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Travel With a Disability

By Cherie Binns

Now that we have more effective ways to protect ourselves from COVID-19, many of us are feeling more comfortable with the idea of beginning to take vacations or tick some locations off our bucket list. Some of us may still be hesitant to travel because of issues with fatigue management or, perhaps, we use a scooter or wheelchair and are concerned about how to manage these. The Winter 2017 issue of MS Focus magazine dealt with management of fatigue and is available online so you will find ways to manage that with travel. I would like to take some time here to help with some tips and tricks to make travel enjoyable and stress-free beyond the management of fatigue.

Plan ahead. If you are traveling by land, map out places to take rest and restroom breaks. Guidebooks and Google can be very helpful with this. I still find that an old-fashioned road map and AAA Travel Guide can be very helpful at letting me know what stops may provide more than a place to stretch my legs and use the bathroom. If you are traveling by air or rail it is good to check with a travel agent for helpful hints. How do you manage your scooter or chair? Are there certain carriers that cannot accommodate your equipment? Are there ways to streamline the boarding or departure process? How do you find accessible ground transportation once you reach your destination? Many travel agents specialize in planning tours and travel for those in wheelchairs so ask those who have traveled in them for recommendations. 

I strongly suggest packing a small repair kit in your carry-on luggage for your chair that includes an assortment of replacement screws for your device. Also take the user manual so that if repairs do need to be made, instructions are easy to find. Duct tape and bubble wrap are also a real plus to have with you. When you check your chair or scooter with airline personnel, be sure turn off the power and take the key with you. Disengage the wheels so the crew can roll it onto the plane or ramp. Bubble wrap and duct tape your joy stick. With your scooter, tip the tiller and handle into your seat and bubble wrap them together to prevent snagging on other luggage. Call the airline to see if any of your preferred flights cannot accommodate your mobility device because of size or the weight of the chair or scooter. This may limit your travel flexibility but can be so worth this advance preparation in avoided damage or delay.

I have travelled on many occasions with a large three-wheeled scooter that weighed 180 pounds. I wish, in hindsight, that I knew to prepare it as I have explained above as it would have prevented damage. Once I began to follow these routines, I never had any damage other than occasional scratches in the paint. When traveling Internationally, be sure you have an adapter that allows you to plug into their outlets for charging. I also always packed the power cord into the seat back pocket of the scooter so that If I had a layover that was lengthy, I had the ability to be free to explore and recharge.

Pack supplies in your carry-on. Never pack your medications or injections, CPAP or catheters in your checked luggage. Always carry an extra week’s supply with you, particularly in this time when COVID can derail even the best-planned trips with a period of feeling too poorly to continue your trip or may require a period of isolation.

Try to replicate your home routine. If at all possible, go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Keep grooming, bathroom, and eating schedules similar to what you do at home. This will further help to manage fatigue and keep you regular.

Take out a travel insurance policy that includes medical. Your health insurance may include travel but it is always helpful to have that extra cushion. It probably does not cover emergency airlift or extra travel especially outside the U.S.

Arrange accessible accommodations in advance if you need them. Not all lodgings are created equal and have what you need.

Here are some additional links you might find helpful as you plan your travel.

activemsers.org/traveling-with-ms-guide. Dozens of links to help a traveler prepare for travel, know what to expect with travel, and find the ways that different countries cater to travelers with disabilities.

Curbfreewithcorylee.com. Blog written by an individual who uses a wheelchair discussing tips for travel with a chair.

tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures. What to expect from TSA when you fly with a wheelchair or scooter.

180medical.com/blog/tips-for-traveling-with-a-wheelchair. Tips for traveling with a wheelchair.

travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/travelers-with-special-considerations/traveling-with-disabilties.htm. United States Department of State help page. When traveling outside the USA contact with itinerary and needs.

icelandunlimited.is/accessible-travel-iceland. With Iceland being a popular international destination, this company provides tips for making the most of the rugged beauty from tours which cater to travelers in wheelchairs.

wheelchairtravel.org/resources/travel-agencies. This site lists contact information for top travel agencies who are adept at meeting the needs of travelers with disabilities.