My biggest passion in life is to travel. I always find an excuse to take a trip somewhere. There’s no special occasion that’s not worth a quick getaway for me. It’s just so gratifying!
As soon as I got my diagnosis and learned how ruthless MS could be, I planned a trip to Europe. I knew that I had to make this trip before I would start losing my mobility. I’m glad I took immediate action because soon after I returned from Europe, things started to spiral very quickly.
During this trip, I realized that the world wasn’t built for people with disabilities. Even with the modern adaptations made in different countries, it’s still a challenge. But with a good plan in place and taking care of all logistics ahead of time, things can go smoothly.
The first step is to decide whether you are taking a short trip or a long trip. This will determine how much luggage you’ll bring, how many of your walking aids you’ll need, and how many places you’ll be visiting during this trip.
The key to a successful trip will always be energy conservation. Therefore, if your trip is short, don’t put too many things in your To Do List in such a short period of time. The odds are that you will get exhausted and you will not be able to complete everything on your list. Now, if you are taking a long trip, allow days in between activities for resting. It's important that you give yourself some time to recover.
In the United States, the National Park Access Pass is available free of cost to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with a determined permanent disability. This pass provides free lifetime admittance to more than 2,000 national parks across the country.
If you are traveling to Europe and want to visit their famous landmarks, know that many, not all, of the museums or attractions require a reservation ahead of time. You will need to call or go online for each of them to book your reservation. This is actually good for people with disabilities because you won’t have to wait too long to enter, since they let you in at the exact time of your appointment.
Big cities like Barcelona, Paris, and Rome offer a city pass that includes admission to many of their famous attractions under one price. You can purchase these online before you travel. All you have to do is present it at the door and you just go in. With this pass you’ll skip the lines. But when you have a clear disability that is obvious to the eye, for instance, you move around on your scooter or use a cane, they will send you to the entrance for disabled people and you will enter first before the big crowd does. Another advantage!
Huge tourists’ crowds usually come early in the day. Because many of the visitors come from the cruise ships, their schedules are usually very early in the morning. So if you don't feel comfortable in a crowded place, then try to visit those attractions later during the day. Don't forget, make your reservations.
Transportation on land can be a little bit more of a challenge if you're using a wheelchair. So instead of using the very fast paced train system or the bus, maybe it would be better to call an Uber or a taxi. Few train stations come with an elevator. I recommend you call the train system’s main office and get informed before getting on a train. Mind you, the train tracks in Europe are underground. Therefore, there are lots of steps. Remember, some of these cities are ancient cities built during the Roman Empire times. They also used cobblestones to build their roads (not good at all for a wheelchair or scooter).
There are apps that can help you coordinate your trip more efficiently, like TripIt or Visit a City. These apps organize all your travel plans in one place. From your itinerary to your accommodations, distance from one place to the other, and more. Just enter the details of your schedule in every city and the app will do the rest.
But before you even get on the plane, make sure that you call the airline ahead of time and let them know if you are bringing your own mobility equipment, like your scooter or your wheelchair. Take a picture of your equipment before you hand it to the staff. In case your equipment gets damaged, this picture will be your evidence of the original state of it. If the airline damages your wheelchair or your scooter, file a claims report immediately.
When it comes to domestic flights, here in the U.S. they're very good at prioritizing a traveler with a disability. Usually, they let you and your companion on the airplane before the rest of the passengers, regardless of the type of fare you paid for your ticket. This allows you enough room for you to store your luggage and sit down comfortably instead of squeezing in between passengers to get to your seat. As opposed to Europe, where the disabled passenger will be the last person to get onboard. You can’t always win, right?
Airports offer staff that will assist people with disabilities go through the check-in desks, TSA, immigration, etc, that will take you straight to the airplane in a wheelchair. Take advantage of this free service, especially if you’re traveling solo.
Another very important aspect of traveling abroad with a disability is to purchase travel insurance. You can browse on the internet for different companies that sell this type of product. They're usually very affordable. There are coverages for $1,000,000 that include reimbursement for canceled flights, hospitalization and other medical expenses, and even repatriation of remains in case of an unfortunate event.
Packing lightly is always an advantage. Usually, I choose to bring one big piece of luggage but still pack lightly in case I buy some items so I still have room in my one luggage to bring them with me, instead of having to get a second piece of luggage. I also upgrade to a fare that includes the luggage to avoid extra charges this way.
If you are on a medication that requires refrigeration, call the airline ahead of time and ask them how they can assist you to keep your medication in good standing during the flight.
Another good way to travel when you have a disability, especially if you have mobility issues, is on a cruise ship. The hallways are wide enough for you to ride your scooter around the ship. Also, many cruise lines provide adapted ground transportation for people with disabilities that have ramps for wheelchairs and scooters. This way you can enjoy the city on wheels where the ship is docked.
There are also tour companies that are dedicated to travelers with disabilities. Among them are Wheel the World, Wheelchair Travel, Travel for All, Easy Access Travel, Accessible Caribbean Vacations, Disabled Accessible Travel, Epic Enabled, Iceland Unlimited, and many more. There's a plethora of tour options to suit the accessibility needs for people with disabilities.
I wish I could cover all the aspects of traveling with multiple sclerosis or any other disability. My best recommendation is that you get organized before the date of your trip. If available, bring somebody with you that can assist you. Make all the phone calls to make the necessary arrangements that will make things easier for you. Have fun, but don't overdo it. Don’t let your MS diagnosis hold you back. Get out and explore the world.
To connect with other people living with multiple sclerosis, join our MS Facebook Support Group.
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