Traveling with Multiple Sclerosis: Tips for Your Trips
We all need a break from the day-to-day now and then, but if you have MS, you may think even a weekend trip is too much of a hassle. Think again! With proper planning and preparation, you may discover a getaway - short or long - is just what you need! Dr. Rosalind C. Kalb, vice president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Professional Resource Center offers this advice to make your journeys enjoyable.
Talk To a Travel Agent
But not just any travel agent. Find an agent who specializes in travel for people with disabilities for accurate answers to your questions, ideas and suggestions you might not think of on your own, and for making your travel arrangements - particularly where wheelchair travel is concerned. You can certainly plan to take a trip on your own, but if something goes wrong (ex. you get to your hotel only to find they don't have the accessible room they promised you) you're on your own. In this and other unpredictable instances, a call to your travel agent should resolve the situation quickly and in your favor.
You've probably already discovered that "handicap accessible" means different things to different people. If you're planning your own trip, contact hotels, the cruise line, train, bus, resorts, restaurants, and any attractions on your itinerary to confirm what they mean by "accessible". If you're traveling by train or bus, call in advance to make sure there's room to store your mobility device on board.
Label Your Personal Belongings
Not only your clothes. Dr. Kalb recommends you label every part of your wheelchair or scooter in case it comes apart in the care of an airline or cruise ship. After you've done that, make a list of names and addresses of businesses in your path of travel that can repair or replace your wheelchair or scooter, if necessary.
Pack Your Medications Carefully
Especially if you're traveling by air, keep your medications in their prescription bottles. Besides having proof for security personnel, the bottles have your pharmacy's phone number, and you have all the relevant information you need in case one or more meds needs to be replaced while on your trip. Take along a note from your doctor explaining your condition, as well as a list of your medicines and dosages--and keep everything in your carry-on luggage. Make sure you know before leaving that you'll have a way to properly store your medications--particularly those that need refrigeration. Since ice is not usually readily available, take an ice pack. It's better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have one.
Conserve Your Energy
Travel can be exhausting for anyone, so it makes sense for you to find ways to get from place to place without expending unnecessary energy. Many attractions span acres, so even if you don't normally use a wheelchair or scooter, it's nice to have one available. Call ahead to learn if the sites you plan to see (botanical gardens, museums, amusement parks, event venues, etc.) have wheelchairs, either free or for rent. Make a reservation for a wheelchair if the location only has a "limited supply." If you travel with a wheelchair, you might consider renting a wheelchair van in locations you'll be visiting for an extended time to go wherever you please.
Take Regular Rest Breaks
Stop. Stretch. Take regular breaks whether you think you need one or not. Request an aisle seat near a bathroom on the airplane. Ask for similar accommodations on trains and buses. If it's difficult for you to get up and go to the bathroom, ask your doctor how to manage bowel and bladder function while on your trip.
Hold Off the Heat
For some, MS causes sensitivity to heat that aggravates the symptoms, but that doesn't necessarily mean the tropics or other hot destinations can't be on your itinerary. You simply need to follow guidelines for hot weather--stay well-hydrated and wear loose, light-colored clothing. Oh, and do make sure your sleeping accommodations have air-conditioning.
Listen To Your Body
Itineraries are not etched in stone. If, during your trip, you're not feeling up to hours of adventure, stay behind and rest. Tell your travel partner(s) to go ahead and enjoy the day. A day, or even just an evening of rest can make a world of difference.
Though Dr. Kalb's tips focus on individuals with MS, most of these travel suggestions should be helpful for almost anyone whose condition includes limited mobility. What interesting corner of the world would you like to visit?