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Tips for Traveling Abroad with MS

By Matt Cavallo


Summer travel season is in full force. Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis does not mean that you have to give up on your hopes and dreams of traveling to far away destinations. Rather, you can use your diagnosis as a call to action to get out there and explore new places that you have always wanted to visit. With some careful planning and practical tips, your dream vacation can be a reality despite your MS. In this article, we will provide a simple checklist of items to ensure that you are well prepared to travel abroad with MS. Before you leave:

Notify your neurologist and MS treatment provider. If you are going to be outside of the country, it is always best to tell your neurologist. Your neurologist can help plan any medications that you may need while abroad. If you are traveling with an injectable treatment, or other treatment that requires refrigeration, your neurologist or you may want to loop your MS treatment provider in on the travel plans to ensure that your MS treatment is shipped to your final destination safely. You will also want to reach out to the hotel directly to let them know that a package will be arriving prior to your stay that requires refrigeration. 

Notify your airline. Notifying the airline ahead of time that you have a disability is beneficial for both you and the airline. The airline can help arrange for transport around the terminal. The airline will also provide you with a handicap notification for expedited access through TSA and early boarding. You should also let your airline know if there are any special precautions for your MS treatment. For example, if you are traveling with a treatment that needs refrigeration and you can not ship it to the hotel ahead of time, you must notify the airline to ensure that they can refrigerate your treatment while in air. 

Notify your credit card company. If you are traveling with credit cards and plan on making foreign transactions, it is critical to call the number on the back of your card prior to your travel. You want to advise the customer service agent of two critical things: the location to which you are traveling and that you need to create a custom PIN. The location will allow the credit card company to know where you are making you transactions, so they don’t mistake your purchase activity as fraudulent. The PIN will allow you to withdraw money at a favorable exchange rate, as well as, purchase items that require PIN confirmation like train tickets.

Notify your cell phone provider. It is critical to contact your cell phone carrier to understand what the costs are associated with travel abroad. As soon as you leave the country, you will be roaming, which can be roaming for both data and voice. You may have unlimited data and text, but international calls may be at a substantial rate. If you have unlimited data and text, you may want to research free communication services like WhatsApp. WhatsApp uses your phone’s internet connection to make voice calls, but you can only call your contacts. Calling outside of your contacts will still carry the international rates.

Notify the hotel or short-term rental provider. Many places in older countries do not have elevators. If you have limited mobility or can not manage stairs, you must factor that into the place you’ll be staying, whether that is a traditional hotel or a short-term rental like AirBNB or VRBO. Contact these providers ahead of time to ensure that they can accommodate you. You don’t want to book a room and realize that you have five flights of stairs to navigate each time you want to leave. 

Prepare for uneven walking surfaces. Europe and some of the older countries have an outdated infrastructure in terms of roads and sidewalks. Many of the sidewalks are going to be cobblestone, which can be difficult to navigate if you have mobility issues. There might also be holes and other imperfections which create great fall risks. If you are prone to falls, make sure that you bring assistive devices like canes and braces. Also, if you need additional support, look into compression wear for your ankles and knees. Compression gear can help keep your ankle and knee in place while walking. Compression gear is not a replacement for a brace but offers addition stability on uneven surfaces.

Ensure you have the proper footwear. Older countries require a lot of walking, standing in line to see exhibits, and climbing stairs. You want to make sure that the footwear that you use for traveling stands up to these demands. Buying shoes with arch and ankle support can help stabilize your feet to handle the uneven terrain to help prevent you from rolling an ankle or possibly falling. It is also critical to have the proper cushion for standing in long lines. 

Pack light. If you are going to be taking trains or other public transportation, you do not want to be lugging suitcases over uneven streets. Consider purchasing two to three days’ worth of wick dry clothing and do laundry. Wick dry clothing is light and dries fast. You can also buy travel cubes for more efficient packing. 

Plan your itinerary ahead of time. This will require some time to research but it is important to plan out your daily activities beforehand. Identify the top sites, museums and areas of interest that you would like to visit. If you need access to elevators, make sure that the places that you are planning to visit are handicap accessible. It is also important to plan rest breaks into your days, as well, so you don’t overexert yourself and become too fatigued. 

Ensure your passport is current. Last, but not least, this tip should probably be first on the list. As soon as you decide that you are going to go abroad, make sure that your passport is current. You do not want to get close to your travel date and realize that you need to get a new passport. While it is last on this list, it is probably the first thing you should do while you are in the planning stages of your travel abroad. 

Once you get to your destination:

Getting cash. International travel affords lots of opportunities to exchange cash. You can shop for the best interest rates at the various currency exchange outlets. You can use your ATM card, but often you will find steep international fees. You may find that you have better rates getting cash through your credit card. 

Protect your identity. When you are abroad, there are pickpockets and other scammers that can scan your information. To protect against that, get a wallet that protects against RFID scanning. Instead of carrying your wallet in your pocket, you can purchase a wallet to wear like a necklace. If you carry a purse, ensure you get a purse where the zippers lock. 

Use Google Maps and Translate. Google Maps and Translate are free services that help you navigate the roads and translate foreign languages. Google Maps help you walk and navigate by mapping every step. Google translate can translate either spoken word or typed words into your primary language. This is more than a conversation service as you can type in things like menu options or signs to understand their meaning. 

Locate near-by hospitals and emergency numbers. You never want to anticipate that you will need medical care while you are on vacation but it is always best to be prepared just in case. Many hotels and short-term rental managers will be able to give you a list of close hospitals and local English-speaking doctors to call if you require medical assistance. Be sure to ask upon your arrival and keep the list handy for any emergency situations.

Provide your travel companions with a list of your current medications. Whether you are traveling with family, friends or a tour group, make sure to designate someone who will be responsible with your medical history and medication list should you need medical care and not be able to communicate on your own. Again, this a precaution that you hope to never use, but it could be lifesaving information. 

Enjoy your trip. Have fun, relish the sites and create memories that will last a lifetime!