Top Helpful Tips for Traveling with MS
Taking a trip gives us all the welcome opportunity to break free from the mundane of everyday life and get away from it all. Whether it’s a day trip to a museum, a weekend at the cottage, or a weeklong adventure across state lines, we all need a break.
But the reality is: If you or a loved one is living with multiple sclerosis (MS), having this chronic condition is the one constant that none of us can escape.
While we can’t escape the disease, it doesn’t mean we can’t get out and have a great time traveling and enjoying life. With some pre-planning and preparation, a great trip is within your grasp, in spite of MS.
We know this because we both are living with MS, and travel regularly. First, we mastered the road trip, and now we’re pretty accomplished air travelers as well. In fact, we live in Michigan and just returned from a three-day trip to Louisiana. Such a venture included a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the airport and a flight lasting just as long from Detroit to New Orleans.
Taking a quick trip like this wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t use some of our road and air travel tips, which we hope will help you when you plan your next getaway:
1. Start with a full tank of gas.
Practice this both literally and figuratively. For as much as you need to fill up your vehicle to ensure it’s ready for the trip, make sure you get your rest so you’re ready to go.
2. For better or worse, salt is your friend.
Every night when we’re traveling, it’s guaranteed we’ll have the same road-trip-eve dinner: A ‘Hot-N-Ready’ pizza and order of crazy bread from Little Caesars. Here’s why: Salty pizza helps us to retain water to ensure we won’t have to make as many restroom stops on the road. And, if you use a wheelchair (like Jennifer does) you likely won’t be able to use the airplane restroom.
3. Rest stops made easy.
We love the rest stops that have accessible family restrooms to make it easier for wheelchair transfers. But when there isn’t a family restroom, we’ve learned the rest stop attendant usually is available to close one of the women’s restrooms “for cleaning” so Dan can help Jennifer use the ladies’ room.
4. Pack a vehicle carry-on bag.
While we’re on the topic of restrooms, having a spare change of pants in the van is a must because of MS-related bladder issues. Packing a bag of spare clothes can provide comfort and confidence when making a long road trip, knowing that if you don’t find an accessible restroom in time, you’ll have a clean, dry pair of pants readily available.
5. Ask for more than an accessible hotel room.
When booking your room, know how to ask for what you need. Do you need a barrier-free room or perhaps a roll-in shower? Knowing exactly what to request when making a hotel reservation will save you a lot of time and headaches when you check into your room. Be specific, and try to think of every little thing you will need in your room, because that little thing likely isn’t a little thing at all.
6. Invest in roadside assistance.
Never underestimate the help and usefulness of roadside assistance. While there likely is a monthly fee for roadside insurance, being able to call a toll-free number to request reliable service to repair a flat tire or tow your broken-down vehicle is priceless.
7. Know the right number to call when you book your flight.
Almost all airlines have special telephone numbers to call for accessible airplane seating.
8. Airline loyalty is worth the investment.
Don’t jump from airline to airline based on affordable prices. Find one that treats you well and stay true.
9. Get a direct flight if possible.
This eliminates any worries about the airlines losing your wheelchair or you rushing to make a connecting flight.
10. Check on accessible shuttles.
If you’re leaving a vehicle in a long-term parking lot at the airport, make sure it has wheelchair-accessible vans to get you to the terminal.
11. Get to the airport at least 2 1/2 hours early.
You need to get your wheelchair through security, but you also need to build in time so that you can go to the restroom a half-hour before the plane boards. Remember, the airline needs to take your wheelchair and load it on the plane.
12. Try to avoid checking luggage.
By the time you get off the airplane, the luggage carousel already may have finished and you will be left hoping that your bag is still there.
13. Pack efficiently.
In order to avoid checking bags, pack functional pieces of clothing you can wear more than once. Also, make room for parts of your wheelchair that may need to fit into your carry-on.
14. Don’t feel guilty.
You may feel awkward when you get to go to the front of the security line ahead of all the other passengers. But it takes a lot longer for you to get your wheelchair checked than it does for everybody else to stand and walk through the electronic screening.
15. Think about what you’re wearing.
Keep your apparel simple and minimize accessories so you can pass through security that much quicker.
16. Wear shoes that are easily removed.
Some TSA officers don’t require you to remove your shoes, but others do. Be prepared. We recommend wearing slip-on or Velcro shoes if possible.
17. Get used to looking like everyone else.
Without your wheelchair, you’ll look just like every other passenger on the plane (And that’s pretty cool!)
18. Do your homework.
Make sure you know what is available for accessible public transportation, wheelchair replacement, and accessible hotel rooms where you are going.
19. Consider renting an accessible van.
It isn’t guaranteed that all cities where you’re traveling will have accessible or affordable public transportation or taxi service. Search the internet and make calls to see what is available. Consider renting a van, which will give you more freedom to explore where you’re traveling.
20. Show your appreciation.
Tip for good service and always try to complete service follow-up surveys. For as much as they hear when they do something wrong, they need to hear about it just as much when they get it right.
21. Take one more day off.
If possible, take a day to rest when you get home. That way you can recover and you won’t find yourself saying, “I need a vacation to rest up from my vacation!”
Keeping some of these tips in mind, we encourage you to get away and enjoy a break from everyday realities. No matter the length of time, such a break is a great way to recharge yourself to keep moving forward despite your MS. Happy travels, and we look forward to hearing what tips you use to make it easier to make your trips memorable.