one cup of comfort is some hot water, voila.

2. Bring your necessities. Pack your functional basics and double check before you leave on your trip. For me, I need to eat breakfast every morning. And not just any breakfast, but a gluten-free breakfast. Some places I travel only serve bagels and doughnuts and croissants – all of these sound delicious but will add to my recuperation time. So what’s a girl to do? Pack gluten-free oatmeal, so no matter where I am I can add hot water and feel energized for the day. Another necessity is medicine – take any routine prescription medications (including oral contraception) in your carry-on. You’ll be praying Thank Yous if your luggage gets lost, because at least you have your meds. I know I sound like a crazy lady with my pillbox rattling in my bag – I’ll happily pay that price.

3. Check your workout gear. In the past, one of the fastest ways to get out of sync with my workouts was traveling. I didn’t have my yoga studio or my mat or the right shoes. Then I’d just sigh, give up, and feel bad about my poor discipline. But this isn’t inherently a discipline issue – this is a preparedness issue. In all honesty, when I travel I still don’t do my workouts perfectly. But I’ve learned to pack at least one method for exercise, so I have a better chance at succeeding. The last trip I brought my yoga mat. This trip I forgot my sneakers (which are dirty, old, and hospital-worn) – so I planned to buy new ones at an outlet store here in Durham. Even if new sneakers weren’t on my budget, I still could have done my twenty-minute dance workout. All I needed was a laptop or phone to stream the video.

4. Give yourself a break. If you’re living in the 21st century, I bet full nights of sleep are hard to come by. Especially after long hours traveling, give yourself a break. Pull the blackout curtains closed and sink into the hotel bed with the light hum of the fan on. Allow yourself the deep, hotel-bed sleep you don’t get at home.

5. Plan for roadblocks. With so much planning on my mind, every trip is bound to have surprises. That’s ok – I’ve learned it’s still healthy to roll with the punches and expect some roadblocks. When my plan of eating a grease-free, gluten-free meal right after landing is jilted, I don’t panic. Instead, I figure out what’s most important and prioritize. Most important is eating, second importance is eating gluten-free, third importance is eating grease-free. Two days ago I flew into a smaller town after 11PM and felt starved – unexpectedly, anything green couldn’t be found for twenty miles. So I exhaled and compromised – eating is a must and gluten-free is a near must – French fries it was. Life’s not perfect. Even my planning isn’t perfect. But there’s always room to get creative with a compromise.

These are just some of the important tips that help me stay comfortable and stress-free while traveling. How could you alter these tips to fit your specific needs?

Originally published at


  • Kaitlin Schilling

    Founder, Hela Coaching

    Kaitlin Schilling is the founder of Hela Coaching, blending integrative health coaching with her expertise as a Registered Nurse. She graduated with her BS in Nursing from UCLA in 2012, and since has trained as a health coach with Duke Integrative Medicine. Grown from her own health journey, Kaitlin passionately works to empower women, inspire nutrition, and help others with autoimmune conditions. Kaitlin resides in Long Beach, California, where she can be found drinking tea and sparking conversation through her writing.