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Quick Tips: Accessible Travel

Schwarz, Shelley Peterman

Departments: The Waiting Room

When our son and his fiancée decided to get married in the summer at a ski resort in Northern California, 8,000 feet above sea level, we were awed by the beauty in the brochures. But as someone who has multiple sclerosis (MS) and uses a wheelchair, I was concerned about how the elevation would affect my health and ability to get around. I spoke with my doctor before going, and learned a few things along the way.

If you are a traveler with MS or another medical condition and are “going up in the world,” consider these tips for traveling to higher elevations and remote locations. My neurologist, Ivy Dreizin, M.D., collaborated with me to make sure this advice is useful and medically accurate:



1. If you have a chronic illness or medical condition, always consult your physician before planning a trip to higher altitudes.

2. Find out in advance about the availability of MS doctors or medical facilities nearby.

3. Keep a list of your medical contacts on hand in case a local doctor has to consult.

4. Jot down the phone numbers of local pharmacies in case you forget or lose your medication.

5. Before you make room reservations, ask if the hotel is wheelchair accessible. Accessibility standards vary from state to state: In general, newly constructed or recently remodeled buildings have the best facilities for disabled travelers; older motels or hotels may or may not be accessible.

6. To avoid altitude sickness (headache, nausea, dizziness), double the amount of water you drink several days before you leave. Continue to consume the increased amount during the trip.

7. When you are in higher elevations, your skin is exposed to more UV radiation. Apply sunscreen liberally throughout the day—even if it's cloudy—and wear sunglasses.

8. Some cell phones may not work in mountainous areas, so check with your cell phone provider to see if they offer service where you'll be staying. If they don't, consider bringing walkie-talkies—you don't want to be stranded in an isolated area, especially if you have limited mobility.

9. Be sure you have an emergency contact number should you need to summon help in the middle of the night. We were staying in condos that we rented during the summer “off season,” and there was no front desk after hours. One of the guests lost her key one night and had to bunk with another guest until the next day, when the condo management office opened up.

10. To make airline travel easier, consider shipping luggage ahead (by UPS or other service) to your destination. By sending gifts and bulky gear ahead, you can travel light and skip long waits at check-in counters and baggage claim.

Shelley Peterman Schwarz

© 2010 American Academy of Neurology