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Traveling With Parkinson’s Disease

Practical tips for traveling more comfortably and safely with Parkinson’s disease

Article written by Karl Robb.

Whether you are considering an awe-inspiring trip to the Grand Canyon or a weekend getaway to the mountains, the thought of managing Parkinson’s disease and some of the bothersome issues that can crop up while away might be enough to make you stay home.  

But that is one of the last things you want to do. While traveling with Parkinson’s disease may not be a spontaneous, carefree experience, you can still enjoy a wonderful time away with some advance planning and preparation.

Karl Robb provides practical tips for safe and comfortable travels

From the train ticket collector who wanted proof of my Parkinson's disease to the airport security ladies who laughed at the way I was moving, I have certainly experienced my share of frustrations while traveling. Even so, it is the fellow travelers who reached out to lend me a hand that I remember most.

I am not ashamed of being a person with Parkinson's disease.  So when I travel, I don't hide. But there was a time, in my early twenties, when I would not tell people I had Parkinson's. Now in my forties, I feel a responsibility to educate everyone who has an interest in this illness.

Traveling these days, whether you have a physical challenge or not, can be a hassle, but there are ways to make the time away more enjoyable, safer, and less stressful. Here is a list of helpful tips that I hope will make you and your travel companions more comfortable on your next vacation.

Create a checklist. Following a good list will help you be prepared and not be over packed.

Start packing early. Packing ahead of schedule will allow you to relax and feel less rushed the day you leave. Make sure that the clothes you want to wear are ready (do not wait to wash them the night before) and all the items you want to bring are easily accessible.

Choose comfort over fashion. Pack comfortable clothes and walking shoes that will allow you to move freely. Your mobility and flexibility should be a priority when you are on the go.

Bring extra meds. Carry at least a week or more of extra prescription medications and a current prescription for refills. Keep your medications in their original, labeled containers in case you need to go through security or get refills.

Carry a list of your meds and a doctor's note. You might want to consider getting a laminated copy of your current medications and a letter from your doctor explaining that you are being treated for Parkinson's disease. A document like this might be helpful in case you have a health issue or need to show airport security.

Pack your meds in your carry-on bag. Doing so will help you avoid any chance of being separated from you medication. You do not want to lose your luggage with your meds to boot! Make sure you have the generic name of all your meds. Other countries may not have the same commercial name.

Plot your course before you get there. Whether you are flying or driving, research your destination and the stops along the way to find out if hotels and rest stops can accommodate your special needs. You can use Google Earth, a website that allows you to zoom in on specific areas such as airports to get a picture of entrances, stairs and more.

Charge your cell phone. Make sure your cell phone is charged and ready in case of emergency. Be sure all phone contacts are current.

Take water and snacks to go. Pack some portable fruit like an apple, energy bars and some trail mix. Have water on hand so you can take your pills on time. You might want to pack a collapsible cup (available at most drug stores) so you can get water from water fountains.

Get an early start. Heavy traffic and long security lines can leave you feeling pressured. Getting an early start will take the edge off a stressful journey. If you need assistance at any point, do not hesitate to ask. A little help will make your trip go more smoothly.

Pace yourself. Do not wear yourself out trying to do and see everything. Be realistic about how much energy you have for site seeing activities and other events. Also, pay attention to how you are feeling and rest when you need to.

Take your meds. When traveling, it is so easy to overlook a medication dose. Do your best to follow your medication schedule.

If traveling to a country with a different time zone consider making adjustments to your medications. Discuss your medication schedule with your physician before your tip.

Make things easy. If flying ask for handicap assistance, consider a non-stop flight and an aisle seat close to the restroom. In your hotel you should ask for a handicap room in the first floor.

A cruise can be a good way to enjoy vacations for you and your caregiver. However, if you suffer from motion sickness you should remember that metoclopramide, prochlormethazine and droperidol should be avoided.

Enjoy yourself.  Traveling with Parkinson’s can be an enjoyable experience, or a real drudgery. Following these tips will help make your next trip a rejuvenating adventure.