7 Tips for Traveling With Multiple Sclerosis

A little preparation can reduce stress and symptom flares

Woman waiting in airport departure hall
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Between the stress of arriving on time, the long stretches in a cramped seat, and the total lack of legroom, air travel can be trying even for the best of us. Throw the fatigue, pain, and other challenges of multiple sclerosis (MS), and the discomforts are only magnified.

But this doesn't mean you should avoid getting on an airplane. It simply suggests that you prepare in advance so that you don’t aggravate your condition.

Here are seven simple tips that may help you with your travels:

Tip #1: Pack Your Medications Correctly

If you have MS and are planning a trip, arguably the most important task is packing your medications correctly. While many drugs need to be kept cold in a cooler pack (especially those given by injection), some may be able to be kept at room temperature for a short period of time.

If you need advice about this, speak with your doctor or pharmacist or call the patient care line on the medication’s packet insert. Also, don’t forget to pack alcohol swabs, gauze pads, band-aids, and a sharps container to dispose of needles or syringes (if applicable).

Tip #2: Ensure Your Drugs Are Travel-Ready

If you are carrying your medications in a cooler pack, make sure it is approved as a carry-on for storage in the overhead compartment. It's not a good idea to pack your medications in checked luggage in case they are lost.

If you are traveling (especially overseas), it’s sensible to carry a prescription and letter from your doctor indicating that the drugs are "chronic medications delivered by injection for personal use."

Finally, if your drugs require refrigeration, check to make sure there in a mini-refrigerator in your hotel room.

Tip #3: Arrive at the Airport Extra Early

There is enough stress in travel without cutting it close at the airport. Both stress and overexertion can cause a symptom flare, putting you on the wrong foot even before your journey begins. Do yourself a favor and arrive 90 minutes to two hours before a domestic flight and at least three hours before an international flight.

Tip #4: Let People Help You

If your flight is a particularly long and arduous one, don’t wear yourself out by braving the long distance in airports. If your gate is far away or you have a short time to catch a connecting flight, call in advance to organize wheelchair assistance or a ride on an electric cart.

You can also ask about any other accessibility services offered by the airport to make pre-flight security and check-in all easier. Never be embarrassed to ask for help.

Tip #5: Ask for Extra Space

If a flight is not full, consider explaining your condition to the person at the check-in counter to see if there are any empty rows where you can spread out. Empty seats tend to be situated nearer toward the back of the aircraft, but this also means that you are closer to the bathroom (always a plus).

Typically speaking, very early or very late flights tend to have one or more empty seats.

While this may not always suit your schedule, choosing an off-prime flight may be a fair trade-off if your flight is especially long.

Tip #6: Travel as Lightly as Possible

Remember that everything you pack has to be carried at one point or another. Make your life easier by packing as lightly as possible. A simple way to do this is to coordinate your clothes and limit them to a simple palette (for example, grays and blues or grays and black).

People will often make the make the mistake of packing individual outfits and throwing in a few extra "just in case." This will almost guarantee you’ll be packing more than you need.

Focus instead on clothes that mix and match. And instead of bringing along extra outfits, pack travel-size cleaning supplies such as Downy Wrinkle Relief Plus, Travelon Laundry Soap Sheets, or Woolite travel packets.

Tip #7: Stay Hydrated

Staying well-hydrated on a flight is important for a number of reasons. It can help prevent constipation caused by the combination of dehydration and airplane food. It can mitigate some of the negative effects of jet lag, including fatigue, irritability, and the lack of concentration. It can also keep nasal passages hydrated and reduce the risk of getting an airborne infection.

In addition, avoid drinking caffeine which has a diuretic effect. The same applies to alcohol which decreases the production of an antidiuretic hormone used by the body to reabsorb water.

Even if you have a bladder control issue common in MS, the inconvenience of having to use the restroom frequently is outweighed by the benefits of staying well hydrated.

A Word From Verywell

In the end, whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, you can maximize your comfort and minimize your MS symptoms by being prepared and thinking ahead. That said, something is bound to go wrong. In this instance, try to go with the flow, remain calm, and use the same coping skills you use to bravely manage your MS symptoms to also manage this travel snafu.

Sources:

Lorefice L, Fenu G, Frau J, Coghe G, Marrosu MG, Cocco E. The burden of multiple sclerosis and patients' coping strategies. BMJ Support Palliat Care. 2017 Jun 24.

Zuckerman, J. (2012) Principles and Practices of Travel Medicine (Second Edition). Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.

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