How can we plan a successful trip in the early stages of MSA?
Early on in the disease, you may be walking unaided, or may need a cane or a walker. These limitations do not have to constrain you in your travels. Careful planning about how you will get there, where you will stay, and what to do while at your destination will ensure a more successful trip.
If you are driving, plan where you will stop for restroom breaks (most gas station and fast-food establishments have handicapped accessible bathrooms, and Starbucks often have clean, accessible facilities), bring appropriate snacks, lots of water to drink, and any medications you need during the drive, and make sure the cane or walker is easily accessible from the back of the car (not packed under lots of luggage.)
If you are flying, consider asking for wheelchair assistance when you check in for your flight (or when you book your flight – more about this below.) Even if you can walk on your own with a cane or walker, airports usually require passengers to walk extremely long distances. You will be less tired and less at risk of falling, if you allow the airline to provide wheelchair assistance. Sit down and relax and enjoy being pushed!
Where to Stay
If you are staying in a hotel, make a reservation for a handicapped accessible room. Even if you are fully ambulatory, you will find the bathroom much easier to maneuver if it has a walk-in shower, grab bars, and a raised toilet. If you don’t want to (or can’t) reserve a handicapped room, request a room with a separate shower if possible. It can be very difficult (and dangerous) for someone with balance issues to get in and out of a tub/shower combination. Look at the photos of the rooms online and/or call the front desk and ask what they offer.
Some older, historic hotels have very high beds which will be more difficult to get into and out of. Think about opting for a more modern hotel which may have lower beds. You can always call to ask if you can’t find pictures online.
If you choose to stay in a vacation rental (Airbnb, VRBO), study the online photos of every room. Make sure there are no stairs or steps that may prove difficult for you. Look for a one level home without many internal steps. Check out the bathroom configurations. If you are unsure, you can email the owner and ask specific questions. It is better to know the layout before you arrive to avoid surprises.
What Activities Can We Do?
If you are visiting a city or other urban setting, you need to plan how you will get around. Public transportation may be very difficult if you are using a cane or walker. Subways require walking long distances and often have escalators and stairs that will make things difficult. Buses are designed to be handicapped accessible, but it may be challenging to board and get off the bus easily, especially if you are in a strange place. Walking short distances and taking taxis for longer distances may be the best way to get around. Of course, taxis are more expensive, and this will be an extra expense to add to your trip budget.
Museums and other larger venues usually have free wheelchair rentals (their websites explain where to go when you arrive to check one out.) Take advantage of this even if you are able to walk on your own. It will be easier for you to keep up with everyone if you are in a wheelchair and you won’t get overly tired. It will also reduce your fall risk, which will put your companions at ease so they can enjoy the venue as well.
If you plan to eat out at a restaurant, call ahead to ask if they take reservations, and tell them you have a person using a walker. Reservations will be helpful to minimize wait times. Even though restaurants in the United States must be accessible, in reality, some are not as accommodating as others. Make sure there is a functioning elevator if the dining room is upstairs.
If you are in a more rural setting such as a lake or mountains, research where there are flat, paved paths for walking, or find a bench near a beach to sit. Research activities to determine which ones have easy parking and no stairs. You can always search for images of your destination (Google Maps, for example, can show you street view images) to get a better idea about activities that are easily accessible.
Contributed by Patricia Libby Thvedt, former care partner to an MSA patient and member of the MSA Board of Directors.