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Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Travel Challenges with MS - Pt. 1

This past fall, hubby and I, along with my brother and his adult daughter, spent five weeks visiting family and being tourists in the southern part of Germany. Having visited a number of times over the last fifteen years, and the past two travelling with a rollator, I felt fairly confident that travelling with a wheelchair wouldn't prove too difficult.

Of course, my mobility issues weren't the only MS symptoms I had to contend with. My bladder urgency/incontinence makes it necessary for me to use disposable underwear and pads to prevent leakage. A real pain in the arse, and one which proves to be more limiting than not being able to walk properly.

I am naturally, a bit of a control freak. This trait has kicked into high gear as my disability level has increased over the past 20 years of dealing with MS. Needless to say, I spent a good few months prior to our trip planning what to bring, how best to optimize luggage space, worst case scenarios with possible solutions, making sure the airline was aware I was a passenger with mobility issues, and other details hubby thought weren't necessary, but that I deemed important, if not essential.

Travelling with luggage, my electric travel wheelchair AND a rollator was going to be a challenge. Especially considering that I would not be very useful in dealing with most of these items...except for the wheelchair, which of course I would be sitting in! I knew we had to limit the number of luggage pieces we'd be bringing. But how to do that, when you've got to bring at least a month's worth of bulky incontinence products with you?!

Solution? A large suitcase with minimal clothes AKA travel capsule wardrobe, so that I can fit the bulky incontinence products into the same suitcase. I also brought a backpack as my carry-on for the wheelchair batteries, my iPad, accessories, and extra incontinent products...just in case. I carried the backpack on my lap. Hubby had a small carry on suitcase which he checked in, as well as a backpack. We had a travel case for my rollator which proved very useful, although it was a little tricky figuring the best way to roll it! Not sure how people manage travelling solo??

I always pay extra for good seat selection when I book a flight, as I need to be as close to a washroom as possible. Although I am able to walk, my balance is the sh**ts, so I have to hold on, preferably with both handsI On this particular flight, our seats were arbitrarily changed, putting us about ten rows back from the nearest washroom. That was not going to work...passengers would not appreciate me reefing on their headrests as I tried to make my way to the washrooms. And I wasn't even sure I'd be able to do it, anyway!?

Needless to say, when we checked in, and I explained I had mobility issues that necessitated close proximity to the washroom, we were reassigned seats that ended up being in a better location for me than the ones I had picked. Bonus!

I highly recommend requesting mobility assistance from whichever airline you are flying with. We flew with Lufthansa on this trip and I have to say they did a terrific job in getting me to my seat. I was able to take my own wheelchair right to the cabin door. Getting from there to my seat ended up being a little dicey, as I was adamant I did not need the aisle chair used for disabled passengers, and could use the backrest of the seats to aid me. Unfortunately, I failed to consider that there really wasn't anything to grab onto from the entrance of the cabin to the beginning of the seat aisles! Oh good grief! (Actually, oh sh**t).

The flight attendant gamely offered me her arm for assistance. As I dubiously took in her slender figure, I thought to myself, 'this could be disastrous?!'. She turned out to be stronger than she looked, but I was still relieved when I was able to grab a seat. If you're wondering why hubby or the other members of our travel party didn't help...hubby was juggling two backpacks and we had boarded early, before my brother and niece.

The flight was uneventful...yeah! Arriving at the Munich airport, we were met by a mobility assistance specialist, who took us through what seemed the bowels of the airport to her handi-dart bus, and proceeded to deliver us directly to the baggage claim area, but not before expediting our customs clearance. Another bonus! We also managed to be the first passengers to arrive at the baggage claim area, as all the other passengers had to take the train to get from the plane to the main terminal. Another bonus!

Our personal valet (mobility assistance specialist) also took us directly to the S-bahn (train) area, where we would catch the train to get to our final destination. We were very thankful for her assistance as: 1. the airport was undergoing major renovation and so there were detours from the usual passage EVERYWHERE. Honestly, it would have taken us twice as long to get to the train; and 2. We weren't even sure exactly how to get to the train, as we normally have someone pick us up from the airport.

Having safely arrived at the train station, we bought our tickets, made sure we knew where we needed to be to catch the correct train, and managed to relax, at least for a few minutes before we embarked on the next stage of our journey.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I discover the challenges of train travel!


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