While I concede that I’m not an expert in endometriosis medical science, I’ll fight anyone who argues that I’m not an expert in endometriosis travelling. If you already don’t know: I grew up abroad. I’m beyond blessed to have lived in Zimbabwe, Barbados, India and Vietnam (amongst other places). Shockingly, I didn’t walk all the way from the UK to those places. So, needless to say, I’ve boarded a few planes in my time.
Due to a travelling overdose, I’ve never had much of an opportunity to develop any kind of plane-phobia (there’s definitely a real word for that but who’s got the time for that kind of research). I’ve never been scared of turbulence or freaked out by airport crowds. But that kind of changed when I started to feel the first effects of endo (around age 14/15).
I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m scared of flying (or any travelling in general), but I’ve certainly developed some kind of travel anxiety, probably stemming from a lack of control over my endo whilst flying. When I’m at home (or even in the office) I am, for the most part, in charge of my body, my surroundings, my position, my food, my treatments (medicine, TENS, hot water bottle), etc.
When you travel, you lose control. This is particularly true when you fly. Lots of people in a small space. No escaping the said people/space for a set amount of time.
So over my time flying with endo, I’ve developed a few tips and tricks for alleviating the anxiety associated with travelling with a chronic pain condition.
These five tips and tricks fit conveniently into my two flying-with-endo mantras:
Take back control of the things that you can control
1. Choose where you sit:
This is a funny one because there is no one ‘right answer’. For long haul flights, I typically like a window seat. This is because, for me, window = leaning potential = sleeping potential = less-pain potential. But this isn’t an absolute rule. Just last weekend, I travelled down to London with work and I sat in an aisle seat. I chose the aisle seat for two reasons: (1) the short haul nature of the Glasgow-London flight doesn’t lend itself to a healthy snooze and (2) having suffered from extreme nausea (leading to fainting spells and vomiting) for several weeks now, I needed to ensure quick access to the loo. So, the point here isn’t really “aisle is better” or “window is better” but rather just think about what might work for you and if you can afford it (and there’s ample choice on the plane) then I would recommend you choose your seat so that your journey is burdened by one less variable.
2. Choose what you wear:
I mean, this is really an every day of the week endo issue but it can’t be stressed enough: life with endo is a very different ballgame when you’re in comfy clothes. That may sound extra af and yes, of course, wearing sweats instead of high-waisted jeans won’t cure your endo. But I’m willing to be it will make it a damn sight more bearable. So while I am often tempted to channel Beyoncé-turning-up-to-JFK high glam realness, I usually opt for a more au naturale, slouchy vibe w/ topknot and a make-up free mug.
And layers, oh layers. I struggle a lot with endo-induced body temperature issues, often dealing with hour-long periods of hot flush. Being able to strip off (within reason, oi oi) and pile on the layers is essential for me. So (and I’ll really try to practice what I preach): try not to leave travel outfit choice to the last minute. Genuinely think about what is going to make you comfy, happy and in control.
3. Choose your food:
I posted on Instagram this very week about the frustration of having an endo-friendly diet thrown out of whack whilst travelling. My only real advice here is try to stick (where at all possible) to the food you know works for you. Reach for the anti-inflammatory foods and try to avoid anything you know doesn’t work. You obviously never want to have your diet lead to a flare-up, but you really don’t want this on a plane. For me, a successful airport/in-flight meal is usually vegan. Whilst I am a pescatarian in my day-to-day life, I find that sticking to a vegan diet is a sure-fire way to avoid big diet-induced flare-ups whilst travelling.
Distract yourself from the things that you cannot control
4. Choose your entertainment:
There is a lot going on at airports and sometimes even more so on the plane itself. So my simple tip: pick up your favourite book, listen to a killer podcast/audiobook/album, check out a mindfulness or language-leaning app, or even watch an in-flight movie (or 5) if you can.
5. Choose your treatment:
I will use this opportunity to reiterate a point from my TENS machine blog. Seriously, seriously don’t bother to wear your wired TENS to the airport. It’s an awkward thing to explain – trust me, I’ve tried. It’s not subtle and the more you try to make it look subtle, the more suspect you look. So save yourself the awkwardness and try to opt for a different painkiller if possible.
But onto the things that can work. I previously used the painkiller Amitriptyline to manage my pain. This was a godsend for long haul flights. The medicine itself doubles as an anti-depressant and so can help to lift your overall mood, alleviate anxiety and certainly make you a little drowsy (ideal to catch those winks). But, again, I never used this for short/medium haul flights or where I had transfers to stay alert for.
I use heat pads, such as those from Deep Heat, to get a heated solution without the hassle of warming up a beanie bag or filling up a hot water bottle (definitely not always possible on a plane). These pads are beyond easy to use: take a few in your carry-on – they barely take up any room in your hand luggage either – and apply one pre-flight. Obviously, if you’re on a long haul, you can keep applying them as needed. I have never tried Tiger Balm on a flight (as I’ve only just properly discovered it for endo, can you believe) but I imagine the effect would be very similar.
One last thing: keep supplements on you. If you know that something works for you in quick time, use and abuse that. For me, turmeric supplements can work wonders and fast. They can transform a stuffy, bloated plane ride into a semi-enjoyable experience.
So there we go, those are my five (pretty obvious but need to be said) tips for flying with endo.
Thanks for reading. Endo and out.