Last month I embarked on a trip to Asia to learn (and subsequently teach) how to have Multiple Sclerosis and stil be able to travel well. Even though I am not new to traveling, as I have been to over 50 countries now and I plan to continue to move through as many of the rest of them as possible during my life, I have done most of it since I was diagnosed with MS and much of it with obvious limitations of the disease.
That is why I decided that other people with MS and other chronic illnesses could travel too. It takes a bit of planning, but it is definitely doable.
My good friend (and videographer) Jude traveled with me so that she could help record the journey. From Los Angeles, Ca we headed first for China, and then on to Thailand. But let’s start at the beginning.
Booking The Trip.
Where you decide to go is certainly up to you. Nothing about MS should hold you back from going to the places you most desire. While it is true that we have to be careful in the heat, (and for some of us, even the extremes of cold can pose an issue)..you can still arrange it so that you are able to visit the places on your bucket list, or get to that family reunion regardless of the challenges of MS. But if you are planning a trip for fun and you have the liberty of choosing when you go, remember to check the weather in the location where you are planning to travel and go during the times of the year that makes the most sense.
For example….Dubai is on many a bucket list, but traveling to Dubai in August is like signing up for extreme torture. The weather is HOT, no I mean it. HOT!!! It easily can get up to 125 F on a bright August day. But, Dubai in the winter is almost always between 55 and 75. So why not make that a Winter holiday destination instead of a summer one?
THE KEY IS PLANNING
Before heading off on the big trip I just completed, one of the first things I did was to book my seats carefully. Here are a few tricks to help with getting the best seat on an airplane if you have mobility or other problems.
Pick your seat ahead of time. No that doesn’t mean I want you to spend the extra money for the preferred seat, but there are some tips that make flying more comfortable. I have a lot of spasticity in the left leg. This makes sitting in the cramped airplane especially uncomfortable. Therefore I always ask for a seat that allows my left side to be in the aisle. I can move my leg better and stretch it down the aisle when no one is walking through. You know your body and limitations better than anyone else so please be your own advocate.
Bulkhead seats are great for people with limited mobility and unless there are babies flying that need the bassinet you should be able to grab one of those easily because in general, people don’t like the tray that goes in the seat and the close proximity to the bathrooms. I on the other hand and many MSers, love having the bathroom just a few steps away.
Always contact the airline, tell them that you have MS and make your needs known. There is no reason to suffer a bad seat (especially on a long distance flight) when you have a condition like ours. The airlines are extremely accommodating if you approach it in a genuinely nice way. Remember, I have flown hundreds of times and I have never had a seat request denied. The airline personnel may even change your seat to a preferred seat without you paying for it or move you right to the front of the plane, I have had that happen a few times.
Also, it never hurts once you are at the airport, to ask for an upgrade to first or business class. Seats in those classes are not always filled and letting someone with a disability have the empty seat doesn’t cost the airline a thing. In fact, it sometimes creates goodwill. So dress nicely, but comfortable, look sharp and ask for that upgrade. They won’t offer it unless you ask.
Then again, If you have someone in your family who travels a lot, using their miles to get upgrades is a very smart move. Some airlines do allow members to ‘gift’ miles to others in their immediate family, so don’t be shy. ASK anyone who might have those accumulated miles sitting around to let you in on a few of them!
And Always Always Always ask for a wheelchair!
Airlines will provide wheelchairs for you to get through security (TSA) and to your gate. Please take advantage of that service. I do well walking, but I don’t do well standing for long periods of time in one place. The pressure of standing in long lines puts weight on my back and legs, and they become weak after even a short wait. As we all know TSA lines can get long and cumbersome so the wheelchair and attendant will zoom you right past that chaos and straight to where you need to go without all the hassle.
Plus you never know exactly how far that gate is from the check-in point. Why tire yourself out BEFORE you even take off? That is no way to start a trip. Yes, it is tempting to show everyone just how well you can do without help, but trust me, it isn’t worth it. If you want to enjoy your trip and be rested once you get there, airport marathons are not worth what it can do to you later. Get the wheelchair! There is no shame in using it. (Remember you do have MS)
P.S. If you don’t have frequent flyer miles….sign up! Even if you only take one trip a year. Otherwise, it is like letting free money float away into the clouds.