Having Parkinson’s disease doesn’t mean you can’t travel. Use this guide to learn how to properly plan and make a few adjustments to help you embark on your next journey!
First Things First — Consult Your Doctor Before Traveling
Start by scheduling an appointment with your doctor and neurologist well before your departure. Four to six weeks should give you ample time to talk through and plan for scenarios with your medical team. For example, your doctor can provide a list of referrals in your destination city should something come up while you’re out of town.
Plan Your Medications
Talk to your doctor to carefully walk through your travel schedule to ensure your bases are covered. Then, follow these tips to stay stress-free:
- Keep all medications in their original containers with the labels affixed.
- Store your medications in a carry-on, so you don’t have to worry if your luggage gets lost, destroyed, or delayed.
- Ensure your medication list is up-to-date with your doctor’s name and number. You also want all names, including generic and name brands, as well as dosage and frequency.
- Refrain from adjusting your medication time with changes in the time zone. Instead, maintain your same dosing schedule when traveling, especially on long train or airline flights, and use an alarm to remind you when to dose.
- Store at least one day’s dosage of medication in a fanny pack, pocket, or purse.
- Pack enough medication for your entire trip, including travel days. Don’t depend on foreign pharmacies to have your refills.
- Store light snacks and water to take medications.
Parkinson’s Travel Packing Checklist
Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need to bring. Start with these essentials:
- Identification stating that you have Parkinson’s disease
- Transportation tickets
- Government ID & Passports
- Medical Insurance Card
- Cash (determine a set amount for your trip)
- Credit cards (don’t bring all your cards, just one or two to get you by)
- COVID-19 vaccination cards (even if the destination does not require them, it’s better to be safe than sorry here as regulations can change often)
Pack up versatile outfits and make sure that you can roll them up together in your luggage. Wear wrinkle-free elastic bands, pullover shirts, and slip-on shoes. Rules of travel never change — comfort above all else!
Use an over-the-door toiletry organizer for easy access once you reach your destination. If you need extra special equipment like a walker or cane, label it similarly to how you labeled your luggage. These unique items can easily be lost in the hectic shuffle of travel.
To make travel easier, pack only the essentials. Use light luggage like a simple carry-on with rolling wheels. If you must pack heavier, consider traveling with someone who can help you with stowing and lifting the suitcases.
Whether by air, land, or sea, here are general tips you should consider when traveling:
Request a Wheelchair
Train platforms and airport terminals are often large, long, and incredibly busy. Even if you don’t use one regularly, request a wheelchair or electric cart to help you move around in these spaces. You can book and reserve them in advance.
Get There Early
Avoid the stress and anxiety of rushing to your gates. Get to the airport or station at least 2 hours before your departure to beat the crowds. Remember to account for traffic on the way to the airport, especially during rush hours, weekends, and holidays.
Communication is key. Charge your phone before you leave the house. If you and your travel partner are separated, calling them will be less stressful with a full battery. Make sure they charge theirs too.
Plus, you may need to make calls or look up info regarding changed planes.
Notify the boarding agent that you have Parkinson’s. They may board you and assist you to your seat earlier than everyone else.
Choose the Right Seat
Some travel options allow you to choose your seat. Pick one with the most legroom but never an emergency exit, as they don’t recline and require you to perform extra duties in the event of an emergency. Choose an aisle seat closest to the bathroom.
Flying with Parkinson’s (Airplane)
Flying comes with several challenges for those living with Parkinson’s:
- Airports can be large and confusing to navigate
- Seats can be uncomfortable with limited room for stretching and moving
- Delays and cancellations are more common than other modes of transportation
Many people with PD prefer trains and buses as they can be more relaxing and enjoyable than flying.
If you must fly, follow these additional tips for airplane travel:
- Request a special healthy or vegetarian meal to adhere to a healthy eating regimen.
- Book a non-stop flight when possible to avoid long layovers and transfers.
- Store your medications in your carry-on.
- Use wheelchairs and shuttles to reach far gates and terminals or request meet-and-assist services from the airline carrier.
- Your medical supplies or assistive devices do not count toward your carry-on and personal item limit
- Listen up for early boarding and get settled before the remaining passengers.
- Avoid the airplane bathroom by using the facilities earlier at the airport.
Traveling by Ground with Parkinson’s (Car, Bus, Train)
Ground travel is a much better solution if you love watching the trees go by, meeting new people, and having substantially more leg room. Here is a rundown of each of these options:
Driving on the open road can be a great adventure by yourself or with your friends and family. If you are driving solo, be mindful of medications that can cause drowsiness. Make sure you’re well rested before a long trip, and break up the drive into smaller drives.
Here is a list of upsides to traveling by car:
- Access to the radio
- Ability to adjust the seats and adjust the interior temperature
- Ability to roll down windows
- Ride with someone of your choosing (probably a care partner, family member, or friend)
- Fewer to no security protocols
- Ease of stopping, getting out, stretching, and visiting roadside attractions
Traveling by train can be an excellent way for people with Parkinson’s to see new places and meet new people. Trains offer ample opportunities to get up and walk around, which is important for maintaining mobility. Plus, they provide a relaxed and comfortable environment, which can benefit people with Parkinson’s who sometimes feel anxious or overwhelmed in new surroundings.
Here is a list of additional benefits of traveling by train:
- More stable than other modes of transportation, reducing the risk of falls
- Plenty of legroom
- Charming mode of travel
- Food options available
- Most Amtrak rails can accommodate wheelchairs
Buses stop about every 3 hours for additional passengers coming on and current ones getting off. Most buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and personnel to assist with your luggage.
They have more legroom than planes and usually have a bathroom in the back. You can also request to sit next to your care or travel partner.
Taking a Cruise with Parkinson’s
Cruises are fun and festive and have lots to offer people of all ages. However, they can also be quite unnerving for those with Parkinson’s.
For one, the security screening before you board your ship can be just as tight as air travel, largely because most of these trips venture into international waters. Have your papers in order and your meds in their appropriate containers.
Also challenging is the motion of the boat when at sea. Never leave your cabin without a care partner or cruise-provided assistance to help you remain steady.
Most cruises should be wheelchair accessible but check ahead to confirm. You may need special permits or documentation for motorized assisted devices. Also, consider getting an “accessible” or “modified” stateroom before you book.
Traveling with Parkinson’s can be fun, exciting, and adventurous. Beyond the tips we’ve shared above, the most important thing to remember is to keep to your routine. Have a great time, but also be mindful of your medications and mental and emotional health. If you need guidance on anything we’ve shared today, feel free to reach out to us, we’d be happy to connect you with additional support and resources.