Monday, 16 October 2017

Going Abroad with Chronic Physical and Mental Illnesses

Last month, I went on holiday to Gran Canaria, with my parents. As a person with multiple mental health, physical health, and mobility problems, the thought of travelling abroad can be quite daunting and nerve wracking. Will I remember everything I need to pack? How would I be able to get across a large airport, when I can't walk far at the best of times? How will I keep myself calm? Will there be toilets available nearby? How can I plan my holiday to make sure I'm not overdoing it every day? These were just a few worries that I had. Below, I explain how I eased or solved these problems.

Packing:

About a week before I was set to go, I made lists of things to pack. I wanted to ensure I would be able to keep as cool and comfortable as possible.

  • I picked clothes that could mostly be slipped on, with no fiddly fastenings to deal with.
  • I made sure I packed extra medication (including extra pain medication) so that I definitely had enough for the holiday.
  • To keep myself cool (as well as for easily removing makeup!), I packed a full pack of face wipes. 
  • I packed travel size bottles of shampoo, shower gel, moisturiser etc. These are useful for keeping the luggage weight below the allowance, but also are easier on achy arms. There will be days where washing/showering is a struggle, so light products are helpful.
  • Dry shampoo! I usually try to shower every other day, but sometimes I have to miss a few days, so dry shampoo is absolutely wonderful for ensuring my hair stays relatively fresh and clean.

At the Airport:

There are various things to consider, when at the airport, especially when you are chronically ill (physically or mentally). 
  • It is important to book special assistance at least 48 hours before you are due to travel. 
  • As soon as you arrive at the airport, find OCS for special assistance. They can help with getting across the airport and through security, as well as boarding the plane and even getting you to your seat (using an aisle wheelchair) if needs be. You can use your own wheelchair, if you have one, or one will be provided for you. There may also be mobility scooters available if you'd prefer to use those. I flew from Birmingham airport and found OCS opposite the Spar shop in departures. Make sure you have your passport and boarding ticket to hand, to show when asked. 
  • This link will give you more information about special assistance at Birmingham Airport specifically. For any other airports, there should be information about disabled facilities and special assistance on their website.

On the Plane:

  • Ask for assistance, if you need help with putting your hand luggage in the overhead locker. Airline staff are there to help!
  • I find it's helpful to have anything you need for the flight to hand (maybe in a handbag if it fits) so that you won't need to get to the overhead locker and search for your bag amongst the others.

Arriving at your destination's airport:

  • It's likely that passengers will need to alight the plane via the stairs (unless you're lucky and a tunnel is ready!) An ambilift will be available, however, for passengers needing special assistance.
  • You will need to wait until everyone (not needing special assistance) has left the plane, before assistance and the ambilift will be available. This may take a little while, so it's best to remain seated until you see special assistance staff.
  • If you have checked in your own wheelchair, it may be the case that it will arrive on a different carousel to your suitcase/s. At Las Palma Airport, the wheelchair arrived on the last carousel to the right. We weren't made aware of this beforehand, so had a bit of a panic before a member of staff advised us!

Transfers from the airport to your destination.

  • Coaches can be a nightmare to get onto; with large steps and rarely any toilets. The amount of stops they make can increase the journey time by a lot as well. I would suggest booking a taxi. It pretty much halves the journey time!

At your destination

  • I know it's tempting to plan to do a lot on holiday (especially if there's lots to do/explore!) but consider what makes you flare up. As you would at home (when having plans for days/nights out), rest up as much as you can, before doing anything potentially flare-inducing. Most hotels have areas near reception where you can relax, so keep that in mind if the cleaner needs to access your room. 
Are there any other tips you would give for fellow spoonies? Comment below!


Resources

https://www.birminghamairport.co.uk/at-the-airport/terminal-facilities/special-assistance/

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