It may take some extra effort but traveling with MS is possible — and rewarding.
As a digital nomad living with multiple sclerosis (MS), I’m perpetually exhausted. Planning, packing, airports, reservations — it’s a lot even for a person without a chronic condition. And then there’s the fear of a flare-up to deal with during vacation.
What if I get an exacerbation while traveling abroad or on a cruise overseas? Without immediate access to my doctor, how do people with MS travel safely?
As a veteran traveler with a debilitating disease, I own these worries. Travel could be a source of stress and exposure to infection that can lead to faulty bodily reactions like fatigue, numbness, foot drop, and mobility and vision problems.
The reality is that a person with MS often cannot depend on a seamless adventure without support. These are the steps I take to ensure I can travel safely to keep my MS in check.
Keep up with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and practice physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
If you plan to travel, consider more remote destinations to enjoy activities like hiking or camping.
Having fewer people around you means you’re less likely to be exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which is key for everyone, not just those of us with MS.
If you’re itching for a more fast-paced experience, explore larger cities on days that are less busy to avoid crowds, like on weekday afternoons.
Whether staying at a resort or in an Airbnb, I always consider having an accessible pool a priority.
Besides being a fun activity, exercising in pools is great for strength building, and also keeps you cool to avoid that dreaded MS temperature sensitivity.
But beware of Jacuzzis and hot tubs. They can feel good for a bit, but long-term dips often result in hours of post-Jacuzzi fatigue.
Pro tip: Get your hair wet. Cool water on your scalp feels so refreshing. I can feel my internal temps drop when I dive into the water.
Infections can make you more prone to having an MS relapse. That means the risk of a stomach illness is real.
You don’t want to grapple with stomach issues from chicken sizzling on the outdoor grill for hours festering in the sun.
If you absolutely need to try the local street cuisine, make sure there’s a busy line in front of the stand so you know the food is fresh.
Request a fridge in your room for snacks and for your temperature-controlled medications. If your meds are the kind that must be refrigerated, this really comes in handy.
Try regional goodies and local snacks for quick, clean meals to keep in your minifridge.
Even if you only have a sink in your room, slicing open a mango and downing it over the sink is bound to be one of your most precious memories.
Having a routine is a critical part of my travel health management.
In the midst of an exciting vacation, it’s easy to break plans to exercise or to forget to take your vitamins.
To plan ahead, I create a morning and evening checklist to set the beginning of my day as productive and the end of my day as restful. Having a checklist of desired goals and daily practices — like a 10-minute meditation, stretching, or starting the day with a glass of water — helps me relieve anxiety from stressful travel.
When you’ve got wonders to explore, it’s easy to get worn out.
Schedule in sleep by setting a Cinderella-style curfew if you have an early morning tour. Don’t feel guilty about snoozing if you stayed up late adventuring.
Before you set off traveling, plan how you’ll handle recovery at the end of a tiring day. After a long day, it’s nice to know how to get back to homeostasis, like a night soak, a mindful stretch, or a cooling compress.
During an ill-timed, mid-vacation relapse, it’s good to have a contingency plan on how best to handle nursing it.
While planning your daily excursions, note what nearby hospitals are readily available.
Once, I had a relapse in Thailand and I was so uncomfortable until my heavy numbness (a combination of MS corset and foot drop) went away by itself toward the end of the trip. If your doc approves, having emergency medication on hand may help through a rough relapse.
In addition, pack any supplements and medications you normally take. I like to bring an extra week’s worth with me in a pill case.
Your preferred over-the-counter medicines will support you through aches from all the walking on tours and excursions.
Also, consider if you might run into motion sickness or altitude sickness, and talk with your doctor about writing a prescription for appropriate medications as you prep for travel. Don’t skip this. It’s the worst to be the only one puking on the cruise or horribly sick in the mountains.
If you take disease-modifying therapy in shot or pill form, consider bringing extra along on your trip in case your travel plans change.
Most insurance providers allow a 3-month supply of medication for travel per year, but you’ll likely be on the phone a long time coordinating this bulk supply of meds. Get your doctor on board and email everyone.
Pro tip: Reach out to your insurance provider’s Facebook page for support. My insurance provider’s support through Facebook Messenger helped expedite the process of getting an extra supply of vacation medication quickly.
If you’re going abroad, I really recommend looking into traveler’s insurance.
Some providers do not cover preexisting conditions, so be careful while shopping around. In addition, some plans require that you purchase insurance within 15 days of traveling in order to lock in preexisting coverage.
Remember that the primary purpose of traveler’s insurance is not for preexisting conditions, but instead for those moments when you twist an ankle, break an arm, or get food poisoning. Accidents like this are of greater risk for those who are immunocompromised.
Still, it’s good to be covered. Expect to pay $50 to $70 per month to cover yourself with a decent plan.
If a place is on your bucket list, don’t assume it’s out of reach for you because you have MS. Traveling safely with MS may take some additional effort and planning, but I find it’s always worth it in the end.
Article originally appeared on October 25, 2021 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed on October 25, 2021.
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