Travelling with MS this Spring/Summer: Managing Fatigue on the Go
Words: Hannah Walters
For many people, spring and summer are the perfect times to travel and explore new places. However, for those living with multiple sclerosis (MS), travelling, in general, can present some unique challenges, especially when it comes to managing MS fatigue whilst away, which can be increased by a variety of different factors including heat and sun.
MS fatigue is a common and often debilitating symptom experienced by people living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The exact cause is not fully understood, can vary in severity and can be different from person to person. Some people experience physical fatigue which is the feeling of physical exhaustion or weakness, while others may experience mental fatigue which can result in mental exhaustion and difficulty with concentration.
With some careful planning, preparation, and on-the-go strategies, it’s possible to manage these symptoms while enjoying all the joys of travel.
Before you leave, take some time to research your destination, and accommodation and plan your itinerary accordingly. Consider the climate, many people with MS find that excessive heat can cause symptoms to worsen, so make sure to consider any activities that you’re looking to take part in which may be physically or mentally demanding. Be realistic about what you can handle and don't attempt to push yourself too far.
Ensure you have adequate travel insurance to cover any potential health issues related to travelling with MS, this will ensure you are covered should any medical emergencies arise whilst away.
Packing essentials & documentation
Firstly, don’t forget to ensure you carry all important documentation with you, such as your passport, travel insurance documentation, prescriptions, and anything else you may need to present a physical copy of whilst away.
When packing for your trip, make a list and don’t forget to include items that can help you manage your symptoms and stay comfortable. Consider packing accessories, such as a cooling vest to help regulate your body temperature in warm weather. Compression socks or stockings can help reduce swelling in your legs during long flights or car rides. Ensure you have all your necessary medications, including pain relief and any other MS-specific treatments.
Pack comfortable clothing and shoes that are suitable for the climate and activities you have planned and don’t forget a reusable water bottle, this is essential for keeping hydrated.
Look for accommodations that are easily accessible, have comfortable beds, and are equipped with air conditioning to help regulate your body temperature. Consider the location of your accommodation, as well as the accessibility of nearby amenities such as restaurants, pharmacies, and medical facilities. If you're planning to stay in a hotel, contact reception ahead of time to inquire about accessibility features, such as wheelchair ramps or accessible showers. Consider booking a room on the ground floor to avoid having to use stairs or lifts.
If you're opting for a holiday rental or Airbnb, read reviews carefully to ensure that the space is suitable for your needs. Don't hesitate to contact the owner or manager of the property to ask any questions or request accommodations.
On-the-go strategies for managing fatigue during your trip
When travelling with MS, it's important to have on-the-go strategies in place to help manage fatigue throughout the day. Take breaks often and allow yourself time to rest when needed. Plan rest stops during long car rides and consider using wheelchair assistance when flying to reduce the physical demands of navigating through the airport. If you're planning on doing a lot of walking, consider using a walking stick or walker which will help to conserve your energy. Plan your activities for the time of day when you feel most energetic and avoid over-scheduling your days. Take advantage of public transportation, such as buses or trains, to reduce the physical demands of navigating unfamiliar cities.
Exploring at your own pace
Plan your itinerary with rest breaks and downtime built in and allow yourself time to recover from any physically or mentally demanding activities. Don't feel pressured to keep up with others in your travel group either, and don't hesitate to take breaks or sit out activities when you feel like you need to. Choose activities that align with your energy levels and interests, and don't be afraid to say no to activities that may be too demanding for you. If you're travelling with a group, communicate your needs and limitations clearly. Remember, the goal of travel is to enjoy the experience just like everyone else, so make sure to explore at your own pace and take care of yourself along the way.
Sun and heat management
Both sun and heat can exacerbate symptoms of MS and trigger fatigue. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers your skin to protect yourself from the sun's harmful rays. Choose a hat with a wide brim to shade your face and neck, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply frequently, especially if you're spending time in the water or sweating. Stay in air-conditioned environments during the hottest part of the day and avoid spending extended periods of time in direct sunlight. Use cooling accessories such as a cooling vest to help regulate your body temperature in hot weather.
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and electrolyte-rich fluids and avoid alcohol and caffeine which can contribute to dehydration.
Returning home: post-travel self-care and recovery
It's important to allow yourself time to recover when you return from your trip. Plan a few days of downtime to rest and recuperate before jumping back into your normal routine. Practise self-care and take some time to catch up on sleep, eat nutritious meals, and practice gentle stretching or yoga to ease sore muscles. Reflect on your travels and acknowledge your accomplishments, but also be honest with yourself about any limitations or challenges you faced.
Travelling with MS in spring and summer can present unique challenges when it comes to managing fatigue. By planning in advance and making use of the tips above, you can help minimise the impact of fatigue and make the most of your travels.
Additionally, having coping strategies in place for fatigue symptoms and prioritising self-care upon returning home can help support your overall health and well-being. With some preparation, it's possible to enjoy travelling with MS and create meaningful memories along the way.