I have always been passionate about travelling, and I have so many fantastic, life enriching memories from places I’ve been fortunate enough to experience.
When 2018 brought my MS diagnosis, my world crumbled around me. Are those memories all that I would have? There were so many places I had left to explore. I had my Italian honeymoon booked for three months time. Could I tackle Venice’s 400 bridges in a wheelchair? What if I got stranded? What if I couldn’t get out of bed and not be able to embrace the holiday? What if…
Engaging my practical brain, I gave my ‘what if’ mentality a good talking to. What if I can’t manage the bridges in Venice? Then I would drink coffee and soak up the sun on an accessible street. If I get stranded? Then I rest until I can walk again. What if I can’t get out of bed? Then I rest and try again tomorrow. There is always a what if, and there is always a solution.
While travelling takes a bit more planning for us, it is still completely, 100% there for the taking, and all of these exciting, exhilarating and beautiful places are still there waiting to be discovered. For you to discover them.
So, I’ve compiled a few tips I’ve discovered for planning your next trip.
Air bnb or self catered accommodation provides flexibility to prepare OMS friendly dishes yourself, and works out cost efficient - a double win! I like to do one supermarket trip on check-in day. It’s fun to look up regional specialities before going and trying to make an OMS friendly version myself.
Pizza. Ok, maybe an Italian honeymoon, you could have guessed a few doughy balls of beauty would feature... we managed 14 in 16 days. It was heavenly.
On top of OMS, we also had to look for gluten free... this is surprisingly easy, but with the power of Google and Trip Advisor, we were able to find the soya creme de la creme of the marinara.
Don’t be afraid to ask. Make sure you write down either in your phone, or memory, the phrase for ‘dairy free’ and ‘vegetarian’ (a lot of places outside cities don’t understand what vegan is). For bonus points, you could learn ‘grilled’ or ‘not fried’.
Take snacks. It’s quite hard to find fast food that is OMS friendly while you’re out and about, so always take something with you so that you’re not caught short. If you are, a local supermarket/corner shop will usually sell a banana or an apple. Fresh and dried fruit and nuts are my go-to options.
Airlines should be able to provide a vegan menu, which may be suitable for us OMSers. There is no guarantee though, so plan to take things for the flight too.
Easy! You don’t need to twist my arm to laze around at the nearest beach or park. A holiday is the perfect time to top up your tan and those all important vitamin D levels.
But, it is important to plan trips around the weather, especially if you are heat sensitive.
When planning your destination, think of the seasons and time of year - maybe one destination could be pushed forward a few months, to fit in with their cooler/ warmer season, and visit the other places you’ve always wanted to go when it suits your thermometer - it will still be there waiting for you.
Make sure you can take off layers, dip into an air conditioned cafe, and cooling clothing can be a lifesaver (runners ice vests, ice scarves etc).
Also, try to arrange days involving more exertion (scrambling up a hill, or a traditional sightseeing day) on the cooler days when you’re on holiday. You can plan a beach day, or a picnic lunch in a park during the hotter days.
There is no better place for your trusty flax oil than in your hand luggage in 100ml plastic bottles, which can be decanted before you fly.
Sun, sand and sole - tourist beaches are so often lined with seafood restaurants offering the best of the daily catch. Again, Trip Advisor and diet cards are your best friends. Supermarket fish is another option to take back and cook at your accommodation - that way you get more control over how it’s cooked.
Meditation and stress reduction
Don’t plan too much. Holidays are the perfect time to kick back. Relaxing, properly relaxing, has been a difficult but hugely rewarding aspect of adjusting to life with MS, and is often so difficult with the pressures of everyday life, children, family, work... So, seize the opportunity to master this and allow yourself time to indulge in relaxation and your meditation practice.
Have a list of things you want to experience, but allow that list to be flexible. We planned an extra rest day in each place so that we could see all we wanted to, without the pressure of cramming it all in.
Travel can be tiring, so plan in time to curl up with a good book, or practice a ‘safe space’ meditation where you can retreat to.
In the planning stage, book flights that fit with your routine. A 7am flight sounds perfectly respectable, but a 2am start for that 7am flight is most definitely not, and if it takes you 2 days to get over that, you’ll be left wishing you’d invested in a friendlier flight.
Airport and rail support are available, just make sure that any additional needs are highlighted when booking.
Cities often have accessibility maps highlighting routes and attractions that are wheelchair accessible. Museums, galleries and attractions usually allow priority entry to people with mobility issues. They often recommend early entry too, to avoid the crowds.
How do you feel about trying something new? If you’re going all inclusive, try some aqua Zumba. If you’re going to an adventure park, have you tried archery in the last decade? Or give a bike a go. It’s the perfect place to try out new activities without investing. You never know, you might unearth a new hobby!
Explore on your feet, if you can. We didn’t take any public transport around Rome - walking between OMS friendly restaurants gave us the added bonus of seeing the sites, and we’d worked off the last meal to make room for the next one!
You could pack your running shoes and go for a light jog along a canal... or, just try some yoga in your accommodation. Most importantly, do something fun - you are on holiday, after all.
Make sure you take enough for your holiday, and that you have the contact number for your nurse. Learn the translation for multiple sclerosis and immunosuppression. You never know when you might need it.
Remember that some countries may require additional jabs and vaccines. These are especially important to those of us who are immunosuppressed, and can take months to provide full cover, so preparation is key.
You can go one of two ways with this one...
Take them with you. Travelling together forms unforgettable memories, provides support both mentally and physically, allows time to bond and develop the most important relationships in your life.
Alternatively - leave them behind! Have a holiday with your friends, or book a place solo and indulge in yoga, reading a book, and true peace and quiet. A perfect opportunity to develop your own sense of self, ground yourself and indulge in a little spiritual development. We all know how vital that is to our health, and how difficult it can be to get some headspace in busy, day-to-day life!
Whatever it takes
Travel is, for many, a lifetime dream. A diagnosis can trigger anxiety around travelling, but know that there is always a way to achieve your goals. Just look at Scott Doolan, the hero who climbed Everest in a wheelchair.
Travelling with MS is achievable, it just means an extra suitcase.
With all that OMS has given me, I can genuinely look forward to a lifetime of travelling, and find the experience just as fulfilling as before my diagnosis. We have planned a 4 month trip around Australia and New Zealand this year, and a tour of America soon afterwards. Travelling has always been such a big part of my life, and thanks to OMS, I can still be the free spirited traveller I have always been.
While each of us are different, with a little extra planning, flexibility and thought, the world is yours for the taking.