December 09, 2022
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Photography by Juan Moyano/Stocksy United
A little preparation will help make the planes, trains, and automobiles part of your holiday much less stressful.
’Tis the season for traveling for the holidays and for family vacations. From planning to packing, booking tickets to scheduling attractions, standing in long lines to trekking across the airport ─ traveling can be stressful.
People with multiple sclerosis (MS) are especially sensitive to the effects of stress because it can set off relapses and exacerbate symptoms like fatigue, pain, cognitive difficulties, and problems with mobility.
The last thing any of us want to think about on vacation is having to manage worsening MS symptoms. Below are my top tips for avoiding as much stress as possible while getting to your destination.
The absolute best advice I could ever give is to ask for assistance at the airport.
Even if you normally are ambulatory, navigating an airport from one end to another can be exhausting for those of us with MS. What’s more, once we finally make it to the security checkpoint, we may fumble to take off our shoes and jackets.
If we need to take a train or elevator to our gate, it can be difficult getting on safely without assistance. Those of us who have low vision may have difficulty reading airport signs and finding our gates.
Asking for assistance — as difficult as that may be for some of us — helps ensure we make our flight on time without injury. It’s also actually a courtesy to other travelers who might otherwise be delayed by our struggles.
In addition to the benefits of physical assistance, it’s hard to overlook the convenience angle. Passengers who request assistance — as well as the rest of your party — are escorted through the security process and straight to the gate. You’ll cruise past long lines at TSA in a provided wheelchair and get priority boarding at the gate. You’ll never again have to experience:
Under the Air Carrier Access Act and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s disability rules, people with any degree of mobility impairments — whether it’s a bad ankle or full disability — can request this support, no questions asked. It’s a game-changer.
Requesting support at the airport is quite simple. Usually, you can make this request when you purchase your tickets online. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to call the airline to let them know of your needs in advance.
Either way, there should be a notation in your reservation that someone in your party will require assistance. However, the airline may not know which passenger in your party this applies to, so you should still identify yourself as the passenger with a disability who requires assistance when you arrive at the airport. Often, there’s a dedicated special assistance counter, but you can also let the agent at the check-in counter know.
I always feel like a VIP coasting through the airport with ease.
The airline staff will guide you on where to wait for a wheelchair escort. Once they arrive, they will escort you to your gate. They will even wait for you while you take a bathroom break en route to the gate, if necessary. I always feel like a VIP coasting through the airport with ease.
Still, for this whole process, give yourself extra time by arriving early at the airport. Sometimes there’s a long line of people waiting for wheelchair support, and you’ll have to wait your turn even if your flight time is approaching soon.
If you use a battery-powered wheelchair, arrive at the airport at least 1 hour in advance because airlines can only transport manual wheelchairs in the cabin of the plane, so you may need to wait while they find you a manual transport chair and check your own chair. If you’re checking your mobility device, consider attaching written instructions for personnel handling it.
Airport staff will also:
We’ve all experienced those moments when you’re breathlessly lugging your bags across the airport terminal, when your bag flips over every few steps while dragging it across the corridor, or when your luggage pops open, spilling personal items all over a busy train platform.
Save yourself from these mishaps and treat yourself to the luxury of a trusty, stress-free suitcase.
Having proper baggage with wheels is a must, especially if one arm is occupied holding a cane.
Double sets of spinner wheels on each corner (for a total of eight wheels) enable your luggage to roll easily and move in 360-degree circles. This makes it a breeze to take with you, whether you’re metropolitan train-hopping toward your destination or on a wheelchair escort through the airport. It also helps to have a push-button locking handle system to ensure a solid hold so you can maneuver the bag confidently.
To avoid embarrassing bag explosions in public, make sure your suitcase is expandable for extra packing capacity. A strap to hold the bag closed provides extra security in case the zipper breaks.
Bonus: A suitcase with a sturdy frame and a suitable height works great as a makeshift seat or footrest so you can rest.
If you take medications that must remain at a certain temperature, bringing them on long trips may feel like a hassle. I find the easiest thing is to carry them in a lightweight cooler nestled with frozen gel or ice packs to keep them fresh. (TSA permits these as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening.) Your cooler bag does not count as your carry-on or personal item.
It’s also a good idea to carry a physical copy of a doctor’s note with you in case of any questions (but I’ve never had an issue). On road trips, you can also use a small cooler with ice to store meds en route.
Sometimes my leg drags, sometimes I have a hop in my step, and sometimes I’m gliding forward with ease.
Relapsing-remitting MS and pesky symptoms that exacerbate can interrupt scheduled plans in the middle of a holiday vacation. Carrying a collapsible cane helps aid temperamental feet when they start to lag. It folds neatly so when I’m walking steadily, I can store it easily in my carry-on bag or purse and remain hands-free.
Relapses come, relapses go. Relapsing-remitting MS likes to crash the party, interrupting the best of times with the worst of symptoms.
If an exacerbation creeps up, having medication on hand that eases your symptoms may get you through a few days, especially if your doctor is out of reach. Ask your doctor if it’s a good idea to carry anti-inflammatory medications with you while you’re traveling, just in case.
Countless times, I’ve been in stressful travel situations where I later wonder, “How could I have avoided that?”
I always come to the same conclusions: Accept help and pack helpful tools. When traveling this holiday season, you’ll feel less stressed knowing you’ve got support.
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