an airport at sunset, traveling internationally with parkinson's

International Travel with PD

Last updated: November 2022

One of my passions is traveling, especially foreign travel. Every year for the past 16 years, I have taken a trip overseas. For 12 of those years, I’ve learned to travel with Parkinson’s as my unwanted travel companion. Here are some of the things I have learned that make travel easier when Parkinson’s is along for the journey.

Plan, plan, plan

Planning is critical to having a good trip. I like to plan and do a significant amount of research on the flights, the hotels I’ll be staying in, the public transit system, and accommodations made for the handicapped in the areas I plan to visit. I find that doing this research can make the trip less stressful as there are fewer surprises experienced during the trip.

Flights

In an ideal world, my flights would be direct. Such is rarely the case. Instead, I usually have to make a connection which raises the possibility of travel delays. I try to book a morning flight so that in the event that there is a cancellation, there is a good chance I can book another flight and not miss my connection. I always reserve an aisle seat which makes it easier for me to get up and use the lavatory or stretch. To make boarding easier, I take advantage of early boarding offered to passengers who need special assistance. Sometimes I will pull out my traveling cane as a signal to the gate agent that I have mobility issues.

On the international leg of my trip, I have to decide when to take my medications. If the flight is in the evening and not expected to arrive until the following morning (as is true for most flights east) I usually wait until about an hour before landing before taking my first dose of the day.

Airport

If I feel the need for assistance at the airport at my final destination I will set it up beforehand. However, if at all possible, I try to walk once I get to the airport in order to get some much-needed exercise. Note, however, that some international terminals have very long concourses and the lines at border control can be lengthy.

Perhaps the most stressful part of the airport is going through security. I have a neurostimulator and for the first few years after I had DBS I would not go through the security gate. Rather, I would opt to get a pat down from a TSA agent. However, these were often time-consuming and inconvenient. I then found out that my neurostimulator would not be affected by going through the security gate so I now proceed through the gate and am prepared to pull out my card indicating I have a medical device if necessary. Thankfully, I have yet to set off any alarms.

To expedite the process of going through security for flights departing from U.S. Airports, I have TSA PreCheck. I also have Global Entry which provides expedited customs screening for international air travelers returning to the U.S. Both can save a lot of time, especially during busy travel periods.

Small victory

Traveling with PD can be challenging and cause a lot of anxiety. Invariably, I find myself getting nervous as I near my travel date. However, I have found accepting the challenge and completing the trip to be very rewarding as it represents another small victory over PD. I refuse to let PD dictate every part of my life and celebrate those moments when I can do something that PD is determined to make impossible or very difficult to do.

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