I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s phenomenon about 8 years ago following some strange and worrying bouts of numbness and tingling in my hands and feet. I found that putting my hands on a warm radiator or wrapping my feet in a blanket relieved the symptoms. When I told my doctor this, she smiled and said, “that’s circulation. It’s Raynaud’s phenomenon.”
She went on to explain that Raynaud’s phenomenon is a spectrum of symptoms, some worse than others, and that mine didn’t sound so bad. Some people with the condition, she told me, can barely grasp their keys to turn them in the lock in the morning. So, OK, I thought, maybe I could deal with a little numbness and pins and needles. But what was this strange affliction and why did I have it? That’s a question no one seems to be able to answer.
I suspect it’s hereditary as, though we didn’t realize what it might be at the time, my father has always suffered from poor circulation, especially in his hands and feet, and I’m pretty sure my daughter has it, too. My next consideration was what could I do about it and how was this going to affect my life, and, most importantly, my love of travel?
It’s Cold Outside
The main thing that triggers my Raynaud’s is the cold. My hands and feet go numb, my toes cramp, and then I get that tingling pins and needles feeling as the numbness starts to recede. If I’m at home and I can easily warm myself up, and this isn’t that much of an issue, but when I’m out and about and especially when I’m traveling, this can prove difficult. I’ve learned that a thick pair of socks can’t be underestimated in their importance. I was in Glasgow, Scotland, a couple of years ago, in January, staying in a big old cold tenement building, and I don’t think I felt warm once for the whole weekend! Layers helped. Vest T-shirts, long-sleeved Ts, and sweaters, covered by thick coats, hats, scarves, and, of course, gloves, all made me more comfortable, but by far the biggest issue was my feet. I found that a thick pair of socks covered by a second, thicker pair of socks, and good boots, did ease the numbness and made it easier for me to walk around.
If I’m going to a cold place or it’s wintertime, I pack carefully, especially if it’s likely to snow or has snowed where I’m going. Snow and ice are difficult, and some Raynaud’s sufferers will find their fingers go blue in very cold conditions. Waterproof gloves are a must in snow and ice and not staying out in the cold too long should be your goal. I realized pretty quickly after my diagnosis that in colder conditions at night a pair of socks on my hands, as well as my feet, really made a difference, so if I’m going somewhere cold now I always pack extra bed socks, for my hands!
Issues such as Raynaud’s, which are connected to poor blood circulation, can be a problem when traveling by train and plane. I can get pretty warm in a car and I have control over my heated seat and I can bring blankets etc, but it’s not so easy when using public transport. We all know it’s a good idea to get up and have a little walk now and then when traveling by plane, but when you have Raynaud’s this can mean a fair amount of moving about. My toes will typically cramp if it’s cool onboard and if I’ve been sitting in one position for any length of time. I’ve been known to give up my seat on a train and stand, simply because it’s more comfortable for my feet.
I have to do my best to stretch out my legs and feet and push down on my toes, to relieve the cramping, and it can look a bit odd to other travelers. On a train, a walk to the canteen is always a good way to stretch out my legs and feet, as I can also pick up a hot drink to warm myself up. On a plane, it is a bit more difficult, but if you have a similar problem, don’t be afraid to be that one passenger who’s always walking up and down the aisle. Your comfort is more important than what you look like and you can put up with a few funny glances if it means you’re cramp free. I usually find flight attendants are very good at understanding the various conditions passengers have, and if you tell them you need to move around more, they’ll make sure you can. They will also bring you extra blankets to help with the cold of the air conditioning, which can be an issue on planes.
Go With The Flow
Stress is one of the major triggers for Raynaud’s phenomenon. It’s not known why, but emotional stress can bring on an attack of Raynaud’s that has me desperately trying to find a way to warm my hands so I can feel my fingers again. Stress usually gives me more of the tingling and pins and needles than the numbness, and it can even affect my face sometimes too. The first time I experienced tingling lips was a bit worrying, but I’ve been assured it does happen and it’s nothing to worry about.
Traveling can be stressful. Things go wrong now and then and learning to accept this and just go with it can do a lot to minimize the symptoms of Raynaud’s coming on. I was recently in Edinburgh and when we got to our hotel they had no record of the booking. It turned out they’d double booked us and the hotel was now full. It was stressful. We’d traveled for 4 hours to get there. But the hotel had a very relaxing bar area and they served a good list of cocktails. So, we made the most of the situation. Instead of letting it stress me out and ending up with tingling all over my hands and face, I ordered cocktails and we calmly searched for an alternative hotel.
The staff were very helpful and rang around for us and ordered us a taxi to get us to the next hotel. I could have let this stress me out, but I know that would bring on an attack of Raynaud’s that makes me feel even worse, so staying calm and trusting that everything will work out is much better.
There’s Always A Way
I make a point of not letting my Raynaud’s stop me from doing anything. With a little forward planning and some careful thought, this condition shouldn’t slow you down or cause you to rule out any trips. Cold places are more difficult, but sufferers of Raynaud’s can still do anything and go anywhere they please. I was recently at a spa with an outdoor pool in November and it was cold outside. I was determined I would swim in that pool, and I did. I was cold when I got out and all I had handy was a robe and slippers, but there was a hot tub nearby so I hopped straight in there.
If you have Raynaud’s, you might have to work around some situations and go to a few more extra measures than those who don’t, but you can still travel where you want, when you want, how you want. There’s currently no treatment for Raynaud’s other than keeping yourself warm and staying active. I’d say that’s good advice for traveling with this condition. Keep warm, keep active and keep going wherever you want to go.
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