Pack your bags and see the world! A little advance planning can make your vacation run smoothly if you have multiple sclerosis (MS).
"I encourage patients to travel to all the places they want to visit," says Lily Jung-Henson, MD, a neurologist at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle. "I have patients who've gone on safaris in Africa, scuba diving in Indonesia, biking in Europe. It just takes some forethought to optimize the trip with whatever restrictions and concerns you have."
Trip insurance. If you're concerned that a flare-up could delay your trip, check airline and hotel cancellation policies before you book. If a doctor's letter isn't enough, you may need travel insurance.
Wheelchair access. If you use one, ask for accessible hotel rooms and transportation. Accessibility in foreign countries might not be as extensive as in the U.S. Research it in advance.
Travel agents and guide books. Do an Internet search for "travel agents for people with special needs." You'll get a lot of suggestions for agencies, tour operators, cruise lines, and other resources. Global Access News, an online travel resource for people who use wheelchairs, offers a list of travel guides.
When and how long? If you get monthly medication infusions (IVs), remember to schedule your travel around them. Or work with your doctor to arrange to get them while you're away.
A day off. Consider giving yourself a day to rest when you arrive at your destination.
"Listen to your body. You might need this extra day to acclimate when you get there and when you get home," Jung-Henson says.
What to Bring
Medications. Bring enough to last the trip plus a few extra days in case your flight is canceled or delayed. You might need a letter from your doctor so your pharmacy lets you get more than your usual amount -- and to make sure your insurance will cover it. Pack refrigerated medications in an insulated bag with ice.
Don't forget to bring over-the-counter medications you use to manage symptoms. Even if you don't use them every day, be prepared.
Walking stick. Even if you walk with ease, think about whether a lightweight walking stick or other aid would help you save energy.
Cool or warm gear. Prepare for the weather, and remember to bring your cooling vest or a hat and gloves.
You can also adapt gear to help you keep cool. "A patient who took a mountain biking trip to Utah in the middle of August filled a CamelBak two-thirds full with water every night and froze it. Then she filled it the rest of the way each morning," Jung-Henson says. "That was her hydration and cooling."
Before You Leave
Put these on your checklist:
Vaccinations. Don't get on a plane, train, or bus in flu season without a flu shot, Jung-Henson says.
Travel to certain countries may call for extra shots. Not all of them are right for people with MS. Your doctor and a travel clinic can work with you to weigh your options.
Medication schedule. Work with your doctor to decide when you should take your drugs if you'll be in a different time zone. Set alarms on your phone to remind you.
Referral. No one plans to see a doctor on vacation, but just in case, ask your doctor for the name of someone you could call at your destination. Consider packing a CD of your most recent MRI. Know the password to your electronic medical records.
Navigating the Airport
Call the TSA. The Transportation Security Administration has a special help line, called TSA Cares, for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions: 855-787-2227. Call 72 hours before check-in to find out what to expect at the airport. Tell them if you'll be carrying needles for injectable medication. You can also request a passenger support specialist who can help you at the airport.
Foreign airports. Research in advance their policies on needles and medications.
Use a wheelchair. Even if you don't usually need help walking, you might want to consider asking for a wheelchair and any other accommodation that will help you save energy and move more quickly to the gate and onto your flight.