How often did you think of traveling when you were first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? For many, the answer was "not often". However, over time, many people will have the urge to travel or explore for a variety of reasons. It could be just a desire for a change of pace, the desire to be with dear friends, or spend time and bond with the family.
Traveling is an experience that will leave you with a lifetime full of memories. Traveling may seem intimidating when you have unpredictable symptoms. Rest assured, traveling is entirely possible and enjoyable with MS. The right planning and precautions will allow you to relax and enjoy your trip.
Plan Your Trip
First, you must figure out where to travel. Are you visiting others? Going on a cruise? An exotic destination? Figuring where you want to go and how you want to travel will be a great first initiative. It will also impact the types of arrangements you need to make.
There are many components to planning a perfect getaway. If you have MS, a great start to planning is to obtain a letter from your doctor stating that you have multiple sclerosis. Be sure to bring along medical records as well. This might help explain your situation if symptoms arise. In case of a medical emergency arising before your trip, you may want to purchase a trip cancellation insurance. This will protect you if you are not able to make your trip.
There are lots of resources out there for travelers. One option is to hire a travel agent or service that specializes in disability travel. These travel agencies are experienced in navigating through situations unique to disabled travelers. They may help with getting the right access to services and have tour guides and accommodations to fit your needs.
If traveling abroad, the CDC has information on vaccinations, diseases in different areas, and emergency services. Check to see how the area you are traveling to may affect your MS. The travel destination and its effect on your health may influence where you decide to travel.
Transportation and Accommodations
Transportation is an essential part of getting to your destination or traveling between destinations. Before a flight, call ahead to ensure that you will have access to all the accommodations necessary available. If you are traveling by plane, leave extra time to get to your flight. If you have concerns about getting through security screening, you can contact the TSA. If traveling by bus, many have services to help with carrying luggage and getting on and off the bus. If driving, there are companies that rent vans and cars with disability features. Don’t forget your parking placard if you have one. Parking in tourist locations can be tricky.
If you are traveling, it is likely that you will be staying in a hotel, hostel, or other accommodations. When booking a hotel, look online to ensure the room will fit your needs. Then, call ahead to ensure that you are booking online the same room that has all the amenities you require.
If you require accessible hotel rooms or event seating within the US, you are covered by ADA regulations. Knowing your rights will be helpful when you are booking and planning your vacation. This is also true for having a service animal or a powered wheelchair.
If you are traveling internationally, check local regulations to ensure you know your rights under local law. If staying in a natural area, many of the national parks have disability access. There are also RVs specifically outfitted with disability amenities. Don’t hesitate to ask around for your needs--it may alleviate stress later.
Allow for extended circumstances.
When traveling, leave time in your schedule to relax and buffer any exhaustion. If you feel that you are having symptoms, assess whether they are new or old. You may want to wait 24 hours to see if they are temporary from traveling.
When traveling, stress, heat, and fatigue can cause a temporary symptom flare. If you think you are having a medical emergency, contact emergency services. It is helpful to have a list of hospitals or medical services in the area that you will be traveling, just in case. Also, have medications on hand in case of an emergency. It may help to keep them in their original containers, so there are no questions about them. You may need to plan if your medications are required to be kept refrigerated. If traveling abroad, looking up terms or using translation tools online may help explain your symptoms. A medical alert bracelet will help in emergency cases.
When traveling around, many museums, event centers, and other attractions will have wheelchairs available and disability friendly bathrooms. Don’t be hesitant to ask what services a facility can provide. When packing or heading out on an adventure, you may want to bring extra supplies. Water, towels, a cane, and other materials can help you get through a trip with ease. If driving a lot during the trip, be sure to take bathroom breaks when you see a designated stop. Planning stops on a road trip can help with this. If traveling by air, pack efficiently to avoid having to carry too much luggage. A variety of clothes will allow you to change if there is a change in weather or an accident. If traveling light and on an extended trip, look up a local laundromat.
Traveling with someone who knows you, such as a spouse or sibling, can be useful if a situation arises where you cannot advocate for yourself. They may be able to communicate your medical history or symptoms. Taking care of yourself during the trip is also very important. Get a good sleep and hydrate as needed.
Also, wash your hands frequently and bring a hand sanitizer. This may protect you from acquiring bacteria that your body is unfamiliar with. Planning for the heat, especially in hot locales or the summer, is essential for those with MS. A hat or cooling pad could be helpful to reduce heat. Limiting stress is also crucial, as it can trigger your MS. Take breaks, enjoy the scenery, do meditation, and take deep breaths or a walk if you are able. Taking breaks will decrease the amount of stress you feel.
During your trip, you will have to know yourself. Pace yourself as necessary. There is no shame in advocating for your needs or taking a break. Avoid or adapt activities that you know will negatively hurt your body. Most locations will have many options for recreation. Read tour guides and ask concierges or visit centers to find out more about each activity. There is a wealth of information out there. Remember that a fantastic vacation looks different for everyone. Just getting out there is a positive step that will enrich your life.
Have fun and relax.
Lastly, remember this is a vacation! Be sure to enjoy your trip. Whether you are taking your time in the sites or relaxing on a beach, it should be a time for enjoyment. Take pictures and enjoy the company of those around you. Do not stress over a potential incident. A positive outlook will help you enjoy your travel and those around you. Just be prepared for all situations.
There will be many unexpected events during travel, but keep calm and you will have an unforgettable experience.