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Protect your health while living your travel dreams

I was 37, single and in a demanding job when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2002. Travel was my annual escape and rejuvenation.

When you’re newly diagnosed with a chronic disease, your dreams take a back seat for a while. You exist in a flurry of medical appointments, endless researching and adjustments to your life. A holiday is the furthest thing from your mind (and budget). When your condition is MS, which typically hits between 20 and 40 years of age, this upheaval happens at a time when your greatest dreams are often of travel.

If you have MS, stay curious. Dream of ways to explore the places and things you love. Start with what’s possible now and with every new experience your life will expand. Learn to protect your health as you venture out into the world. Below are some tips for travelling well with MS

Schedule sleep and rest in your itinerary

Whether you’re backpacking or staying in fancy hotels, the best thing is to schedule plenty of sleep and rest in your itinerary. Your health and enjoyment of your trip depend on it. It’s worth paying extra for flights that depart and arrive at hours that cause the least disruption to your sleep. Booking stopovers to break up long flights also makes a huge difference to how you feel at the final destination. Allowing extra time for plane/ train/ bus connections is advisable, as is feeling patient and relaxed when waiting. Try not to rush when travelling. Lavender essential oil on a tissue next to your pillow can help with sleeping.

Gauge your health on a daily basis

Pay attention to how you feel on a daily basis. Be honest about this. If you’re travelling with others, don’t be pressured to keep up. Ask for support if you need it and don’t hesitate to visit a doctor if you’re worried about any aspect of your health. Take a first aid kit with the basics.

Plan everything, but be flexible

Try to carefully plan every aspect of your travel and have a printed itinerary and folder with options for each day. Be prepared to push yourself sometimes, but always make sure you can rest and refuel afterwards.

Explore at times when you have the most energy

To combat fatigue and the effects of heat, I usually set out as early as possible, take a long lunch break, and enjoy a relaxing activity that is indoors during the afternoon.

Book with a travel agent

Always use a travel agent for flights, insurance and visas. They can provide you with plenty of assistance in difficult times.

Take out travel insurance with MS covered

Take out travel insurance for overseas travel, with MS covered (it will cost more, but is worth the peace of mind – and absolutely necessary if you do need to use it). Keep a printed copy of the policy in your travel folder with other documents (including names of GP and neurologist back home) and also consider emailing copies of every document to yourself as backup.

If you become ill, get yourself home as soon as possible. There is no point trying to continue the trip, the stress will make your health worse. Nothing matters more than health and there will always be places to travel to in the future. Also, people at home will be worried about you. Losing money and sightseeing is nothing in the total scheme of life.

Be vaccinated

Have any recommended vaccinations and medications for your destination. This is your protection – and peace of mind. You can also check your tetanus booster is up-to-date, and getting the flu vaccine every year can prevent you from getting run down, thereby decreasing your risk of an MS attack.

Take a letter from doctor if needed

Carrying a doctor's letter can make it easier to bring medication with you as cabin luggage when travelling. It may also allow you to board early, which can be a huge help if you are fatigued.

Invest in a good suitcase and travel lightly

Pack only what you need and get a suitcase on wheels. If you’re a shopper, consider if you can purchase the items at home; weigh up the cost savings with the effort of transporting. Post stuff home by surface mail if needed.

Choose healthy food options and stay hydrated

Make sure to drink plenty of water when travelling, and consider taking extra snacks such as a trail mix selection (raw nuts and dried fruits). Having a wine or beer in the hotel bar at happy hour to relax and enjoy the music and atmosphere can be a good choice. Take a multivitamin and flaxseed capsules with you.

Visit fewer places and enjoy extended stays

It can be better to visit fewer places and enjoy extended stays in just a few cities or towns. For example, staying 10 days in New York City rather than anything shorter, or a month in one country visiting just two or three cities.

Make health part of your holiday fun

Make having a healthy trip one of your main goals when on holiday. If suitable for you, walk for miles in nature and through cities to places that inspire you (galleries, interesting neighbourhoods and shopping areas). You can visit farmers’ markets, eat nutritious vegan and seafood meals in restaurants, and attend cooking classes. Have massages and find tranquil places for meditation and quiet contemplation.

These trips improve your wellness and inspire you to focus more on health when you return home to everyday life. Travel is definitely easier for the young and the healthy, yet it’s preparation that matters most to a smooth and happy trip. Don’t let MS deter you from your travel dreams, let it help prepare you. We all need purpose and progression in life and arriving somewhere new, especially when you have MS, makes life feel limitless. It’s empowering. Happy travels!

Linda Jean

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