September 12, 2013

Traveling with Parkinson's: Part 1

After my PD diagnosis four years ago, I wondered if I could continue experiencing the joy of travel. I hated to give up biking, and worried that travel would be the next casualty.

I've been reassured by an easy week in June on a cruise to Alaska and five fun weeks in July and August bouncing around Europe. But I recognize I'll need to adapt as time goes by.

I'm looking forward to another trip at the end of this month when a friend and I will drive to Montreal, Canada, to attend the World Parkinson's Congress. The programs should be interesting, and I'll meet many others who are living with PD. But the real selling feature was Montreal, a favorite city. The drives to and from should also be fun, especially through the Adirondacks, where fall foliage will be at its peak.

The Congress sponsors sent registrants a helpful article on traveling with Parkinson's. What follow is based on that article and my own experience.

Preparing for a Trip
The filter of Parkinson's will guide you in answering some of the initial questions:
  • Can you manage a long flight or car trip, or should you pick a destination closer to home?
  • How long can you sit comfortably?
  • Do you want a relaxing resort holiday or ocean cruise, an outdoor adventure, or a new learning opportunity?
  • Will you have a travel companion?
  • Do you need assistance -- like a cane -- when you walk? If so, avoid cobblestone streets and upper level hotel rooms without elevator access.
I'm in PD's early "honeymoon years" and remain fairly mobile. I can handle long flights, but I now prefer business class, although I could handle "economy plus" seating. I traveled solo to Alaska, but the cruise line (Regent) made the tour easy to handle. The best part of this summer's European Grand Tour was sitting in the back seat of a rental car while my son drove and his gal navigated. It was a treat driving through the Highlands in Scotland, the Alps in Switzerland, and the countryside in Provence.

I always preferred solo travel, but -- aside from easy "assisted living" cruising, like the Alaska adventure -- that's no longer a good idea. I still prefer being on my own when touring a city. I've never liked traipsing after a tour guide waving an umbrella.But with my Parkinson's,  I don't want to maintain someone else's pace. I need  to stop and rest when I feel like it. My son and his gal were perfect traveling companions. They understood that I wanted to walk around Paris or wherever on my own. I know that if I'm with others, I'll likely overextend myself just because I wouldn't want to hold them back.

Getting There
Air travel is certainly the fastest -- and sometimes the only -- way to go. Long flights are challenging; being immobile brings risks of stiffness and cramping. At least assistance is available at airports. I know  mobile seniors who request wheelchairs if they have tight connections, or if gates look miles apart.

The long security clearance process can be a stressful pain in the butt. One recent welcome change: passengers 75 and older don't have to remove shoes or light jackets.

Traveling by car allows you to create your own pace and itinerary. Stopping every hour or two for a stretch helps my mobility. In addition, I need to make frequent "pit stops."

I love traveling by train, particularly in Europe. But -- with my PD-related balance problems -- the frequent lurching of the train makes moving around onboard tricky. I wouldn't want to schlep heavy luggage up and down the train steps, or through the narrow aisles, either.

Cruises are very popular with older travelers and people with disabilities. I posted recently that I enjoyed the June Alaska cruise, but didn't particularly like the August Venice-to-Barcelona cruise. Having only four hours to see Rome or Florence just isn't my idea of enjoyable travel. 

I recently read a blog post by a young man who usually backpacks for adventure. His comments made me realize I might have approached the Mediterranean cruise in a different way. The young writer said he likes cruises but thinks of them as vacations, not travel. It's a nice break, he said, to sit back, relax and have someone else cater to your every need.  A good perspective.

Getting Ready
Friends used to marvel at  how well organized I was with most things, including travel. No longer. I still enjoy studying and planning before a trip. But now I'm much more prone to screw-ups and oversights. If I'm traveling with companions, I now ask them to double-check everything I do. Friends and family often joke about my signs of  ADD . . . and it's getting worse.

Lists -- I've always liked lists, and now they're invaluable. I keep those lists, print outs of airline and hotel reservations, and other essential information inside the zippered compartment in the lid of my suitcase.

Pills -- Make sure you have enough meds for your journey . . . something I neglected to do for this summer's 35-day adventure. Two days before we left for Europe, I discovered I didn't have enough of the carbidopa-levadopa I take for my PD. I called my local CVS and the rep said my insurance wouldn't cover an early renewal. When I asked for a "vacation override," she said I'd already used that device for my Alaska trip, and couldn't use it again so soon. I lucked out: when we reached Amalfi, Italy, I threw myself on the mercy of a pharmacist who gave me a new supply of the med . . . and at a much lower price than I pay at home, too. 

It's a good idea to carry all your medications in their original bottles, with doctor's name and the pharmacy information.

If you have a long flight with time zone changes, most doctors recommend that you continue taking the medicine at the same time intervals. I keep my watch set to the home time until I get settled in the new destination.

Clothes -- Good walking shoes are a must. Choose clothes that are loose and comfortable. I made the mistake of bringing only one belt . . . one that was a bit snug when buckled even at the last notch. We spent the first week in Paris -- eating at some great restaurants and indulging at least once a day in an ice cream cone from the "best in Paris" ice cream emporium around the corner from our apartment -- and by the end of that week, tightening the belt made me very uncomfortable. As a result, my sweat pants got a lot of use.

Pack light -- No one but your travel companions will notice you keep wearing the same three outfits. In my pre-Kindle days of extended trips to Asia, I traveled with two suitcases; the smaller bag was filled with paperback books. Now, thanks to my Kindle, I need only one suitcase. But technology has its travel disadvantages, too: I need precious packing space for the Kindle, the Lenova Ultrabook, and the wires, plugs, adapters and battery chargers needed for these as well as for the i-phone and the digital camera..

To Be Continued . . . .


Kenneth Tripp said...

I also have PD. To continue biking, have you considered a Tadpole Recumbent Trike? We are buying the Gekko FX made by HP Vekotechnik. It also folds up. Allows biking without the balance issues.
Thanks for your blog ?
Ken Tripp
Louisville ky

gleeson1929 said...

Thanks Ken. I'll Google it. We've been having terrific fall weather here in DC and I get envious every time i see bikers sallying forth! -- John