Up until recently, I haven’t been working in what some might call a ‘traditional job’. Instead, my main ‘job’ every day has been to keep myself as healthy as I can be – and this takes effort. This is arguably true of any illness, so it’s no surprise that those of us living with chronic illness often need to take a break from the hard work and rigid routines of enforced rest and recuperation.
Holidays are a necessary respite, whether you’re ‘working’ or not. You can’t beat experiencing new surroundings, seeing some blue skies (it’s mostly grey in Connemara) and feeling the lovely heat on your skin. (Disclaimer: I realise other people who live with MS feel that heat is our nemesis, but not for me. Once I’m accustomed to the increase in temperature, I’m happy.)
Holidays, however, do take some planning… and when you live with MS, it can take some extra effort to make sure you get the most out of your trip. In my experience, the five things below should be considered for a safe and stress-free trip.
Travel insurance is essential as you never know what might happen. This is true whether you are living with or without a chronic illness. If you are an EU citizen travelling within the EU, you should get the same care as a local resident. To make sure of this, you need to apply for the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). This will give you free or reduced cover for medical problems. However, it will generally not cover theft, travel delays, cancellations, or repatriation. So this is why I would recommend to get travel insurance as well as carrying the EHIC card.
If you are travelling outside of the EU, you will need to purchase medical cover. When you read the fine print (yes, I am one of those nerds) you will find that most policies exclude any pre-existing medical conditions. There are some companies that will cover you for any conditions you have but they are typically more expensive. This can be costly, but in my view, it is essential for when something goes wrong.
Always check with your insurance company before you depart to see which rules apply to your policy, and whether additional cover is needed.
At home I don’t need a mobility scooter, but when I’m on holiday it makes moving around much easier. As a result, I hire an electric mobility chair as soon as I arrive at my destination. Most popular resorts offer this service and will usually deliver the scooter directly to your accommodation, and collect it when you leave.
If necessary, you should also enquire with your travel provider about other mobility equipment including hoists and raised toilet seats. This is a fantastic service, which in my experience, makes your experience away from home so much more enjoyable.
Having the right accommodation can be critical to a successful trip. If you use a wheelchair, you need to ensure that doorways are wide enough, the lifts big enough, and that bathing facilities are easily accessible. I once took a trip to Poznan in Poland and they told me that my apartment was on the first floor. However, when I arrived it was actually in an old building and on the equivalent of the fourth floor (they didn’t count the mezzanine levels). It turned out to be a complete nightmare and I barely left the apartment in fear that I would have to climb up all those stairs again.
When you book your accommodation, always ask for pictures. Please don’t just rely on the description!
Airports can be difficult. I need help to get around the airport and cannot walk or stand for long periods of time. When you book your flight, make sure to select the PRM (Persons of Reduced Mobility) option and select the level of help that you require. On top of this I would recommend contacting the service directly and also checking online forums to see how well each airport is equipped in catering for your particular needs. I have found that some are better than others.
When you get to the gate, make sure the flight attendants know about your requirements. This will help to avoid slip-ups and will ensure that you get the assistance you need. Remember to remind them that you will also need help getting off the plane at the other side. I’ve had experiences where they have accidentally sent away my wheelchair service, which is not advised!
If you live with a chronic condition, it’s likely that you take medication. Make sure this is always accessible while you’re on holiday. I always bring my medicines in my carry-on bag to ensure that they don’t go missing – even for a short period! The anxiety of losing my medication could be crushing and could potentially ruin the start of my holiday.
It also helps to have a letter from your doctor that details your condition and/or disability and your prescription. This is particularly useful when travelling through airport security, especially if you have to carry syringes. If you do become sick while travelling, the letter will also give the doctor who is treating you a point of contact. I also make sure to have my updated medical details on my phone, so they are easily accessible if there is an emergency.
During your holiday it’s highly likely that you will encounter times when a restaurant isn’t accessible, or situations when a member of staff or an establishment can’t accommodate your specific needs. I know this shouldn’t be the case, but it does happen sometimes. If it does, try not to let it interfere with your holiday, and your well-deserved break from the usual routine of living with a chronic health condition.