It’s that time of year when everyone is jetting off on holiday, but when you have MS there’s often a bit more planning involved before you can pack up your suitcase and head to the beach. Where can you find accessible accommodation and attractions? How do you organise travel insurance? What are the rules around travelling with medication? These are just some of the many questions you may face. So whether you’re planning a holiday overseas or a last minute trip somewhere in the UK, this article goes through a few key things to think about in advance.
Finding the right holiday for you
Having MS doesn’t mean that you have to compromise when it comes to holidays – they can be just as fun, relaxing, varied and adventurous. Whether you fancy a relaxing beach holiday, a European city break or a holiday in the UK, there is an increasing number of travel organisations who can help you search for accessible accommodation and things to do so you can find your perfect break.
The best thing you can do is plan ahead and make sure you do plenty of research in advance. Organisations like the Disability Holidays Guide (disabilityholidaysguide.com) and Disabled Holidays (disabledholidays.com) have information on accessible accommodation in the UK and abroad, specialist tour operators, flight assistance, taxi transfers and mobility equipment hire. Once you’ve found a place you like, it’s best to contact the hotel, villa or apartment directly to double check that they’re able to meet your accessibility needs before you go ahead and book. Don’t forget to research the area around where you’re staying too. Are there accessible restaurants and other leisure activities nearby? What’s the terrain like in the area you’re staying?
If you’re holidaying in the UK and are in need of inspiration for some exciting days out, Disabled Go (disabledgo.com) and Open Britain (openbritain.net) have detailed accessibility information on places to visit, like museums, theatres, shops, restaurants and pubs, so you can have a seamless, fun-filled break. If you want a more comprehensive guide, the Rough Guide to Accessible Britain lists a wealth of accessible attractions all over Britain along with insightful reviews from those who have visited them.
Arranging air travel assistance
If your chosen destination means travelling via plane make sure you let the airline know what assistance you’ll need when you book the holiday. It’s useful to get written confirmation of the assistance that’s been agreed and confirm this when you check in. Airports must provide free assistance to help you check in, move through the airport, board the plane, find an appropriate seat, use the toilet and leave the plane. Sunflower Lanyards are being rolled out in airports across the UK to discreetly alert staff of passengers with hidden disabilities who may need extra support. Get in touch with your local airport to request one. Unfortunately not all people with disabilities who travel by plane have a positive experience. There are many stories of wheelchairs getting lost or damaged, and the assistance provided not meeting people’s expectations. If your journey does not run smoothly, you can complain to your airline and the Civil Aviation Authority. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has more information on the rights of disabled air passengers (equalityhumanrights.com).
Staying cool in warm weather (or vice versa!)
Many people with MS find that heat can make their symptoms worse, so if you’re jetting off to a warm country (or if there happens to be a heatwave in the UK!) it’s worth thinking about what you can do to prepare for hot weather in advance. Sensitivity to heat can be managed in a number of ways, including: • Drinking cold drinks regularly throughout the day
• Using a small mist spray bottle to spray your face with cold water
• Running your wrists under cold water
• Using a handheld fan when out and about
• Eating light meals, such as a salad
• Taking a cool bath or shower
• Investing in cooling garments, such as cooling hats, scarves, ties and wristbands, which can be worn throughout the day.
Cold sensitivity can also cause MS symptoms to flare up, so if you’re going away somewhere where the weather may be cooler than you’re used to, make sure you take enough clothing with you so you can layer up.
Travelling with your medication
Different countries have different rules and regulations when it comes to medicines. If you’re travelling abroad you’ll need to make sure that the country you’re travelling to will allow you to take your medication into that country. To check this, you should contact the embassy for the country you’re visiting – you can find a full list of foreign embassies in the UK on the gov.uk website.
If you’re travelling by plane, keep your MS medication with you in your hand luggage (unless your airline tells you otherwise) and make sure it’s kept in its original packaging.
As a general rule, when travelling abroad it’s best to take a copy of your prescription with you and a letter from your GP, with details about your medication and your health condition, to avoid any problems at customs.
If you’re travelling somewhere warm and your medication needs to be kept below a certain temperature, speak to the manufacturer of the drug as they may be able to provide a travel pack to keep the medication cool during your journey. Finally, wherever you’re travelling to, make sure you take enough medication with you to last the duration of your holiday, plus a little extra in case of any travel delays.
Organising travel insurance
Once you’ve booked a holiday it’s important to get your travel insurance sorted as soon as possible. It not only covers you for unpredictable events whilst you’re on holiday, it also covers you if anything goes wrong before the trip. Most mainstream insurance providers will cover people with MS, although it may be more expensive. Make sure you shop around to find the best price, let them know that you have MS and always check through the policy documents to ensure it covers everything you need. For instance, does it cover any mobility aids you’re taking? Will it cover costs for any medical treatment you need because of your MS whilst on holiday? Comparison websites, like Compare the Market and Travel Supermarket, are a good place to start looking for insurance. There are also some insurance companies that cater specifically for people with pre-existing health conditions which can be found by searching online.
If you’re really struggling to find travel insurance at a reasonable price, an insurance broker will be able to carry out a search for you. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association has a database of brokers which you can search by medical condition (biba.org.uk/find-insurance). If you’re travelling somewhere in the EU, don’t forget to take your European Health Insurance Card with you. This card entitles you to treatment in state-run hospitals in EU countries at the same cost as local residents. This means treatment will often be free or at a reduced cost. As well as covering unpredictable illnesses and accidents that may happen on holiday, it also covers treatment for pre-existing medical conditions so if your MS symptoms flare up while you’re away and you need treatment, you’ll be covered. European Health Insurance Cards are free and can be ordered online (ehic.org.uk).
Enjoying your holiday!
Once all the hours of planning and researching are done and you’ve finally made it to your chosen destination – whether that’s a sandy beach, a cosy log cabin or a swish hotel – be sure to relax, put your feet up and make the most of this much-needed time for you.